Masthead header

“Noah” Movie First Response (dir. Darren Aranofsky)

Noah - Ark - Noah

The Ark Source: http://www.christianpost.com/news/first-photo-of-noahs-ark-from-darren-aronofsky-movie-released-78112/

Having been steeped in the Biblical Flood narrative this last month, in anticipation of this movie, I find a review quite difficult to write.  I went in knowing that the film had to be unfaithful to the text, because the needs of storytelling and the contents of Gen 6-9 are quite opposed to each other (for example, the lack of dramatic conflict in the text).  Knowing this, and the need for much extra material to be added, I was still primed to love it, if for no other reason because I’ve loved all of Aranofsky’s work up to this point, seeing his first film Pi just when I was getting into independent and foreign cinema as a teenager.

But I was still quite shocked with how many changes there were and which ones there were.  As such, I’d rather dub this a ‘first response’ than a review, so that I can change my  mind later and also out of respect for Aranofsky.  Adapting the Flood as a movie is a thankless task, and I need to accept the movie he made rather than the movie I want to see.

So I’m going to write more of a synopsis of how the movie is faithful to the text, and how the movie is unfaithful to the text, as a first response.  Hopefully it goes without saying that this post will be gibberish if you haven’t already seen the movie.  I assume your familiarity with the film as part of this post.


Part 1 of 4: No Noah movie can ever be both entertaining and faithful to the text at the same time


First off, let’s kill off a lot of the reviews out there that will just be off base.  It’s important to know that films, like all storytelling mediums, have to abide by some relatively strict rules.  Among basic three act structures with developing conflict, leading to catharsis, and also including character development, there is a central element required in storytelling that is absent in the story as told in Genesis: dramatic conflict.  Namely, the protagonist needs to be in conflict with either another person, nature, or himself.  Not having one of these elements is a guarantee for a bad film.

But Gen 6-9 contains no such element for Noah, so it must be artificially added into the film.  To criticize the film for any added conflict is therefore off base, because it would be unwatchable without conflict.

Noah - Ark - Noah

Darren Aranofsky Source: http://www.filmophilia.com/author/sverrirsigfus/

The ‘problem’ is that the Bible has different needs than storytelling does, and in the case of the Flood, the Bible has a point to make.  Here are the two key reasons why the Flood is important in Genesis:

1) The Flood is designed to show that God has total control over everything in the universe, and as a consequence, the only reasonable response is submission and trust to his will.
2) The Flood is about the ‘un-Creation’ of ‘Creation’, because it had gone so wrong after humanity’s choice in the Garden.  Motifs, language, and imagery all point heavily towards a Creation-centric view of the Flood.  It is not about ‘waters’ wiping out humanity, it’s about the primordial waters of Creation being undone.

In the case of Genesis, these two points lead to Noah being a one-dimensional character.  In the Bible:

1) Noah never speaks until after the Flood narrative, when he curses Ham in a subsequent story (ironically, the movie includes this scene but makes Noah completely wordless–I can’t help but think this is a wink and a nod from Aranofsky).
2) Noah’s reaction to any of the events are never given by the narrator.  Noah’s experience of the Flood is unimportant to the story in Genesis.
3) Noah is given no credit for any of the events, including the building of the Ark.  While the Bible mentions that Noah is given instructions of the Ark, and it records that he did it, the plan for the Ark and the nature of the Ark as a floating box, not a steerable ship, point to God’s total mastery over the situation.  At no point is Noah given any choice or independence, and certainly he is given no conflict, in the Bible.

In the case of filmmaking, all of these are problems.  A good filmmaker has no choice but to alter the story to include conflict if he is to make a movie that has a chance of being interesting and entertaining.  As such, he has to diverge from the Biblical text at many points, or he will lose the audience.

If this alone is enough for you not to watch the film, because you’ll nitpick the differences, than there’s really no point seeing it.  Aranofsky must be given allowance to put a multitude of spins on the text, in order for the movie to succeed.

We should also mention that film criticism has a couple rules too.

