Noah Film — Christian Movie Review!
[Editor’s Note: If you would like an excellent Christian entertainment alternative to this movie and you love reading novels, then check out the novel Noah Primeval by Hollywood screenwriter and Christian author Brian Godawa, which tells the story of Noah’s life leading up to the Flood. Unlike the Noah film, this novel stays true to the intent and overarching theological framework of the Bible, and it is a thrilling, adventurous read.]
As Christians in the film industry have suspected (see my recent interview with Hollywood screenwriter Brian Godawa), the Noah film subverts the Bible story to present a manifesto for soft mainstream environmentalism with tones of neo-Paganism — but it has some surprises too. There is good in this movie. We should not throw the baby out with the bath water and miss this opportunity to engage our culture. Yes, Aronofsky is subverting the Noah story; but I believe his retelling does some good too: it argues against the radical ecofascist, anti-human fringe of environmentalism. The sad part is that the film redefines righteousness and sin in ways that miss out on the most central truth of the Bible: God has always relentlessly pursued a close relationship and intimate covenant with humans. However, there are things in the movie that can enhance our experience of the Biblical account. We should not discount that. In fact, I would encourage Christians to see this movie. It brings the Bible story of Noah to life in ways we’ve never seen before; and it has already enhanced my reading experience of the Bible. Besides, this is a wonderful opportunity to engage non-believing friends and co-workers in discussions about the Bible — but we should do so with humility and love. We should never give our opinion about a film unless we’ve actually seen it and done some thoughtful, fair analysis of its content. I will explain every element of the film in detail after the parental guidance section; but be warned: there will be massive spoilers. First, here are the parental guidance issues to help you determine if the movie is suitable for you or your family to see.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: A woman runs to embrace her husband, and they tumble to the ground and kiss with her on top of him — but they remain fully clothed and nothing else happens. Another similar scene occurs later, but this time we see her beginning to take off his shirt, and then the camera cuts away and shows nothing else. Sex is implied, and this is confirmed because she becomes pregnant. Women are dragged away violently by mobs of men — though nothing else is seen after they’re dragged away. Rape is implied, however. A man is seen lying face down, passed out drunk, and naked. Only his buttocks are seen. The distant forms of naked bodies clinging to rocks as water rises are seen, but the people are so far away that nothing explicit is visible.
Violence/Gore: Men are murdered with axes and swords, and in some cases there is splattering of blood — though it is not R-rated graphic. There is enough blood and close-up shots of flesh wounds that it does begin to push the bounds of PG-13 violence. Vast multitudes are seen drowning. We see close-ups of corpses. The real gore occurs in the depiction of violence done to animals. A creature is shot with an arrow and dies. An animal is seen hacked to pieces with graphic shots of the body being torn. An animal’s entrails are seen on the ground. A man bites the head off a lizard after killing it. Men are smashed by rocks. A girl steps in a trap similar to a steel trap that hunters would use, and it crushes her leg. A child has a wound on her abdomen, and she is in great pain — and the camera shows the wound up-close.
Language: A few d-words, but no other obscenities.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: A character unknowingly drinks a drug that causes hallucinations. A character gets drunk on wine.
Frightening/Intense Content: Besides the things mentioned above, there are somewhat creepy visions of snakes shedding their skin and opening their mouths. The massive storm during the flood scenes are extremely intense. There is a frightening scene involving a newborn baby that is in danger of being killed. Once inside the ark, Noah and his family can hear the stomach-turning screams of thousands of people still alive — the ones who had reached the high ground on rocks — and they are calling out to Noah for help. It is a chilling scene.
(Review continues below)
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SPOILER ALERT — ALL SECTIONS BELOW CONTAIN VERY DETAILED SPOILERS OF THE ENTIRE PLOT!
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Darren Aronofsky is a superbly talented director. He has stated in interviews that the thing he fears the most is making a movie that bores people. As pure entertainment, Noah is very well-made and effective. It keeps you interested and sitting on the edge of your seat every second of the movie. This is an impressive feat, considering that it is one of the most well-known stories on the planet, and we all know how it ends — sort of like watching a film about the Titanic sinking. I honestly can’t remember a single moment when I was beginning to tap my toes or lean my head on my hand as I waited for a long, boring scene to finish. The acting was superb. Russell Crowe turned in one of his best performances, and every one of the supporting cast members was at the top of their game. There were no weak performances, eye-rolling line deliveries, or over-acting. Everything was clicking.
