I’ve always said, “One of the ways you know you made a good bible movie is by pissing off a whole bunch of Evangelicals.”

The other way you know you made a good bible movie is by having a big budget. It’s obviously not a guarantee, but the bible is so epic you can’t really do it unless you’re really gonna do it. The last big budget bible flick I’d seen before Noah, was The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. DeMille, and starring Charlton Heston.

A third way is by having good actors. I have to say that the acting in this film was spectacular. There were big name actors like Academy Award winning Russel Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, and Jennifer Connelly. It didn’t leave out the future leading men and women of hollywood like Emma Watson and Logan Lerman. Best of all, Kirk Cameron had nothing to do with this movie!

So far Noah is hitting on all cylinders. So why didn’t I like it? We’ll get there, but first let’s focus on the positives.

Spoiler Alert: The rest of this post is filled with movie details, so read on at your own risk.

Noah’s world

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 6.55.51 AMI’ve read through the story of Noah dozens of times, and there are a few take aways from the biblical story and my interpretation that I think Darren Aronofsky did really well. I’m torn on the global flood story itself, it’s one of those things that well meaning Christians try to use science to explain, fail, and then default to miracles. I’m right now of the opinion that the flood was local, not global.

Aronofsky really captured the world that Noah lived in, and it’s obvious he either did his homework really well, or had a crack team of advisers.

In the biblical tale, there is a huge divide between the lineages of Cain and Seth. My theistic evolutionary imagination likes to think of it as the struggle between Homo-Sapien and Neanderthal man. After all, where did Cain get his wife, and why was he so scared about “other people” killing him? Let me stop myself here before I go down the rabbit hole.

I warn you though, I might nerd-out a couple times. The 12 year old version of me liked reading commentaries on Genesis with K-Love radio blaring in the background.

♬ But if I can’t swim after 40 days… ♫

Cain

Cain created the first human city in the land of Nod. It makes sense that his descendants are city dwellers. It’s quite conspicuous how many of Cains descendants are given credit for inventing  tools and even entire sciences. Tubal-Cain, who makes an appearance in the movie, was actually attributed in Genesis as being the first chemist/metallurgist/weapons-maker. And you get to see him make some weapons…

It’s also clear that Cain’s progeny don’t respect human life or the earth. Cain was the first murderer. Lamech was the first polygamist and first person to make a song about killing a guy as an act of revenge.

The biblical story shows the lineage of cain to be industrial, farmers, city-dwellers, violent, and hedonists. Surprisingly similar to us today. Aronofsky was paying attention…

Seth

In stark contrast the lineage of Seth are hunter-gatherers, emphasis on gathering. They tended to be transient, and very religious. The point is made in the biblical account that Seth’s family understood who God is and were in communion with him.

It’s also apparent that they get out-competed by the line of Cain, and eventually the world is filled with Cain’s descendants, along with some interesting beings called the Nephilim, while Seth’s line is very few in number. Noah is an eventual direct descendant of Seth, and is deemed by God to be the only righteous man in the entire world.

To nerd out on you for a second, the bible makes it clear that no one is righteous, but it says specifically that Noah was “righteous in his generations”. Some take that to mean that his family was genetically pure (i.e. completely human) and unmixed with the Nephilim.

The Watchers

In a smart move, Aronofsky included apocryphal stories of the “Old World” along with the account in Genesis. The “Watchers” are mentioned nowhere in the bible. Rather, it speaks of a race of Angel-human hybrids called the Nephilim. The book of Enoch is an apocryphal text where Aronofsky gets the name “Watchers”, along with their origin story. Enoch explains that the watchers were angels that rebelled God’s instruction, left Heaven (about 200 of them), and taught humanity all they knew about technology.

The Torah mentions one of their names, “Azazel,” and the book of Revelations speaks of a couple angels being chained beneath the Euphrates.

They aren’t called Watchers in the Bible, rather they’re called the traditional Old Testament name for angels, which is sons of God or “bene Elohim” in Hebrew.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
—Genesis 6:1-4

There are interesting parallels between the story in the book of Enoch, the account in Genesis, the New Testament, and the Greek mythology.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who was chained to a rock and condemned to have his liver eaten by eagles for eternity, for the heinous sin of giving the gift of fire to mankind. According the New Testament books of Jude and Peter, these fallen angels are chained in a place called Tartarus, a Greek word for “hell” (1 Peter 3:18-20 & 2 Peter 2:4). Funny that in Greek mythology that’s where most of the Titans are too.

You’ll find a lot of European and Near-East mythologies have a common theme of some sort of war among the gods or “war in heaven”.

According to the story in Genesis and Enoch, these watchers didn’t only help humanity, they also “helped themselves” to human women.