Every film should be approached with humility.  As Tarantino says, you’re never better than the film you’re watching.  Films are hard to make, and any criticism should come from a humble place.  Good storytelling is a highly technical creative act, which require some dozen or so variables to be effective (three-act structure, transition points, the ‘big event’, the crisis, character crossroads, the hook, protagonist, antagonist, the catalyst, foreshadowing, etc., etc.).  Film criticism should take into account that a filmmaker has to try to hit all of these points and hide it beneath a subtle story.  On top of that, filmmaking is itself an incredibly difficult venture.  The Biblical Flood story of Gen 6-9 lacks almost all of these elements required to make a good film, and any filmmaker would have to create these moments in the Flood story to make a watchable movie.  Unless we have better ideas, criticism of the filmmaker’s are hardly fair or justified.

Finally, let’s talk about something I’ll call the ‘Disney principle’, in lieu of a more technical term.  Disney has made an industry out of taking fairy tales written in the dark medieval period, when most of your children died before reaching maturity, when crime was largely unregulated and you had to look out for your own family, when starvation was the staple of the day, and when ‘might was right’.  The fairy tales in their original form are mostly tough, unblinking, stark views of life.  Disney takes these, and for the most part tells the same story but twists the theme, and some of the details, to get entirely different meanings out of it.  For example, the ‘real’ Little Mermaid is about never leaving your home village and moving to a different part of the world, because you don’t belong anywhere else, and will be miserable there–an important theme in the medieval era.  Disney’s version, by contrast, tells the same story but has the exact opposite theme, where getting away and exploring are positive and should be encouraged.  ‘Frozen’, from the fairy tale ‘The Snow Queen’, is about the consequences of being an unfeeling, barren, cold woman, and it doesn’t end well.  ‘Frozen’, Disney’s take on it, is about the importance of relationships, believing in yourself, and how finding a man makes you whole as a woman.  Same story, different message.

Aranofsky’s Noah movie will follow this same concept, taking the story of Noah but dropping the Biblical theme to explore more modern concepts instead.  This has to be kept in mind.  It’s also important to notice that the Biblical Flood is itself the same story as the Gilgamesh Epic, but ‘disney-fied’ to produce a new theme of God’s dominion over Creation and chaos, and our need to respond to his power by obedience and submission.  This is an entirely different theme than Gilgamesh’s theme of the brilliance of human heroics in outwitting the immoral gods who tried and failed to destroy humankind.


Part 2 of 4: Where Aranofsky was faithful to the text


1) The Ark itself

Noah - Ark - Noah

The Ark Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/movies/animals-arks-how-noah-movie-compares-bible-n63926



It’s a nice surprise to see that the movie stuck to the Biblical description and meaning of the appearance of the Ark.  By making it a rectangular box, as it is in the Bible, the movie succeeds in making the vessel capable of nothing more than floating.  This keeps with the Bible’s theme of Noah and family being utterly dependent on God to protect them while in the ark.  I am delighted that the world now has a more accurate image of what the ark looked like.  Though the film never verbalizes why it’s important that the ark is shaped like a box, and not a ship, there are enough points in the film where ‘trust in the Creator’ is made explicit.  This was very well done.

2) The emphasis on Creation, Adam & Eve, and Cain & Abel


Noah - Ark - Noah

Gen 1-6 Source: http://noah-movie-trailer.blogspot.ca

While lost to some degree in English translation, the Hebrew text especially makes clear that the Flood narrative is intimately and unquestionably tied into the preceding Biblical stories of Creation, Adam & Eve, and Cain & Abel, and in fact also the genealogy of Gen 5.  Any movie adaptation that is to tell the story of Noah and the Flood and remain faithful to the text must add many visual elements that recall these events.  Creation is important because the Flood is the undoing of Creation, and the pairings of Adam and Eve (and the serpent), and Cain and Abel, are the causes of the Flood, in that they lead to and express the chaotic evil of humanity.

