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Movie Review: Noah

Noahl[1]Months ago, when I first heard that Noah was coming out, I, like the biblical Sarah, laughed to myself. “It’ll be this big, ugly, off-the-mark extravaganza, just trying to make money off believers, and it’ll flop.” Like Sarah, I had to eat crow. Not literally! (Noah is a vegetarian in the film.)

Noah, written and directed by atheist Darren Aronofsky, is coming from a very good place. Aronofsky is Jewish, and his favorite Bible figure since he was little was Noah. He particularly set out to explore this momentous, but unplumbed Bible passage (Genesis 6:5-6) where God is sorry He made mankind (because of our wickedness) and decides to wipe mankind out.

What is completely blowing my mind is that Aronofsky puts himself squarely in the place of a believer and enters so deeply into the psyche of Noah and those around him (as well as attempting to understand why a good Creator would “feel” this way, and come to this conclusion).

Aronofsky lets God be God. God permeates the film. And He is not an ogre or a caricature. He is personal but ineffable. He is mercy and justice. “We are made in His image” is repeated over and over. I never really gave Noah much thought at all till now. Wow.  Everything refers back to the Garden of Eden. Aronofsky is careful that we don’t start in the middle–he wants to hold the whole story together.

Noah is the best Bible movie ever made. Yes, I just said that. It marries what was orthodox and more verbatim from the Scriptures in older films like The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and combines it with today’s sensibilities and film making genius (in all ways).

But when I say “today’s sensibilities” I don’t mean politically correct and anachronistic. In Noah men are men, women are women, fertility is everything. Family is everything. Fidelity to God is everything. The tension between fatherlove and motherlove is palpable, and we see why we desperately need both to be in balance!

The only thing that smacks of any kind of agenda might be the heavy stress on treating Creation well, especially animals (which I have absolutely no problem with and cheer heartily). The script even goes so far as to say (at one point) that the reason God is wiping out mankind is for the way we treated Creation.

If this was all the script offered as explanation, I would have to give Noah big, big demerits. But in several other places, it tells/shows that we were corrupt in every way, in our dealings with each other (and treatment of women!), killings, wars, etc.

Noah is how you make a Bible movie. Noah is how you take the Word of God and seriously and humbly explore it in all its depth, complexity, nuance, raw human and divine drama without preconceived judgments on it, employing the best actors, composers, visual effects. This film breathes and sends you into deep contemplation/meditation. I didn’t think it was possible to do that with the Bible in film.

What of the “poetic license” taken? Filmmakers had better take poetic license or they are not making films. Even if it is the Bible. Aronofsky uses “moral imagination” to the utmost. He is 95% faithful to the Bible in all that is essential — the heart of the story — and 5% is fanciful, but still informed by the text itself. For example, the most outrageous liberty taken is “The Watchers,” giant stone creatures way-too-similar to Transformers who try to help blundering mankind. But these creatures are inspired by the enigmatic Genesis 6:5-6.

The editing is superb. The story never, ever lags. Nothing is drawn out, belabored and taxing as in most Bible and other epic films. I don’t want to spoil here, so I won’t, but Noah struggles with what God is asking of him, even in the clarity of it. Aronofsky imagines: what if Noah misunderstood a key piece of his mission–at first?

The nature of good and evil is dissected at length. Tubalcain represents how evil reasons, an alternative way to see oneself “in the image of God.” Tubalcain believes that simply “taking” what one wants, harshly dominating the earth, and killing is what makes us like God. In contrast to Tubalcain, God’s providence explicitly overarches Noah and his family’s life. They trust in God, they wait on God. They imitate God’s compassion and gentleness.

Noah shows how much is really up to us. We are to choose either darkness or light. We are to choose to love and obey God or not. There are real consequences, outcomes, repercussions and costs to our choices.

Lectio divina, the centuries-old practice of prayerfully reading and contemplating a small portion of God’s Word alone or with others, can also be transferred to the screen as “cinema divina.” “Noah” is the ultimate example of “cinema divina” in my book.

What I and many others in favor of this film did was a Judaeo-Christian read of “Noah.” And it almost totally works. I can explain away (by doing a Judaeo-Christian read) many elements that people say are Gnosticism or Kabbalah. However, some pieces definitely did not fit. Especially the snakeskin.

In addition to my review, please also read this review by a theologian because I think what he’s saying is pretty undeniable. I disagree with Dr. Mattson when he says the writer/director is necessarily trying to dupe us, and I still think there is much good to be gained from doing a Judaeo-Christian viewing/contemplating/discussing of this film — a biblical film like no other, served up in a way that people will take seriously for its cinematic quality.