The book of Enoch and it’s stories aren’t accepted as Christian doctrine, or canon, but it’s interesting that the book is quoted in the New Testament in Jude 1:14, and the similar “Angels sleeping with human women theme” is found not only in the book of Jude and Genesis, but other places in the New Testament, going as far as telling women to cover their hair “because of the Angels” (1 Cor 11:10).

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. – Jude 1:6

I don’t want to go all “Christian nerd” on you (I lie), but that’s one interesting bible study if you’ve got the time for it. It’s way more sci-fi and “space opera” than you’d expect from the bible. Some people get a little too deep though, and there’s entire conspiracy theories referencing these ideas in “that other” portion of the internet where the psychics, alien abductees, and crystal necklaces are.

Aronofsky decided to go with his own interpretation of the Watchers being giant rock people while keeping much of the story the same. I didn’t mind this so much because it was original, but honestly the execution felt more more “claymation” than CGI.

Men

One thing I really liked was how mankind was depicted in the movie. Russel Crowe’s Noah was vary weary of “men”, which was what he called the city-dwelling descendants of Cain. Men were to be feared, like zebras fear lions. Men will rape and kill and pillage.

Noah represents a simple eco-friendly religious hippie. He’s green. He composts. He lives in a commune in the middle of the woods. He’s vegan. Literally, he’s vegan. When asked by his son Ham why “men” kill and eat animals, Noah answers, “They think it makes them stronger.”

I’ve got to applaud that too. I’m no vegan; I’m only slightly disturbed by how much I love the succulent meat of other animals, but I love the accuracy of the biblical account there. God had actually commanded Adam and Eve to only eat plants, and the line of Seth passed that tradition on. But the line of Cain, the men, they ate meat and killed and hunted against God’s commandment.

It was only after the flood that God issued a decree that allowed humanity to eat meat, and some speculate that it was because of some environmental changes to the earth that this was now necessary. The end of the flood coincides with biblical lifespans dramatically decreasing from about 900  years to just over 100 years.

Tubal-Cain, the main antagonist of the film, exemplifies everything Noah is afraid of. He’s reminiscent of a Caligula or a Nero, with a hint of Julius Caesar. Ray Winstone does an excellent job playing the Machiavellian.

Tubal-Cain takes what he wants. He’s a natural leader of men, and gives a pretty decent war speech. He’s a bully, he kills indiscriminately, believes the entire earth is his to subdue and dominate and he justifies it all with an ethos of machismo a little reminiscent of the Republican party. Basically he’s ‘Merica and he does everything he does “because ‘Merica!” He’s the type of guy you saw get jugular’d by Rick Grimes in the season four finale of The Walking Dead. “Claimed!”

Inside joke there…

It’s understandable that King Tubal-Cain presents a temptation for Noah’s curious son Ham. He embodies the occult doctrine, “Do what thou wilt.”

Hyperionandtubalcain

Interestingly enough, his character is very similar to Hyperion from Immortals. Long lost brothers?

The detail put into establishing the setting shows that Aronofsky did a fantastic job researching the many different facets of Noah’s story!

Throw-Back

To distract his family from the blood curdling screams of the humans drowning outside the ark, Noah tells the oral history of Creation, as his father told him.

I just came back from a discussion at my church on science and religion and whether or not they’re at odds. We heard from a panel of four Christian scientists: an astrophysicist, a biologist, a sub-atomic physicist, and a geneticist. Each basically gave credence to the prevailing scientific ideas, and a non-literal interpretation of Genesis, but with God still being the first cause, primary mover, and miracle worker.

Aronofsky’s creation depiction is a beautiful CGI scene, reminiscent of the TV show Cosmos, and I’m actually proud that it  wove in a 13.7 billion year history, evolution, and transition from fish to reptile to dinosaur to monkey, and eventually those apes swing their way into the garden of Eden. Somewhere, Ken Ham is throwing a fit right now.

Despite the shout-out to theistic Evolution, which seems to be the prevailing doctrine among Christians today (I think we’re making an allegorical heliocentric shift), I liked the glowing  Adam and Eve which may or may not have been special creation (they leave that up to your imagination), but obviously radiated the glory of God.

I sort of wish they’d made the Serpent a Neanderthal, but Aronovsky probably hasn’t gone that deep. That’s like… Level 10 Mason deep. *shiver*

Holy white people, Batman!

I find it interesting that the progenitors of the entire human race are all white, when we know that’s not the case. There were no dark skinned people in Noah’s time apparently. Honestly, I usually don’t care about this. I’m not “that guy”.