Noah - Ark - Noah

Gen 1-6 Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/03/first-impressions-noah-dir-darren-aronofsky-2014.html

The film is wildly successful in this.  Not only does Noah narrate a variation on Gen 1 to his children in the ark, but there is a constant visual motif of Cain raising his arm to kill Abel, and also a retold story of the serpent and the temptation in the garden.  These themes are visually recalled as a package numerous times in the film, which is pitch-perfect filmmaking to mimic the Hebrew text, which itself makes puns, parallelisms, and other literary devices to see the package of these events within the Flood narrative.  I couldn’t be more impressed by Aranofsky’s achievement on tying these aspects of Genesis into the Flood narrative–so crucial for understanding it’s Biblical meaning.


Part 3 of 4: Where Aranofsky was partially faithful to the text, but not exactly


1) The Watchers


Perhaps most likely to catch Christians off-guard, Aranofsky’s interpretation of the Watchers is not as off-base as a cursory reading of the text might imply.  He gets quite close, and clearly shows an understanding of their meaning, but also uses them in ways that come into some contrast with their Biblical characterization.

First off, the name itself is appropriate, as starting around 600 BCE, Jewish non-Canonical books start referring to the sons of God (of Gen 6:1-4) as Watchers.  While the New Testament (NT) chooses not to use this Aramaic phrase in its Greek text, it is crystal clear that the NT understanding of Gen 6:1-4 is based on a competing textual tradition that uses the word Watchers (for details, click here to read about the NT understanding of the sons of God and the Nephilim).

Where Aranofsky departs from the Bible–but actually treads quite closely to ancient interpretations between the OT and the NT–is in the amalgamation of two distinct species–the sons of God and the Nephilim–into one species, for his film.  In the movie, the Watchers are described as angels who left heaven to come to earth out of a ‘noble’ desire to help Adam become better and love the Creator more.  However, in doing so, they went against God’s wishes, who did not want them to leave the heavens.  As such, when they land on earth, they are instantly trapped inside the rocky material and trapped as giants.

Noah - Ark - Noah

Watchers Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/01/family-and-fallen-angels-in-the-noah-super-bowl-tv-spot.html



This is not as fictional as some might think, having numerous parallels in intertestamental sources that the NT used and even quoted in Jude and 2 Peter’s understanding of the Flood.  However, it does ultimately make it’s own turn when it equates the too.  Biblically, the sons of God, also called Watchers and angels in post-Genesis sources, are described as marrying human women and having the Nephilim (literally ‘fallen ones’, but described in Genesis as ‘mighty heroes of old, famous men’) as their offspring.  Post-Genesis sources see the Nephilim as giants, and their name, ‘fallen ones’, is later mis-applied to the sons of God to describe them as ‘fallen angels’–something neither Genesis nor any OT book ever comes close to describing or insinuating.

Aranofsky’s interpretation, including his mixing the two species of sons of God and Nephilim into one, is very comfortable in ancient literature–but it is not from Genesis itself.  I fear the film might take a lot of criticism on this notion that will be unfair, since many critics will likely not be aware of the dozen-plus ancient sources, predating the NT, that speak of a number of interpretations of the sons of God and Nephilim that do not match Genesis’ description.

On another matter, there is also disagreement about whether Genesis views either the sons of God or the Nephilim as ‘evil’.  The film chooses to interpret them as friends of humanity who are, at heart, ‘good’.  Though they betrayed the Creator when they went to help Adam, their intentions were good.  This is a view I am quite sympathetic too, as a number of commentators, and myself, view the sons of God and the Nephilim as ‘good guys’ in the Biblical narrative of Genesis, while a majority of scholars–and, it should be pointed out, the NT itself–see them as ‘evil guys’.  I appreciated that Aranofsky used them in this matter, and I can understand both for filmmaking purposes and in light of ancient sources why he placed the two different ‘characters’ into one in his film.

The use of the Watchers to help build the ark is, in this light, a fair choice.  It should be pointed out that many commentators think Noah had help building the ark, so mainstream complaints against them doing so in the film are unfair.  It’s a very reasonable move on the part of the script, and it’s choice to portray them positively, which in my opinion is faithful to the text (at least in part), is the most natural solution to explain how many commentators think Noah had help with the building.

