Noah movie making waves
How does it stack up to the biblical account?
Published: 1 April 2014 (GMT+10)
Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, Noah, has created a big splash in the church community, even before it landed on the big screen this past weekend. For example, in the US, the Christian TV channel National Religious Broadcasters threatened to boycott the film until distributor Paramount Pictures agreed to include in its advertising the disclaimer that Noah was merely “inspired by” the biblical account.1 Also, Christian reviewers have offered a wide variety of opinions, with some claiming that the film provides an excellent platform for evangelism, and others insisting that the movie is so unbiblical that it contains nothing of value.
Noah certainly is a film to pay attention to, given its A-list cast and high production values. As art and entertainment, we believe there is much to appreciate about the movie. Also, we commend the filmmakers for taking an interest in a Bible story in the first place and for retaining some of the details and lessons of the original account (neither point is common in Hollywood today). At the same time, we are saddened but not surprised that this film strayed far from the biblical narrative both in the particulars and in some of its major themes. For those who decide to watch this film, we recommend using discernment to evaluate which elements of the story are biblical and which are sub-biblical. The following analysis can serve as a helpful though not exhaustive guide. Beware, we include a number of spoilers below.
The pre-Flood world
We were pleased to see that many aspects of the pre-Flood world were portrayed in a manner that honored the biblical record. For example, Noah’s ancestry was traced back through Lamech and Methuselah to Adam and Eve, a real historical couple who lost their innocence when they ate the forbidden fruit and disobeyed their Creator. The story of Cain and Abel was also repeatedly referenced as a symbol of mankind’s propensity toward violence. In keeping with Genesis 1:29, Noah and family were depicted as vegetarians, while Cain’s descendants were regarded as wicked for having already begun to kill and devour raw animal flesh, before God permitted meat-eating (Genesis 9:3). Other accurate details included the use of metal tools before the Flood, as Genesis 4:22 records, and a different arrangement of continental landmasses prior to the Flood, since the present continents resulted from the Flood.
Noah certainly was portrayed as a man of great faith whose righteousness stood out against the evil of his generation. In fact, the most important thing this movie depicted well was the deep moral depravity of the pre-Flood world. Men were brutal and ruthless, and concerned only for themselves. Even though they came face to face with miracles and acknowledged “the Creator”, as the film repeatedly put it, they twisted God’s words and demanded that He come to them on their terms. Tubal-Cain, whom the film turned into the primary villain, almost took himself to be a god, claiming he had the power to give life and take it away just like his Maker. Given the overwhelming wickedness of the whole world, it was evident why God would want to destroy the earth and start over.
On the other hand, the film also took a number of liberties with pre-Flood history. For one thing, there was an entire subplot about fallen angels called the ‘Watchers’, which is an extension of the sons of God theme in Genesis 6. The leader of these Watchers was Semjaze, the name of a demon who appears in the non-canonical Book of Enoch and also all kinds of occult literature today. Unlike the biblical account, the Watchers/fallen angels are pitiable characters who had the best of intentions and tried to help humans. But God punishes them for this action by encasing them in bodies of stone. In other words, the fallen angels are portrayed as more merciful and benevolent than God! Later, the Watchers team up with Noah to help build the Ark and defend it from human attackers, and as they die in battle they return to their glorious angelic forms and ascend to heaven, apparently now forgiven by God. Of course, such angelic redemption is not taught in Scripture, nor could it occur without a Redeemer dying on their behalf (Hebrews 2:16). This was a major diversion from any Gospel message that one hoped the film might portray.
Also, while Noah received revelations from the Creator about the impending disaster and his responsibility to build the Ark, these visions were often vague and hard to interpret. Again, this plot device may be derived from sources outside of Scripture, like the flood story in the Gilgamesh epic, in which the hero Utnapishtim learns of the coming flood through a dream. However, in the biblical account God gives Noah specific instructions about the size of the Ark, the number of decks, where to put the door and windows, and more. But in the film, the fact that Noah misinterprets God’s will later almost leads him to kill his own newborn granddaughters. More on this below.
Next, the biblical teaching about marriage was notably and regrettably absent. While marriage is consistently portrayed as desirable for obvious reasons, early on in the film Shem and his love interest Ila were fairly physically intimate even though they were not yet attached to each other. But even after overcoming obstacles to their union, they immediately slept together without any declaration of marital commitment. Obviously we do not expect that the antediluvian people would have followed all the same marriage customs that we observe today, but there was no indication at any point in the film that Shem and Ila even got married. This is unfortunate, since the Bible tells us that God ordained marriage right from the start, beginning with Adam and Eve (Mark 10:6), and this would have remained an important custom for a righteous man like Noah.
