NOTE: A slightly altered version of this review is also available in the Christian Chronicle. Read it here.
I made the firm decision that I was not seeing the film. I’d heard a flood of negative things about it (that’s the last time I promise!), and I had no interest in supporting a film that was being described as an all-out assault on the Biblical account of Noah. ‘Why give my money to an atheist for tearing down a cherished Bible story?’ I thought.
But when I got the call to review it, I decided to watch it despite my scruples. In hindsight, I have to admit my prejudices were largely incorrect. “Noah” is a surprisingly Biblical, more-or-less faithful adaptation of the life of Noah. If not for a completely egregious alteration, it would be an easy recommendation.
Strictly from a cinematic standpoint, there is a lot to like in the “Noah.” For one, the cinematography is amazing. Researchers believe the world and the view from the world looked different before the flood. The film really captures that – Earth’s landscapes look fresh and clean throughout, and many of the vistas are breathtaking in a way I haven’t seen since the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the sky. Many experts suppose a clearer atmosphere (or perhaps even a different type of atmosphere altogether) allowed man to see stars and planets with extreme clarity, even during the day. The film takes this into account, as the sky is shown to be rife with celestial bodies. It’s quite gorgeous.
The acting is another positive element of the film. Russell Crowe is fantastic as Noah. His rugged, old-world look is perfect as the antediluvian hero, and his performance is even and powerful. This is his most effective role since “Gladiator.” Jennifer Connelly is equally effective as Noah’s wife Naameh. She is understated and plays the part of wife and mother with balanced credibility.
A special note should be made regarding Anthony Hopkins’ wonderful portrayal of Methuselah. He seemed to really be enjoying himself; his body language, eccentric ticks and funny personality are fitting as the oldest man ever, and he weighs said quirks with regality and wisdom that is believable for a man of such experience.
Other nice elements are the score and CGI. The music matches the fresh, clean landscape nicely with flowing melodies in a major key, and later matches the flood scenes with forceful minor passages. I would have preferred more distinct themes, but the music does its job. As for the CGI, the effects are well done, believable and they complement the natural photography nicely.
Altogether, “Noah” is a well-made film. But when considering a Bible movie, believers will often wonder how faithful the show is to the Scriptural narrative. As mentioned above, I find “Noah” to be fairly faithful i.e., the basic story is played out. Noah’s family (most of them), the flood, his drunkenness and other basic elements are intact.
Since the Genesis text is relatively short and largely silent in terms of minute details of Noah’s life, it appears writer/director Darren Aronofsky filled in the gaps with help from Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews.
An example of this would be Tubal-cain. The Biblical Tubal-cain is described as “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.” (Gen 4:22) In the movie, Tubal-cain is presented as a blacksmith warlord and Noah’s antagonist. This characterization is found in Ginzberg’s description in Vol. 1 Chapter 3.
Another example is Methuselah’s backstory. The Bible tells us next to nothing about Methuselah’s life, but Legends includes a lengthy description of his actions, including slaying “ninety-four myriads of the demons in a minute.” This is actually shown in “Noah,” and I couldn’t help laughing heartily. It is a ridiculous moment.
A final example is the movie’s most outrageous set of characters, rock giants called “The Watchers.” If one reads the Bible, The Watchers are nowhere to be found lest one combine the Nephilim from Gen 6:4 with fallen angels of Jude 6. But, Ginzberg’s book includes a description of Enoch “sojourning with the angel watchers and holy ones.”
This movie includes many added and fantastic elements, to the extent that it sometimes feels like “Lord of the Rings” crossed with “Braveheart” (a film notorious for being historically inaccurate). But, since the early Genesis narrative is filled with fantastic elements, and since we do not know exactly what actually happened, I encourage viewers to take the outrageous elements with a grain of salt and use the film as a springboard to think about and imagine what life for the historical Noah really might have been like.
Aronofsky implemented one change, though, that I cannot take with a grain of salt. Since the Bible doesn’t say much about Noah’s life, it would seem easy to get what is mentioned correct. Despite his attention to detail in filling narrative gaps, Aronofsky made the decision to remove one explicit element from the story that fundamentally alters the film. Namely, he removes Noah’s personal relationship with God.
The Genesis account of Noah’s life includes several verses of God speaking to Noah, including moments in which God tells him His flood plan, gives him specific instructions of how to build the Ark, and reassures him of His plan to establish His covenant with his family. This is ALL absent from “Noah.”
Since God does not speak to him, Noah spends much of the second act wondering whether or not he and his family are supposed to survive. As he struggles to figure out God’s plan, he becomes increasingly unstable. This creates a messy drama that I found to be terribly unpleasant.
This alteration fundamentally changes the story. To tell the life of Noah without including his personal relationship with God is like telling the story of the Apostle Paul without his personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. It is an egregious, contrived change that keeps me from making a whole-hearted recommendation.
Hollywood never makes movies completely faithful to the source material, and “Noah” is no exception. While it contains beautiful cinematic elements and a mostly faithful story, I am hard pressed to overlook the needless removal of Noah’s personal relationship with God.
In the end, it only seems appropriate to leave the final opinion up the viewer. Many of my believing friends have expressed positivity toward the film, and I must admit my knowledge of early Genesis has grown exponentially after watching it. So, I think there is value in watching “Noah.” After all, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
Grant Stevens is a writer, musician, and home salesman. He is also unquestionably a future Pulitzer Prize winner, and it is inevitable that he will one day hoist the trophy for every major writing commendation in the world. In his spare time, he is the Grand Monarch of the Use Ironic Correctly Society, and he enjoys studying Bible translations, apologetics and lots of other stuff pertaining to the Christian life.