Sister Helena Burns, fsp belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God's Word through the media: www.pauline.org. She gives workshops to teens and adults on media, philosophy, and Theology of the Body and is the movie reviewer for The Catholic New World, Chicago's Catholic newspaper. You can follow her excellent blog, HellBurns at hellburns.blogspot.com.
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  • Florian

    April 2nd: This is among the very few positive reviews of “Noah” – everyone I know who has seen the movie has stated that it is atrocious; that there are good scenes but that, for the most part, it does not compare favorably with other “Biblical” movies. Some point to the fact that Noah seems to want to end human reproduction while desiring to ‘save the planet’. Didn’t Noah tell his people that once they reached land there would be no more sexual intercourse because he wanted an end to the human race? He wanted zero population growth which some countries today are headed for? Didn’t he tell Ila, who was pregnant, that he would kill the baby if it was a girl but that if it was a boy he would allow him to live and become the last man on earth. Noah, in the movie, did not kill the twin girls born to Ila…I have not yet seen the movie but I will but this review seems over the edge in an attempt to portray the movie as almost a perfect account of Genesis which, from what I have heard, it is not. Parents have been urged to read the account in Genesis before and after allowing their young children to see the movie…I will see for myself how this movie rates against other biblical movies and how it stands true to the account in Genesis.

  • With all due respect to the Sr. Helena, this review is simply absurd. In a film where Judaism is replaced by environmentalism, God is replaced by Gäia and Noah contemplates murdersuicide… well, I think we just have to call this film what it is – viciously anti-Christian, anti-Jewish shock-art wrapped up in Judeo-Christian language. I appreciate that Sister is trying to see the best intentions in the director, but at some point we have to say what this film is… It’s Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s the Last Temptation of the Christ… It’s propaganda and slight-of-hand wrapped in a veneer of Christian words stripped of their meaning. Regardless of whatever optimistic hope for “dialogue” may been found after watching the film, Noah is an atheistic film about a Christian story. It’s not something people ought to see.

    • Soliloquized

      I agree with you about the premise of the movie, which I waited long for it’s release, having been mesmerized by the early previews, and now, after reading about it, have no intent on seeing. Rampant environmentalism and population control advocacy is nothing I wish to see, especially if it distorts the original Christian message in Noah.

      Where we part in opinion, and the same may hold true for this movie, is that my wife and I really like the “Last Temptation of Christ”. We read the disclaimer before the movie, that it was not to be literally interpreted. Rather than see the offense in the movie, we saw it as a hypothetical temptation. Although, in the movie, Jesus descended from the cross, it was apparent He was still on the cross, as could been seen behind Him. Indeed, He prayed in Gethsemane “He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”, so the idea that a hypothetical temptation would reveal to Him the devastating impact of Him not being crucified is not far fetched. The part that brings tears to my eyes still is as He crawls out of the house, asks God for forgiveness for missing the meaning, and instantly He is returned to the cross at a pivotal moment.

      In this regard, we may all be able to tolerate deviations from literal interpretations of Biblical teachings, more so adults well founded in their beliefs or older children that can later have the Biblical story reinforced and have the manipulative aspects of this activist movie pointed out to them. If we don’t expose older children to such manipulation, how will we prepare them for life when they leave home?

      Best Regards.

      • Fair enough. I can certainly get behind the art of telling tales based on other tales so long as the teller is upfront about it. I think we’d probably agree that this conversation wouldn’t even be happening if the filmmaker had said “I’m justing using the story as a jumping off point – this isn’t the biblical story of Noah…” I think Last Temptation is fairly honest about that.

        • Soliloquized

          I agree. I wasn’t sure where Martin Scorsese was going with the “Last Temptation” (before we watched it), but, alas, I am sure where “Noah” is going, and that’s somewhere my political ideologies and religious views oppose. For that reason, it won’t be a movie we attend, or a DVD we buy or rent.

          Best Regards.

    • Allison Grace

      Noah was wrong. He knew that. The film makes clear his mistake.

  • goral

    Thank you, Fr Ryan, for your brief and balanced review as well as your
    advice. Perhaps you could expound on statements such as – “viciously
    anti-Christian”, as they are rather strong and in stark contrast with
    this opinion by a catholic movie reviewer who opines that it’s the best movie ever made. (just shot her credibility to hellburns)

    • Soliloquized

      I’m not sure it applies here, but there is a trend to make movies that are briefly redemptive, so that 98% of what you see represents the darker side of an issue, then, by magic, just when you think it’s hopeless, the positive or Christian side is revealed, the credits roll, the house lights come on, and you’re out the door.