Another issue we picked up on was that all the pre-Flood people, from Adam and Eve to Noah’s family to those who perished in the Flood, looked white. But Noah’s family would have carried all the genetic material which eventually gave rise to all the racial features we observe today. Therefore, it would have been more appropriate to include people with darker skin, perhaps a more middle-Eastern type of complexion.
Perhaps the worst offense, however, was the way the film merged the secular evolutionary narrative with the creation account. While aboard the Ark, Noah retold the Bible’s story of six-day creation. Although his words were basically a paraphrase of Genesis 1, those spoken words stayed fairly true to the biblical account. Yet, sadly, the accompanying visuals showed an evolutionary version of history rather than the biblical one. This stop-motion style footage had the order of events wrong, with stars and galaxies appearing long before the earth, while the Bible says the stars were created on Day 4, after the earth. The scene raced through eons of time and followed the transformation of a single-celled creature into a fish, then a tetrapod, then a reptile, then a mammal, and eventually an ape just before the camera cut to Adam and Eve (who were oddly glowing and bald). This was a not-so-subtle attempt to communicate that the Bible’s creation account can be harmonized with molecules-to-man evolution, and yet this compromise utterly fails for a host of reasons that our ministry has repeatedly pointed out.2
The Flood and the Ark
Spoiler alert: everyone not on board the Ark died. Well, as tragic as that part of the film was, it does conform to the biblical account. And this is important, because the reality is that God severely judged the world. This sober element of the film serves as an antidote to the improper way we sometimes present the story of Noah to children, with smiling animals on board cute little Arks that might be mistaken for a petting zoo on a pleasure cruise. No, this was a terrible event when God annihilated all land-dwelling, air-breathing flesh—both man and beasts—except those on the Ark. The Noah film helps us to see this more clearly, as well as the truly global nature of this cataclysm. A year-long flood on this scale is more than capable of laying down huge quantities of fossil-bearing sediments all around the world. Yet these are supposedly the star exhibit for the idea of millions of years of death and violence before sin, which so undermines the Gospel.
Plus, there are many other points about the Ark and the Flood that the movie gets right. For instance, Methuselah died when the Flood arrived, as can be calculated using the Bible’s chronological information (although in the movie and not the Bible, he dies in the Flood). The Flood was global, as the Bible clearly indicates (the view zooms out to show the whole earth engulfed in storm clouds). It lasted about one year. The water came from above and below on the same day, when “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and all the windows of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11). The Ark contained three decks. There were at least two of each ‘kind’ of animal on board, not necessarily two of each species. And, finally, God brought the animals to the Ark, so Noah and family did not have to round them all up.
However, there were many flaws in the film’s depiction of the Ark’s voyage as well. For example, Tubal-Cain made it onto the Ark and survived (hidden from most of the crew) for the entire year, partly by feeding on some of the animals and thereby dooming their kinds to extinction! We understand that this plot twist was likely added for the sake of drama, but the Bible is clear that only eight people survived the Flood. Also, the ages of the passengers were all wrong. In the film, Noah’s sons are all fairly young, with Japheth below marrying age, while the future wives of Ham and Japheth were in Ila’s womb for the whole journey. Yet the Bible indicates that Noah’s sons were already married and nearly 100 years old at the time of the Flood.
Other errors include the fact that, in the film, Noah’s family—not Noah—sent out the birds to check for dry land, and Noah—not God—shut the door of the Ark. Not surprisingly, there were no dinosaurs shown on board the Ark, although a thoroughgoing biblical worldview implies they would have been there.
As already mentioned, though, Noah became alienated from his family during the Ark’s voyage because he came to believe that God’s intention was only to save the animals for the new world, and that all humans were to go extinct, including Noah’s own lineage. So when the previously barren Ila gives birth to twin girls, Noah nearly kills them, so they will not grow up to bear children. And when he relents, he believes the mercy that causes him to spare his granddaughters is a weakness that is causing him to disobey God. So now it is Noah who is more merciful than God! While it made for interesting drama, this is very different from the biblical account in which God clearly told Noah that he saw him as righteous and would keep him alive and establish a covenant with him (Genesis 6:18–19; 7:1). In the biblical account, preserving the human race was just as important as saving the animals. While we did not see the radical environmentalism that has been alleged by others, this in particular was an egregious error.
The post-Flood world
Many of the biblical details of the aftermath of the Flood are present in Noah. There is a rainbow (though an odd one pulsing across the sky), a blessing to be fruitful and multiply, and Noah is portrayed making wine and becoming drunk from it. It is evident that there is still sin in the world, but hope for a new beginning.
