We recommend Darren Aronfonsky’s new film Noah, an imaginative take on the Genesis account. Though the movie can be a bit Hollywood at times (Russel Crowe is seen at one point beating off hordes of armed men single-handedly). Nevertheless, it raises serious questions about what it means to be a sinner attempting to follow God’s will, in a selfish world, that thinks such pursuit is folly.
The greatest villain in the film asks one of Noah’s sons if he wants to follow the Creator’s will or his own.
The film has been criticized by some believers, especially Biblical literalists, for departing from the Genesis account of the flood, and yet the Genesis account of the flood is pretty sparse. As such, Fr. Robert Barron suggests watching the film as a kind of “contemporary Midrash.” (The ancient Jewish tradition of Midrash, refers to imaginative elaborations on the stories found in Scripture.)
Catholics, of course, are not Biblical literalists. We recognize that the Bible is a collection of books containing many different genres, including allegory.
The film’s director, Darren Aronfonsky, was raised Jewish but it is now an atheist. The film itself is very Jewish, and Aronfonsky raises the key questions of the story in powerful ways. The greatest villain in the film asks one of Noah’s sons if he wants to follow the Creator’s will or his own. Talk about a question not asked in most contemporary films, let alone by the villain. Indeed, more atheists should make movies about the Bible, they seem to do a better, less sentimental job, than believers.
The story of Noah is a disturbing story. It is apocalyptic. We can’t edit out the parts of our tradition that make us uncomfortable; we can only grapple with them.
In the film Noah is always asking questions, always seeking advice, always wrestling with God. By contrast, the villains, have their minds made up, and aren’t willing to entertain ideas that threaten their self-interest. Noah’s willingness to ask questions and risk everything reminds us of the most faithful believers.
Some viewers have also criticized the film for its anti-capitalist, environmentalist, and anti-war themes. But these themes are not simply the product of Hollywood, they’re present in The Torah and The Old and New Testaments. They’re present in Catholic theology. It’s Scriptural that Adam and Eve were vegetarians and that Noah was responsible for the survival of creation. It’s Scriptural that no one until after the flood ate meat. This isn’t progressive ideology, it’s Jewish and Catholic teaching. Unfortunately, most Americans are more familiar with liberal and conservative labels than with the teachings of Judaism and Orthodox Christianity, which transcend both.
In the end, the movie version of Noah departs dramatically from the text. In the Bible, Noah’s three sons enter the ark with their wives. In the film, there aren’t sufficient wives, and Noah wonders if God’s will is not to destroy all of humankind because of its wickedness, including his own family. This was a disturbing but interesting twist. In the film, Noah is a fallible human being, an ordinary man struggling to understand God. As such, he makes mistakes. This adds tension to the film, and makes him a much more compelling character.
The film is rated PG-13 for graphic violence.
– Anna Keating