I’m the one person who can watch 9 hours of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and not notice there weren’t any black people until it was pointed out to me. Something about growing up in Arizona suburbs…

If you want revenge, watch a Tyler Perry movie. You’ll see enough black power brokers and white service staff to last you a year. Then you’ll get the joke, “What do Tyler Perry movies, McDonald’s commercials, and US Army advertising have in common?”

Seriously though, people say there’s no n****s in middle earth? What about all the people in black-face? You know they say white women glow when n****s are nearby. ROFL.

Let all those that didn’t laugh out loud cast the first stone. *Serious face*

It wasn’t just the lack of color, or the lack of wives for Ham and Japheth. The bible is awkward in enough places for you not to have to add in awkwardness on purpose. So Japheth and Ham are going to marry the twin nieces that Naameh (Noah’s wife) asked Methuselah to use his magic powers to provide to Ila (Shem’s wife)? I’m splitting hairs here, since the biblical alternative is that Shem, Ham, and Japheth’s children either married siblings or cousins, but let’s be real, it was only 50 years ago that people stopped marrying cousins. Now that I think of it analytically, marrying a niece is about halfway between marrying a sibling and a cousin, so Aronovsky’s off the hook. Still it was Axe Murderer Noah’s fault Ham didn’t get a proper wife.

After the movie I made up a little comedy sketch about what I’d do in Ham’s position. Hell or high water, I’m getting at least 3 wives. The selection process wouldn’t be complicated at all.

  1. “You’re pretty.”
  2. “Do you like to do squats?”
  3. “How many pairs of Yoga pants do you own?”
  4. “You look hungry. I’ve got food, and an ark.”

Unfortunately the movie wasn’t a comedy, so Ham only went with number 4, and he still failed.

Axe Murderer Noah

This is where the movie went south for me. Right before the flood hits, Noah get’s the bright idea that God doesn’t want to spare any human lives at all. He was only meant to build the ark to save the innocent animals. His now pregnant daughter in-law presents him with a conundrum, and he begs a silent God not to make him kill the baby.

This is where I think Christians will really have a problem with the movie. The silent unmerciful God, salvation for Nephilim, axe-murderer Noah, the drunken and naked Noah, wifeless Ham walking off to colonize Africa through cellular mitosis. Oh and how could I forget the magic snake skin! (I actually liked that). A friend of mine put it this way, “It’s hard to make a movie where God is both the protagonist and antagonist.”

After the movie was over, the theater was silent. Opening night and no applause? A girl behind us loud-whispered to her friend, “Why is everyone so silent?” I looked over my shoulder and then whispered to my wife, “Because the last 30 minutes were AWKWARD!” I was literally waiting for one of Noah’s sons to kill him, or the other way around. I was very uncomfortable to say the least.

It was only after the movie, and a few days of retrospect, that it finally dawned on me. Some of my friends and I joke that if bible characters were around today, they’d be in prison. Some would be in The Hague facing triple life sentences for war crimes. Others in a mental asylum. The rest would be at large and hunted by the CIA. Seriously.

Even our favorite bible characters are often guilty of genocide (Moses and Joshua), attempted-murder (Abraham), and the list goes on. King David not only committed genocide, he had a special prejudice for the handicapped (2 Sam 5:8). Axe murderer Noah doesn’t sound so far fetched after all. It was a different world back then.

Well, what can I say, Aronovsky went and did it! He actually offended the guy who’d been saying for years that you need to offend Christians in order to make a good bible movie.

What this means for bible movies

This isn’t the end. This isn’t the movie that’s going to decide how much money Hollywood pumps into bible epics. There are more coming. We have the story of Moses being done by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale. Even Will Smith has got a “Mark of Cain” movie coming out, supposedly with vampires (I can’t wait).

The last really good space opera I watched was Star Wars. And if you’re looking for some good sci-fi movie ideas, look no further than the bible. I can think of at least three popular biblical stories that could make a billion box office, if done right. They could just as well flop as hard as Disney’s John Carter and The Lone Ranger if the same mistakes are made.

You heard it here first though, be on the lookout for Logan Lerman. That kid’s got a bright Hollywood future. I’d already “thought-cast” him into a bible flick long before Noah. Him and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Conclusion

I can’t remember how many people have asked me how this movie was. I’m a bible and movie buff. I’d told them all how uncomfortable I was during the last third of the movie. I didn’t like axe murderer Noah, and the movie wasn’t head over heels amazing. But it’s better in hindsight. I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars, and that’s high for a bible/Christian movie!

Left Behind, 1 star. One Night with the King, 1 star. Fireproof, 0 stars. You know it’s true.

I forgive Darren Aronofsky, the director of Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain (a brilliant movie), and Black Swan, for the 30 minutes of horror he put me through. He made a “good bible movie.”

Some other thoughtful reviews