However, there are some errors. Noah does not make a sacrifice (this would be inconsistent with the film’s message that the animals are innocent and should never be killed), God does not bless Noah and his family audibly (though it is implied in the rainbow scene), and Noah is portrayed as distraught with uncertainty about whether he completed the task God gave him.
But the worst misrepresentation is Ila’s interpretation of Noah’s actions which are meant to almost be an ‘interpretation’ of the movie for the audience. When Noah tells her that he has isolated himself from his family because he failed them by failing to kill his granddaughters, she tells him that rather, God had shown him the wickedness of humankind, but that Noah had seen goodness, too, and God had given him the choice as to whether humanity should continue. This serves as a heartwarming end to the movie, but it is nearly completely opposite from the biblical story of God’s redemption.
The missed opportunity of Noah
Despite having ‘biblical advisors’ to guide them, the major decision that the producers apparently made, which caused nearly every plot flaw in the movie, was to exclude God as an active character. Thus it reduced God to some mythical or even mystical character. The Creator is mentioned, obeyed, sought, questioned, and cursed in the movie by various characters, but nowhere does He speak or act clearly Himself. And when He is excluded, someone else has to be merciful (the Watchers and Noah). Someone else has to shut the door of the Ark and give the post-Flood blessing (Noah again). Someone else has to be the sovereign one who decides who lives and who dies (you guessed it, Noah again!). No wonder the movie’s Noah is so distraught by the end of the movie—who could bear the impossible weight of God-sized actions and decisions?
But the Ark is a picture of God’s salvation, a story that had already been working itself out in previous generations. God clothed Adam and Eve—He covered their sins with the blood of animals, and covered their bodies with the skins. God marked Cain—as an act of mercy and preservation even after he murdered his brother, even though he would continue to rebel against Him. And 2 Peter 2:5 calls Noah a ‘preacher of righteousness’—some people think that means that Noah was preaching to the people during the time the Ark was being constructed. Even if this was the case, no one except his own family boarded the Ark—a demonstration of the darkened hearts of the pre-Flood world people.
In the movie, Noah wrestled with why he was chosen to survive since he recognized evil in his family and in his own heart. This is, of course, correct. Noah and his family were sinners who deserved God’s wrath as much as everyone else who was washed away in the deluge. God could only save Noah and his family because He would send His own Son to pay the penalty for our sin. Noah portrays God wrongly, and so portrays everything else wrongly. We shouldn’t really expect Hollywood to portray the picture of salvation, but when it is something that is so central to the story, we can’t act like it isn’t important that they failed to, either.
It is interesting how much Christians have looked forward to this movie—a movie produced by Hollywood! We should remember that Hollywood specializes in entertainment. Thus, they rarely let the facts get in the way of a good story, as often demonstrated when making all sorts of movies allegedly ‘based on real events’ or ‘based on a true story’. It would be very easy to make a huge noise and overtly criticize, but in short, what did we expect?
In conclusion, no one should be surprised that Aronofsky got Noah wrong. There is no indication that he is a believer or even has a grasp of the place of the Flood story within its wider scriptural context, and he has a history of making dark and violent movies. Hence the Watcher-golems and other embellishments to the story—which would have been as unnecessary as they are unbiblical, if he had been able to bring the larger biblical and salvation context into the movie.
As we said earlier, if you see this movie, exercise discernment. And it will be a lot less disappointing for you if you don’t expect it to bear too much resemblance to the Bible. In short, this movie is not an evangelistic one, but it may provide an opportunity for evangelism if people question you about it—especially over the next few weeks. Are you ready with answers? Creation.com has plenty if you type in key words such as Flood, Noah’s Ark and Noah etc. into our search engine. Or there are specific key articles in the following sections from our topics pages, such as Noah’s Ark and Flood.
Reviewer picks up on Gnostic and extra-biblical sources for Noah
Several readers have pointed us to a review by Dr Brian Mattson,3 which argues that Aronofsky was not drawing primarily on the Bible’s Flood account, but various Gnostic texts along with the Book of Enoch. His comments particularly make sense out of the snake skin that appears in various places throughout the movie.
[For one Australian pastor’s report after taking his young people to see the movie, click here.]
References and notes
- Morrison, P., Why a disclaimer for ‘Noah,’ a movie based on a religious story, not history?, L.A. Times Opinion online, www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-religious-riptide-for-noah-movie-20140306,0,349340.story#axzz2vyIMEFkJ, 7 March 2014. Return to text.
- Creation Compromises. Return to text.
- Mattson, B., Sympathy for the devil, 31 March 2014, drbrianmattson.com. Return to text.