Obviously, the siege of the ark is problematic.  Not only is not in the text itself, but it’s theological meaning is also potentially at odds with Genesis, since it puts the ark in danger, and the whole point of the ark in Genesis is that it is never in danger, because God watches over it.  However, in fairness to the film, if we view them as defending the ark and Noah, as a means of asking forgiveness from God for leaving the heavens in the first place, as one Watcher in the film expressly verbalizes, than Aranofsky has gone to some efforts to justify theologically their defense, even if the reason for it is extra-Biblical.  Given the need to create dramatic conflict, I can’t fault Aranofsky for including this element in the film, though it is foreign to the text.  There is something beautiful in the freeing of the Watchers from their prisons, given that they confess to God their faults in not trusting him before they are freed.

The Christian complaint against the Watchers’ role in the film will not be on entirely solid ground.  While there will be justification for accusing the film of not sticking to the NT view of the Watchers as evil, their portrayal is in line with Genesis itself, and it must be noted that Aranofsky is Jewish.  He has no reason to hold to the NT view of the Flood narrative, and as such, his portrayal of the Watchers as forces of good is in line with the OT, even if it is not in line with non-Canonical ancient Jewish understandings.


2) Methuselah, Ham, and Tubal-Cain


I admire Aranofsky’s handling of Methuselah in the film.  I think it is justified and I love that he deals with the fact that Methuselah, in the Bible, does indeed die in the year of the Flood, and that Noah would have known him.  To nitpick, Noah would technically have been subordinate to him and likely would have lived with him (since ancient custom was for the oldest living male to have dominion over his family, including his sons), but this is merely a nitpick.  The addition of the barren Ila (Shem’s wife) to the narrative is also creative and, given the need to add conflict, quite justified dramatically, though it obviously is absent from the Bible itself.  Methuselah’s blessing of Ila is a poignant scene that is rich with Biblical allusions and I was impressed by it’s use as a dramatic device.

Tubal-Cain’s character in the film is also impressively creative, though for my tastes, unnecessary.  Aranofksy had to add conflict to the narrative, and it had to be one of three types:

Noah vs. nature
Noah vs. person(s)
Noah vs. self

To be faithful to the text, it was important not to include an element of Noah vs. nature, which a lesser filmmaker would have adopted (Noah struggling not to sink in the ark).  This must not be adopted because the point of the story in Genesis is that God has control over the ark and the Flood, and the ark is never in danger.

As far as Noah vs. self, the most faithful adaptation of the Bible would have skipped this type of conflict, adhering to the view that the story is about Noah obeying God, and that Noah never speaks, never reacts, and never has internal thoughts or feelings in the Bible.  These elements are all present to underemphasize his character in the Bible, so as to point out that it is God who is the character of interest in the story.

Aranofsky can hardly be criticized for introducing the elements of Noah vs. self that he does into the story, as they are quite understandable for filmmaking, but it should be pointed out that Noah’s internal conflict is foreign to the text, and more importantly that it actually goes against the text, which goes out of its way to make Noah have no internal conflict (when other passages in the Bible are quite comfortable portraying people with internal conflict).

A more faithful adaptation of the Flood story that still adhered to the principles of storytelling would then be forced to cast an opposing character to Noah.  The film does this, but with two characters: Ham and Tubal-Cain.  I would have been happy with just Ham, who the Bible already makes antagonistic to Noah in the post-Flood cursing of Ham’s children.  But, against my subjective preferences, the film also added Tubal-Cain, entirely absent from the Bible, and given Ham’s antagonistic potential, also an unnecessary addition.