The big highlight of the film, however, is its special effects. The depiction of the Flood was jaw-dropping. However, perhaps one of the most surprising scenes, is when — after Noah and his family are safe inside the ark — Noah tries to calm his family’s nerves and share the story of Creation passed down to him from Adam. The next eight minutes — as the movie visually depicts, in order, the first six days of Creation as described (roughly) in Genesis — are some of the most breathtaking cinematic moments I’ve ever experienced. It moved me to tears. I thought: “So this is what happens when the best special effects that money can buy and a top Hollywood director does their very best to depict the Bible.” I am not condoning every detail of the way it presented the Genesis Creation account, but it stuck more closely to the Bible than I would have expected. That scene alone was worth the price of admission. The visual wonder of it has enhanced the way my mind interacts and sees the Genesis Creation account when I read it in the Bible. It has become much more alive and powerful for me. It has sparked my wonder of God, and it has moved me to worship Him in awe as I read the Word.
Darren Aronofsky, an atheist, was not concerned with causing that reaction in the audience, but his artistic efforts had that effect nonetheless.
Full Plot Summary
In the movie, Noah is a vegetarian who does not pluck a single flower out of the ground unless he has use for it. He is also depicted as a man whose father taught him to “walk with the Creator.” So there is a relationship with God in there, but it is very remote and abstract — though Noah is seen frequently looking up into the sky towards the Creator when he addresses Him or is thinking about Him. Noah has an earnest, fervent desire to please and obey the Creator — even at the cost of killing his own family. He experiences visions from the Creator — however (and I found this disappointing) one of them is kick-started by using a narcotic, almost like a pagan shaman on a vision quest. This is where some of the neo-Pagan influences come into play. God uses the visions to tell Noah to build the ark. God never talks directly with Noah like He does in the Bible. It’s all through visions. God feels very distant and stern — more like Allah of Islam than Yahweh Elohim of the Bible. The Bible has prophets seeing visions, so that’s nothing terrible, but the whole narcotic shaman-type scene spoils it. Noah enlists the help of the Watchers — fallen angels changed into rock giants — to help him build the ark.
After the Flood happens, and they’re on the ark, Noah confesses to his family that, based on the visions he received from God, he believes that the Creator does not intend for humanity to survive. The ark and the preservation of Noah and his family was for one purpose alone: to keep all the animals alive. Once the Flood is over, Noah believes that God wants all procreation to stop and for his family — and the human race — to die out so that the environment can thrive in “purity” without the interference of sinful man. Noah’s conviction about this — and the emotional difficulty of all that it implies for him and his family — begins to push him into a dark frame of mind, perhaps even into a touch of madness. He purposefully stops one of his sons from bringing a wife (even though the Bible states that all three sons had wives). Only one son is permitted to have a woman on the ark with him, and it’s because the woman is barren. However, when a miracle happens and the woman becomes pregnant, Noah becomes convinced that God wants him to murder the baby if the gender is female. Twin girls are born, and Noah — against the violent, sobbing protests of his family — brings the blade of his knife to the babies and comes within an inch of killing them. He stops at the last minute. He can’t bring himself to do it because he loves his family too much. His heart’s desire to obey what he thinks is God’s command is overpowered by love and mercy that floods his heart. The ark comes to rest on land, and Noah abandons his family and lives in a cave because he is depressed and confused, thinking he has failed God for not killing the infant girls. He gets drunk on wine because he can’t handle everything that has happened to him and his family.
His daughter then comes to him and convinces him to come back to his family — that all his forgiven. Signs from God then confirm that he had indeed interpreted God’s visions incorrectly, and that He had never wanted Noah to ensure humanity’s extinction. He comes to accept God’s mercy and providence when his daughter tells him that God knew Noah would be unable to kill the babies, and that was why God chose Noah: because Noah “could face the wickedness of man without looking away, but also look into humanity and see the good in it.” This love that God saw in Noah’s heart was the reason that God chose Noah. God knew Noah would be faithful enough to not let anyone else enter the ark but him and his family, but He also knew that Noah would ultimately protect his family and not harm them. Noah, in other words, had the right balance of judgment and mercy in his heart. God knew this from the beginning, the film concludes. When Noah realizes this, all of the depression and confusion washes away from him, and he is able to return to his family, restored, full of joy, and whole in heart again.
This ending to the film has some very positive elements in it; but, unfortunately, Aronofsky’s original vision of environmentalism gets the last word. All of the love, mercy, second chances, and goodness in humanity is ultimately defined in relation to how well we can take care of the environment now that God has given us a second chance.