      Will 98% of the movie be undone by the 2%? In my opinion, no. And I think movie makers exploit that, trying to hedge their bets on potential audiences.

      “The Haunting” with Liam Neeson, was significantly edited due to content. Really I can’t believe that anyone could have conceptualized the original movie, and am grateful that the director removed superflous material, otherwise it would not be in my collection nor would I have enjoyed it. Trying a redemptive ending on the movie would not, for me, made it less objectionable in its original form.

      • goral

        It’s possible that it applies here, Soliloquized. I don’t know, I’ll have to read more opinions that I value. You pick up on the 2% redemptive merit because you are astute, Would the average moviegoer walk out feeling that way? probably not, maybe 2% would. Hollywood is rampant hedonism, with probably less than 2% of anything that comes from there, having any worth.

        • Soliloquized

          Thanks for the kind words. I agree about the hedonism, without realizing it we have allowed Hollywood to become our role models, but traditionally entertainers, at least many, were known for having loose morals to being downright reprobates. Now we let these people determine our reality?

          I love older movies and programs. For the fun of it, I research actors, actresses (now called actors as well), trivia, etc. Pertaining to alternate lifestyles, I knew about Jim Nabors and Rock Hudson, but couldn’t believe that Marjorie Main (Ma and Pa Kettle) as well as Patsy Kelly (funny rough voiced comedienne) and many others were also so inclined.

          Then there are the drug users, alcoholics, sex obsessed, etc. Society should never let Hollywood get to the point that they determine the norms for society, there are no norms in Hollywood. Alas, one thing Hollywood has been good at suppressing is Christianity and positive depictions of: Priests, Catholicism, Ministers, Conventional Marriage, Monogamy, Functional Families, etc.

          Best regards.

      • goral

        I got a copy of Being There with Peter Sellers and Shirley McLaine. I’m
        really enjoying it. “As long as the roots are not severed all is well in
        the garden.” Simple yet profound. I don’t care which way they do it in
        Hollywood, just don’t put it on the set. Shirley McLaine is a weirdo but
        she did an excellent job in playing a normal, dignified lady in this
        movie. Even the mildly bizarre scenes were done well enough for the
        innocent eyes.
        It’s not possible to be a part of the self-worshiping
        entertainment media, which now includes the “news”, and not get
        infected. Sleep with dogs and get fleas. Americans now literally sleep
        with dogs and cats and anything that fits on a bed. In my state a lady
        got mauled by a male chimp that she housed.
        She narrowly escaped death but probably wishes she hadn’t. The perversion out there is more prevalent than we realize.

        • Soliloquized

          I liked it, they misread him, big time. I found the segment on YouTube where he mentions the roots.

          I’ve always liked Peter Sellers, odd roles, but he played them convincingly.

          My wife and I made friends with an Amish couple that own a store, believe it or not, but I fixed an oil lamp for the husband. It was a French model and he had the wrong chimney on it. I took the lamp, found the chimney, and returned it to him. My wife and I yearn for the simplicity of their lives, but we have been dragged into the complexity of the modern life, unfortunately it misdirects our minds, T.V., the computer, etc., and we fail to focus as much on important things.

  • GuitarGramma

    My daughter, a young Catholic film maker, overall loved the movie Noah with some caveats. Her review talks about the struggles Catholics will have while watching the movie. You can see her video review here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT5UwJ0H2_4
    I personally found her comment about “fan art” (I’d have said “fan fiction,” but I’m old) to be a useful genre in which to place this movie. Fan art/fiction is only written as a tribute and it’s never as good as the original. I think when I head to the theater to see Noah, I’ll keep that metaphor in mind.

  • goral

    I’ve been checking out the movie reviews by various critics from varried backrounds. I must say that they’re mostly bad. Even the atheist Bill Maher, who thinks that God wanted to drown the babies while we want to save the babies, doesn’t have anything good to say about the movie. When artistic license is used the end product doesn’t deviate much from the person.

  • Allison Grace

    We loved it and saw all that you did. The forgiveness of husband and wife was gorgeous art; the portrayal of drunkenness due to regret and sorrow was heartbreaking; the way the story explained Ham’s resentment and leaving (He did become the father of Cush and ungodly nations, which one knows if one knows the OT). The insistence that life was precious, even of a “broken” person and the heralding of fertility, life, marriage was worthy of fist-pumping! The film ends with the encircled family being blessed by the father, even rebellious Ham, and called to be fruitful. So much more. My husband is a former protestant pastor and loves the OT. He was thrilled.

    • goral

      It looks like we got the thumbs up from former protestant pastors.
      Always a good plug!