Noah - Ark - Noah

Tubal-Cain Source: http://www.krank.ie/category/entertainment/5-reasons-why-atheists-should-look-forward-to-noah/

But credit where credit is due, Aranofsky’s use of Tubal-Cain has positive points.  The use of his name from the Bible (Gen 4:22) is creative, since he is the creator of ‘sharp-edged technology’, i.e. swords and weapons.  His murder of Noah’s father is also very smart, as it accounts for Noah’s father’s early death in the Bible.  Not only does he become the ‘father Ham always wanted, but never had’, so that a dramatic conflict can take place in Ham’s story, but he is also subtly and beautifully used as the ultimate antagonist to God.  His words of being made in the image of God and much of the rest of his dialogue all point to him as a foil of God, the very essence of what is wrong with evil humanity.  In the Bible, the evil of humanity is attributed to wanting to be gods ourselves.  The banning from the Garden of Eden makes this explicit, as does much of Gen 1-11.  The NT expressly says this in several passages as well.  Tubal-Cain is a wonderfully written character in that he embodies precisely this attitude.  By rejecting God and wanting his own will, and by his expressed theology of rejection of God and creating a world in which he is god, he is the archetypal essence of what is wrong with humanity in the view of the Bible.  The film deserves credit for such a succinct and subtly expressed character in this regard.

At the same time, all of these concepts could have been placed in Ham as a character.  Having done so would have negated the need for the siege on the ark, which I ultimately am uncomfortable with for a couple reasons (it’s not Biblical, and it takes away from imagery of people realizing they were going to die, since instead they are fighting, rather than realizing their mortality and evil, and begging for forgiveness, etc.).  It would also have negated one of the most uncomfortable things in the film for me, which is Tubal-Cain’s being a stowaway on the ark.  The entire point of the ark is that it is under God’s control and dominion.  The very concept of a stowaway on a metaphor for God’s authority is theologically completely out of whack.  Furthermore, his purpose on the ark, to challenge and kill Noah, could all have been achieved dramatically by writing these elements into Ham’s character, thus sticking closer to the Biblical story.

I admire the subtlety of his character, the purpose he has in the film, his symbolic meaning, and his use in Ham’s storyline–especially from the perspective of the film’s needs for dramatic conflict.  A lesser film would have made the same type of character but missed the richness of the ‘anti-God’ that Aranofsky deftly wrote in.  Nevertheless, the concept of a stowaway on the ark is so uncomfortable to me that I can’t help but have a problem with his inclusion.


Part 4 of 4: Where Aranofsky was not faithful to the text

1) The innocence of the animals


As discussed in this post, the Biblical view of the animals is that they were not innocent, and that both the theology of collective guilt and their purpose on earth to be used by humans, makes any argument for the innocence of the animals untenable from a Biblical perspective.

Against this, however, we have the modern worldview which does see the innocence of animals.  How you take this is subjective.  If you hold to the Biblical view, you’re kind of, well, a jerk in the modern world.  Who doesn’t want to protect animal rights and defend them, not to mention keep them free from being blamed for our sins?  But, modern people should also know that the Bible does not take this approach.  Some Christians feel they must adopt the Biblical worldview, while many scholars would say this is a misunderstanding.  After all, the Biblical worldview also sees marriages as arranged–not for love–and between men in their 20s and girls just after they reach puberty (13).  There’s a difference between obeying the ‘Bible’ as a modern Christian, and obeying the ‘Biblical worldview’, which is really an ancient ‘pre-Arabic’ worldview.  It is not, according to many scholars, ‘that big a deal’ to abandon the worldview of the Bible, such as arranged marriages with 13 year old girls, or the view of dogs as vicious scavengers who spread disease, as long as we hold to all of the theological principles and commands of the Bible.

The film makes it clear that it views God as wanting to protect the animals.  In fact, in its departure from the text in its concept of Noah’s internal struggle, much emphasis is put on Noah wanting to kill off humanity (through natural death), so that God’s innocent creatures can alone live in the new Creation.  Such a view is alien to the Bible, but to take the Biblical worldview would be somewhat barbaric.  I appreciate Aranofsky’s commitment to go against the Biblical worldview on this one, though his emphasis is ultimately un-Biblical.

1) Who’s on the ark?


The Bible could not be clearer that there were 8 people on the ark: Noah, his 3 sons, and their wives.  I’ve already talked about the stowaway Tubal-Cain above, so here let’s just discuss the absence of wives for Ham and Japheth.