The Film’s Worldviews
Darren Aronofsky has never been secretive about his intention with Noah. From the beginning, he said he wanted to depict Noah as the first environmentalist. Aronofsky, we can presume, is an environmentalist. He is also a declared atheist. This movie, therefore, is coming from a worldview of secular atheism that nurtures a secondary worldview of environmentalism. At key points, the movie states that the reason the Creator is destroying the world is because man has corrupted nature. During the wonderfully moving Genesis Creation scene mentioned above, there is one very subtle line that is slipped in there where Noah says that, before the Fall of Adam and Eve, the world was “clean and unspoiled” — a clear environmentalist bent. The world after the Fall is depicted as an environmentalist’s worst nightmare: all forests have been stripped and the earth is scorched, spent, overused, and raped by humanity. Nature is above man, and man is subservient to nature — that’s the bottom-line throughout the film.
The only line that presents the Biblical worldview that Creation was created for Man — not Man for Creation — is given to the main villain of the movie. The film, therefore, denigrates the view that humanity has more value to God than the environment. The overarching worldview depicts a God who does not have intimate personal relationships with anyone on earth like the Bible portrays — not even Noah — and His highest concern is the purity of the environment and the safety of the animals. Humanity, though portrayed as precious and valuable too, is seen as mere gardeners for God’s earth. Man’s highest purpose is not to have a close relationship with his Creator, but to be a tenant of the natural environment, to be vegetarians, and to never use more than we absolutely need. Within this grid, righteousness is defined as two things: being a sold-out environmentalist and being kind to other people.
The viewpoint of the Bible, however, portrays humanity as God’s most prized and valuable creation — far above the natural environment. It places mankind above nature to be a wise steward of it and have dominion over it — i.e. use it for the benefit of mankind primarily while also being good stewards of it. The Bible is not against taking care of the environment and animals, but God never placed the environment’s value higher than humanity’s. Jesus taught that, yes, the Father cares about even the smallest animals. When a sparrow falls, the Father knows it. Jesus then said, “But you are worth much more than sparrows.” However, Aronofsky’s Noah says, “Yes, you are valuable, but you are not worth more than sparrows.”
Methuselah’s Moral Relativism
Methuselah, played by Anthony Hopkins, is depicted as the wise sage figure in the movie who dispenses advice, guides key turning points in the plot, and serves as a mouthpiece for what I believe are some of Aronofsky’s atheistic views. In one scene where Methuselah is advising Noah, he says to Noah, “Who’s to know what is right or wrong? It is for you to decide what is right and wrong.” This is a perfect summary of moral relativism, which is a product of atheism and its close colleague existentialism. Atheists believe that, because there is no God who has His own absolute moral code that He has prescribed for the universe, there is no external absolute guide for what is right or wrong. Aronofsky, a vocal atheist, uses Methuselah to communicate that worldview. Moral relativism, however, is self-refuting. Making the statement, “There is no absolute truth that can tell us what is universally right or wrong,” is itself a statement of absolute truth. Moral relativism is self-contradictory at its most fundamental level. The Noah movie reflects this self-refuting confusion because characters, including Noah, presuppose absolute truth in many of their actions and lines in other places of the film. Ironically, this relativism reinforces the “might makes right” philosophy that some of the most brutal, barbaric leaders in history — like Mussolini and Hitler — used to justify their wicked violence, the same kind of violence that Methusaleh and Noah condemn in the movie; yet Methuselah’s moral relativism would justify the very violence they are condemning.
A Confused Idea of Righteousness
In the Bible, God defines righteousness as having faith in Him, believing His promises, and trusting Him within the context of a close, personal relationship; it is not about your good works or how well you preserve Creation. It is based entirely off of His grace and mercy — and our simple faith and trust in what He says. What’s interesting, however, is that the movie does flirt with the idea of God’s grace when, after Noah finally realizes his wrong interpretation about God’s intentions, he explains that God is giving us all a second chance because there is indeed precious value in humanity. However, the second chance is not primarily for humanity to restore its relationship with God in a covenant of grace, but to become better at taking care of the environment. The environment is the highest priority. Any kind of close relationship with God Himself is a distant second, if even on the list at all. Though in the end of the film, God does send signs to Noah that express a warm approval of Noah that has a faint echo of the close relationship that Noah had with God in the Bible. Much of the film does also communicate that God loves Noah and his family very much, and that He deeply values human life, but all of that is in the framework of Aronofsky’s greater purpose of depicting environmentalism as the highest ideal.
