Saturday afternoon, I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s movie “Noah.” I purposely did not read any reviews of the controversial movie in advance so as to make up my own mind about the value of the movie. Aronofsky, a self-described atheist, says that he was motivated to make the movie because of his childhood fascination with the story of Noah. And that’s how the story of Noah is frequently regarded, as a children’s story. We’ve all seen the glossy storybooks with colourful pictures of pairs of animals walking in neat rows up a plank into a charming wooden ark directed by a smiling Noah. The Genesis account of Noah and the Flood is not a children’s story, far from it, and how it came to be seen thus is baffling. Must be all the animals! Children and animals just seem to go together naturally.
For those who go to see Aronofsky’s “Noah” movie, the one question on their minds–at least, on the minds of those familiar with the Bible story–undoubtedly is: How closely does Aronofsky’s movie follow Genesis chapters 6-9? And so it was with me. After seeing the movie, my response would have to be: Aronofsky gives new meaning to the expression ‘artistic licence’. The changes he makes to the story are legion. In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” Tubal-cain, a meat-eating, sword-wielding, thuggish king somehow makes it into the ark along with Noah’s family where he has an evil influence on Noah’s son Ham. All the Genesis account tells us about Tubal-cain was that he was the forger of all implements of bronze and iron (4:22). In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” the grandfather of Noah, Methusaleh, is a guru-like figure who lives in a cave and who magically heals Shem’s wife. In the Book of Genesis, Methusaleh is known only for living to a very ripe old age, and for being the father of Lamech (5:25-26). In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” the Watchers, gigantic stone-creatures, help Noah build the ark. The Genesis story never informs us as to who helped Noah build the ark. In Aronofsky’s “Noah,” God destroys the world because the people have destroyed their world, i.e, they are guilty of ecological sin. In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, God sends the Flood to judge humankind for its corruption and violence (6:11-13).
No deviation from the biblical text bothered me quite as much as Aronofsky’s portrayal of Noah. Here’s what the Book of Genesis tells us about Noah. His father Lamech called him Noah, which means ‘comfort’, anticipating that Noah would some day, in some way, be a source of rest to the toil-weary inhabitants of the earth (5:29). Noah, alone of all humankind at that time, found favour with God in the midst of a totally depraved culture (6:8). Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time, and he walked with God (6:9). Noah did according to all God had commanded him (7:5). Noah’s first act on leaving the ark was to build an altar to the LORD (8:20).
This is not the Noah we see depicted in the movie. At one point, Aronofsky turns Noah into a knife-wielding tyrant threatening to kill his first grandchild at birth, believing that it is God’s will that all human life should perish from the earth, including new life. Indeed, Noah views his survival and that of his family as punishment from God! (As to where the idea of a knife-wielding Noah might have come from: I got the sense that Aronofsky had conflated the story of Noah with the story of Abraham and the command to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22.) One of the most disturbing scenes, for me, was that of Noah’s daughter-in-law, sobbing and pleading, her twin newborn daughters in her arms, with Noah stood poised above, ready to kill. A deeply troubling picture of Noah, God’s agent of salvation!
Interested in creating a blockbuster action movie Aronofsky, understandably, does not explore the deep significance behind the Noah story. With Noah, we meet for the very first time the idea of a righteous remnant, faithful to God in the midst of a wicked and hostile culture, a recurring motif throughout the Bible. In Genesis chapters 1-5, we meet the God Who Creates. With the story of Noah, we encounter for the first time the God Who Saves. The Judeo-Christian God is both Creator and Saviour. With Noah, we see the first manifestation of God’s grace. It is also with Noah that God establishes His very first covenant. The story of Noah is about so much more than a flood, a strange boat, a whole lot of animals, and eight people.
Yes, go see Aronofsky’s imaginative retelling of the Noah story if you want an adventure story. But familiarize yourself with the biblical narrative first.