I really struggle with Aranofsky’s choice on this regard.  The addition of wives for Ham and Japheth would have presented all kinds of scenarios for dramatic conflict that could have substituted any need for Tubal-Cain’s unnecessary presence on the ark.  Furthermore, I was really rooting for Ham getting the girl he rescued onto the ark.  Aranofsky’s insistence on the old-fashioned view that the line of Seth was ‘holy’, and the line of Cain was ‘evil’ (largely abandoned by modern Biblical scholars), probably did not help in the fate of this girl.  The dramatic conflict her early death gave to Ham’s motivation could have been substituted for other motivations for Ham being in conflict with Noah.

While of course you can say in a kitschy way that the wives of Ham and Japheth were on the ark, inasmuch as they were in Ila’s belly, this is hardly a solid argument.

For myself, I will have to struggle with the choices made in the film on this element.  I disagree with Tubal-Cain’s presence, and I disagree with the absence of the two wives.  I will just have to accept, over time, that the film went a different route, and either appreciate it on its own terms in the future, or not.  You can’t criticize a movie for not being what you want it to be.  After all, if you want to see that film, go out and make it yourself.


2) Noah’s internal conflict


Though a film adaptation of Noah could have placed all its dramatic conflict in a relationship between Noah and Ham, this film chose to add further conflict within Noah vs. himself.  This is a very modern view of the film, and the film makes no pretense to reflect ancient thought patterns.  After all, it’s portrayal of Shem and his wife Ila is a modern western one, and the portrayal of Noah and his family is also nuclear, not Biblical.  Nevertheless, the internal conflict of Noah is not Biblical.

First we have the notion of Noah’s visions, which is to say the choice to avoid God speaking to Noah.  While there is Biblical justification for the concept of visions being characterized as God speaking, I’m not so sure that is what we are meant to envision in Noah’s time.  The modern ‘worldly’ concept does not allow for God verbally and audibly speaking to people.  Instead, modern Christians and atheists alike view ‘God speaking to humans’ as an impression by humans from visions and thoughts, which are then expressed ‘as if’ God spoke to them.  It is not surprising that a modern film would take this approach.

Noah - Ark - Noah

Source: http://screenrant.com/darren-aronofsky-noah-movie-controversy-discussion/

It leads to another modern concept, however, that is largely absent from the Bible and certainly absent from the Genesis Flood, which is that Noah is unsure of what God actually wants out of him, which leads to doubt and a decision that God wants him to save the animals but after that, to die along with all of his family, the rest of humanity.  I sympathize with this storyline.  It will appeal to modern people who struggle with the concept of knowing what God wants for them.  I understand it’s dramatic appeal.

But to state it outright, this is in conflict with the Genesis account of the Flood.  In the Bible, which is capable in other stories of portraying a character who does not know God’s will, and struggles with it, Gen 6-9 is quite clear that Noah has no such struggles.  The praise of his character is in fact the absence of his waffling over what he should do.  Furthermore, the point of the Genesis Flood is that God, not Noah, is responsible for the outcome.

The film’s invention of Noah’s being led to believe that he is meant only to aid the innocent animals to survive, and then perish with humanity afterwards, leads to the dramatic conflict when Methuselah’s blessing on Ila produces the potential for humanity to be fruitful and multiply later.  Ila’s character expresses this verbally at the end of the film, where she states that God chose Noah because he wanted Noah to choose whether humanity should continue or not, and therefore that God created the conditions where Noah had to make a choice to kill or show mercy on her daughters.

This is an interesting story, and it is told very Biblically, using motifs like barrenness and miraculous healings, but it is not the story of the Genesis Flood.  More to the point, it contradicts the meaning of the Genesis Flood, which is about God undoing Creation because man has polluted it, and then through God’s own internal choice, deciding to let it start again with Noah’s family as the new basis.  God has dominion and power over his decision for the Flood and for new beginnings.  Noah has none.