The Absence of the Line of Christ — Noah’s Highest Purpose
Also, there is no mention of the ultimate purpose of Noah: to keep the line of the Messiah going in preparation for the first coming of Christ. We should not be surprised at this, but the absence of Noah’s redemptive purpose as an ascendent of the Messiah leaves a vacuum that must be filled with something else. That something else is an exaltation of nature and the planet as the highest purity and good.
Is Aronofsky Arguing AGAINST Ecofascist Radical Environmentalism?
Despite the negatives mentioned, I do not believe that this film promotes the darker ecofascist side of environmentalism. In fact, I believe it is an argument against it. As I discussed in detail in a recent interview with Hollywood screenwriter and Noah Primeval author Brian Godawa, there is a very dark side of environmentalism that people don’t hear much about. There are factions within environmentalism that actually want humanity to be wiped off the face of the earth and made extinct. This idea of making humanity go extinct for the sake of the environment is portrayed as Noah’s character flaw that he must overcome. It is portrayed as an error, a wrong interpretation of the vision God had given him. When he finally realizes this error and accepts and embraces the ongoing survival of the human race, he finds redemption. If this film were promoting the radical ecofascist side of environmentalism, Noah would have killed the babies, and the movie would have ended tragically — i.e. Noah and his family dies out and the film ends with the human race extinct and the environment finally “free” from the curse of mankind. The film, however, goes full swing in the opposite direction. I am speculating here, but I wonder if Aronofsky was crafting the film to be a refutation of the more radical anti-human views of some of his fellow environmentalists.
Animal Rights and Vegetarianism — Noah Style
Meat eaters are depicted as practically Satanic. Righteousness is equated with vegetarianism and never harming the animals. The destruction of animal life is placed on the same moral equivalent as the loss of human life — at least from Noah’s point of view. In truth, in the Bible when God told Noah to collect the animals to preserve them, He also commanded Noah to set aside certain animals for the purpose of sacrificing them as offerings to God. After the ark makes landfall, God then commands Noah and his family to become meat eaters and hunt animals for food sources. The film omits all of this and presents the opposite: God is vegetarian, and if you’re not one too, then you’re committing murder.
The Watchers and the Nephilim
Another notable divergence is the depiction of the “sons of god.” This is a reversal of the Biblical account. In the Bible, fallen angels cross the divide between the heavenly realm and earth and begin mating with women. Their offspring are the Nephilim — the giants. In ancient Jewish tradition — in the extra-biblical texts that were used and respected by rabbis in ancient Israel — the offspring of the fallen angels were also called the Watchers, and Hebrew texts depicted them as wicked beings who taught occult arts to mankind as a way to revolt against God. In the Noah movie, the Watchers are portrayed as innocent, misunderstood angels who were unjustly and wrongly punished by God, and who were just trying to help mankind and teach them good things. The film portrays God as petty, fallible, and unloving when it explains the back story of the Watchers.
Redemptive Value (i.e. The Good Things in the Movie)
Despite all of the blaring negatives, one especially good thing about this movie is that, despite Noah’s brief descent into confusion and madness about God’s will, overall Noah is depicted as a man who fervently wants to obey God and respect His authority no matter the cost. This has become an extremely rare thing to see in secular mainstream culture.
Also, Noah’s wife displays deep compassion and forgiveness for Noah, and she gives the audience the ability to sympathize with Noah because she sees that the root cause of his madness is the heavy burden of being the sole survivor (along with his family) of the Flood. He is crushed with agony and guilt over the loss of so much human life — and in these scenes it emphasizes human life, not just the environment. The Bible never says that Noah was without sin or frailty. Hebrews 11 describes him as righteous because he had faith in God’s promise, not because of his perfect moral life. The Bible, in fact, hints that maybe Noah was having trouble processing the traumatic experience of the Flood when we read about him getting drunk afterwards — thought that’s pure speculation on my part. The point is that the movie shows Noah as a broken man, and yet despite that brokenness and error in his understanding of God, his family forgives him, God forgives him, and God uses Noah — despite all of his weaknesses — to accomplish the mission and bring his family and the animals to safety so that humanity can “be fruitful and multiply,” as Noah declares in the end. If we extract those meaningful moments from the movie experience and separate them from the more problematic issues, those portions of the movie can become encouraging reminders that God can use us to accomplish His will even when we are weak or confused. The movie accurately portrays a certain side of the grace of God — namely the way God calls people and uses them to do amazing things despite their flaws. However, the movie goes astray when it defines those “amazing things” as saving the environment. God’s vision for great things goes far beyond this temporary earth that will someday pass away.