This concept of the film (Noah’s choice) becomes the pivot point of the third act and takes over the movie to the point of it becoming the central theme.  This is expressed by Noah’s wife, when they argue about the good in humans (that she sees) and the evil (that Noah sees), and they debate about which of the two is the predominant nature.  All of this is wonderfully Biblical material to explore, but it is much more at home in other Biblical stories–not the Flood.

On this point too, then, I will have to in the future either accept Aranofksy’s choice and watch the film accepting it, or be blocked by it.  Aranofsky has made very Biblically oriented motifs to discuss topics central to the Bible, but has chosen to do so in a story that specifically disallows such topics.  It’s an unfortunate condition for me that, on first viewing, prevents me from loving the film.


3) Planet Earth, Galaxies, and Creation


Though many polemical Christians will needlessly pick on the evolution-friendly montage of the Creation account filmed in Noah’s narration, the problem with the film’s portrayal of Creation is actually that it mixes the pre-scientific worldview of the Bible with the modern scientific one.  Every shot where the film shows planet Earth, the globe, is an excessively  modern understanding of ancient cosmic geography that is entirely at odds with the (wrong) Biblical worldview.  Again, we don’t need to hold to Biblical world views in order to view the Bible as infallible (or else we’d have to embrace barbaric practices like stoning, holy wars, and corporate punishment of families and groups for the actions of individuals).  The Biblical worldview, like most world views around the world before Copernicus, viewed the world as flat, the earth (not Earth–such a concept is absent from ancient cosmology) as central, and a lower tier where the primordial waters of Creation were below, along with Sheol, where the dead lived in the absence of God.  A higher tier, the heavens, included air where birds flew, a solid dome or firmament that was resting on mountains, and which held back the primordial waters above.  Finally above that was the domain of God’s home.  Fixed to the solid dome were stars, and the sun and moon moved along its tracks as well.

Noah - Ark - Noah

Worldview Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/01/family-and-fallen-angels-in-the-noah-super-bowl-tv-spot.html

The view of the world as a sphere, or even a planet, is entirely absent from the worldview in which Genesis’ Flood takes place.  Even in church today, pastors and congregation members accept that we have travelled to the moon, that the Earth is a planet, that it rotates around the Sun, and that the stars are burning ‘suns’ that are far away, larger than the Earth itself.  Some modern people have not studied space beyond the solar system, so I’ll stop there, but long story short, the Biblical worldview and the scientific worldview are completely at odds with each other.  In no way can ‘waters above’ and ‘waters below’, with a fixed solid dome separating them, and stars, sun, and moon, affixed to that dome, be reconciled with what we now know about space, having our satellites in it and travelling and even living in it in the International Space Station.  It is entirely impossible.

Unfortunately, Aranofsky missed a great opportunity to reveal and show the ancient understanding of the cosmos, and made the modern common mistake of trying to meld the Biblical worldview with the modern one.  Again, the Biblical worldview can be seen as wrong (indeed, it must be) when it comes to the reality of the cosmos as we now live in them, without the Bible coming under any threat of being ‘untrue’ just because of it.  Rather than try to create impossible concoctions of the two, Aranofsky could have showed the ancient worldview with a brilliant Hollywood-sized budget of special effects to make it mainstream for the first time.  Many people, Christians included, are unaware of how the ancients viewed the world, and this was a great opportunity to show it.

The incompatibility is especially shown when the film, which accurately portrays the modern understanding of the formation of Earth (bombardment and magma phases, creation of the moon from a collision in its bombardment stage, etc, etc.), cannot link certain shots together.  For example, when Day 1 describes the beginning, where God’s spirit floats over the primordial waters, Aranofsky’s film can only show galaxies spinning–an accurate scientific perspective, but entirely not what Noah is narrating during the shot.  How do you portray cosmic waters in the universe?  You can’t, because this ancient worldview is wrong.  The creation of light, also incorrectly shown Biblically, takes us through to the shot of the earth forming from a scientific perspective, and then when Noah narrates the separating of the primordial waters by a solid dome, Aranofsky can only cut from a shot of planet Earth solidifying, to a moving shot of the earth, with mountains, land, and water.  Again, the images and the words are completely incompatible, because they can’t be morphed into one view.  We have to accept that the structuralist view of the Genesis creation is utterly wrong, without feeling any threat of the functionalist view of it being under threat (that God is lord over all, and creator of all, is not threatened by the Bible adhering to a pre-Copernican view of the universe).