Conclusion: How to Love Environmentalists Instead of Attacking Them
Despite all of the problems with this movie, I enjoyed it. It was riveting, and there were enough positive, edifying moments to extract from the overall experience that I walked away from the theater spiritually encouraged. It took a lot of work though, and there are layers of contrary worldviews to sort through. I couldn’t just sit back passively and let the story wash over me. I had to pan for the gold. But there is some gold in this movie, if you’re willing to do the work to isolate it from the things that contradict or even antagonize the Bible.
There’s one line in the movie that truly sums up the heart of the environmentalist: when Noah tells his son not to hurt any of the animals in the ark because if one dies then that species is “lost forever.”
In Christ, nothing in His natural creation — save for unredeemed human souls — could ever be lost forever. The idea that Creation, in its current state, is all we have and all there ever will be, comes right out of the secular atheistic worldview. Try to put yourself in Darren Aronofsky’s shoes. Ask yourself the question: what would it really be like to be an atheist? You would obviously not believe that Heaven or Hell awaited us after death, and you would not believe that Jesus was going to return and eventually make a “new heaven and a new earth” in the New Jerusalem. Darren, in other words, does not know the joy of believing confidently in those realities and promises from God about the future. He has nothing eternal to look forward to, and he does not believe in any God that could someday make a new earth. So from his vantage point, the current earth really is all we have. If his view were correct, an ardent devotion to environmentalism would be the logical conclusion. If the current planet is all we have and if there was no God or eternity or a new earth awaiting us, then the highest purpose of man really would be to take care of the environment. Instead of insulting Darren or condemning him wrathfully, try to see his point of view and empathize with the dilemma he faces. It’s no wonder environmentalists are so radical and ardent. It really is all they have. It’s the only thing that gives transcendent meaning to their lives. It’s their only hope. And the sincere, well-meaning environmentalists — and perhaps Darren is one — are trying to do something valuable with their lives by fighting to save what they see as the only valuable, lasting thing that humanity has.
So instead of treating these people with contempt, pray that God will show their hearts the joyous truth: there is a new earth coming, and it is made possible by the redeeming blood of Christ, not by the good works of environmentalists. This current planet isn’t all we have. In fact, if God really wanted to, He could bring back to life every species of animal and plant that has ever gone extinct in human history. Nothing in nature is “lost forever.” God can bring it all back and make new ones if He wants to. The only thing that can be lost forever is the soul of a human being. He gives us all a free will to choose or reject Him. Pray for secular atheistic environmentalists. Like Saul becoming Paul, these passionate outspoken individuals could use their efforts to save eternal souls instead of fish or birds or plants. If we keep praying for them, people like Darren Aronofsky might come to Christ and become some of the greatest evangelists of our generation.
And, this review may seem like a very long one, but there was so much more in the movie — both good and bad — that this could have easily gone on longer. Even though Aronofsky made a movie that presents a general worldview with which we do not agree, the layers of the film are far more complex than some people might have expected, and there is plenty of good and intriguing things to discuss about this very unique film.
If you would like an excellent Christian entertainment alternative to this movie and you love reading novels, then check out the novel Noah Primeval by Hollywood screenwriter and Christian author Brian Godawa. He wrote the screenplay for the award-winning war film To End All Wars, starring Kiefer Sutherland, he has worked with Ralph Winters (director of The Wolverine and X-Men movies). and he has written a thrilling adventure novel about the life of Noah and the events leading up to the Flood. Unlike the Noah film, this novel stays true to the intent and theological framework of the Bible. Although it is a novel and it takes some creative license, everything is done to support the Bible narrative and make it come to life in a theologically sound way.
NOTE: I want to tip my hat to the movie studio (Paramount) that released a disclaimer in their advertising (not in the movie itself) about the Noah film being only “inspired by” the Biblical account of Noah — not a faithful adaptation. I thought it was a very respectful acknowledgement of the concerns that people have expressed. The studio acknowledged that the film goes off in very different directions from the Bible, and then the disclaimer ended by actually encouraging people to read the Biblical account in Genesis. I thought that was respectful (and wise) of the studio.
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