I’ve seen attempts at bridging these two world views together before.  I was hoping with Aranofsky we could see the ‘mythical’ world of the Bible, rather than a hodgepodge conception of how it relates to modern science’s knowledge of the cosmos.  Oh well, if you don’t like it, I guess you should make your own version, right?


4) The industrial ‘pre/post-apocalyptic’ landscape


The film is obviously wrong in its portrayal of modern-appearing mining facilities in the apocalyptic landscape at the beginning.  However, it is so blatantly bold in its decision that there is no point taking issue with it.  Aranofsky obviously wishes to draw parallels between the state of the world before the Flood, and how we are treating the world both environmentally and morally today.  This is entirely understandable eisegesis, and the poetic license the beginning of the film takes utilizing the concept (and if memory serves, even the word?) of a ‘technical’ world should be seen as just that–poetic license.  It’s bold and gutsy, and I have to respect that.  Furthermore, it never takes over the film, so it’s metaphorical use to apply the ancient story to our own times is quite justified for me.


5) The epic spectacle


Flood - Noah - Ark - Order - Chaos - Biblical world - ancient near east

La Deluge – Gustave Doré (1832-1883) Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_myth

This isn’t so much wrong, as it is unexpected.  With modern special effects for the first time being able to portray the Flood convincingly on screen, I guess I just expected a lot more epic shots of the spectacle of the story, both of the animals approaching the ark, and of the Flood itself.  The film, however, is shockingly subdued on such visuals.  The 3 major sequences of the animals approaching the ark (birds, creeping things, beasts), are all brief, and avoid gratuitous shots of close-ups, bombastic music, and dwelling on the amazing visual.  I’m supposed to appreciate such artistic restraint, but to be perfectly honest, this superficiality is actually something I was really looking forward to.  Perhaps the attitude of the 1950s Biblical Epics of Hollywood, which would have stopped the film outright and lingered the camera on the spectacle for several minutes, would have fit the feel of the story more.  I think in the Flood narrative and Noah’s ark, specifically, we have an excuse to create and watch amazing, indulgent visuals.  I missed that.

The same is true of the Flood itself.  Part of the problem for me is that the opportunity for meaningful, emotional, tragic shots of both animals and humans as the waters begin to rise were completely lost by the film’s choice to portray a battle siege scene at just such a time.  Not only is the siege thematically inappropriate, and contradictory to the Bible (the ark is under God’s control, and so should never be portrayed as under any threat if we are to be faithful to the text), but it also robs us of the opportunity for the camera indulgently and voyeuristically dwelling on the realization of imminent death by humanity.

Most of the visuals of the Flood happen offscreen, muted through the wood of the ark, as we linger on a shot of Noah refusing his family’s requests to let some people in.  Only one shot, which I believe is meant to reference the famous french painting ‘The Deluge’, lingers for such a view.  I was expecting, and wanting, more from modern special effects.  It’s shallow to complain about such visuals, but to be honest, it’s what I was looking forward to from a mega-budget special effects extravaganza.  I can’t fault Aranofsky for his artistic choice, but I can’t help but feel disappointed at the same time.  I was expecting to shed some tears of sympathy for dying humanity, and instead I got an action sequence of a siege battle.


All in all, I’m impressed by the film, very sympathetic with it’s fundamental need to create drama and conflict that is absent from the Bible, and I admire it’s Biblical understanding, especially it’s use of Tubal-Cain as an ‘anti-God’, the barrenness motif of Ila, and the foundational and successful pulling in of Gen 1-6 into its story.

As a first impression, however, the changes made are quite substantial, and I feel I need time to accept the film that was made, instead of the film I expected, before I can watch it again and meet it on it’s terms, or discover that I simply can’t.