One of the most loved Bible stories that continues to fascinate children and adults is the story of Noah.
If you are going to watch this NC16 movie with little understanding or background to the movie, you might think that what is depicted is what is recounted in the Bible.
The movie, however, is not faithful to the scriptural source material and this has sparked the consternation of many religious leaders (especially in America) so much so that the studio included a disclaimer at the start of the film.
The film portrays Noah (Russell Crowe) to be more of a folklore than the biblical figure he actually is. Much can be said about the movie’s artistic creativity and ingenuity but not for its honouring of sacred scripture. For example, characters such as the Watchers (the fallen angels), who are portrayed to be good and willing to help man deviates completely from the biblical account.
Then you have Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), who is like a soothsayer with his magical tea and ability to effect physical changes in people.
The viewer may draw some parallels with other movies. The very first image in the film is that of space, and then the words, “In the beginning there was nothing” appears, seeming to echo George Lucas’ Star Wars “In a galaxy far far away…” rather than Genesis.
Then you have the Watchers who help Noah to build the ark. They seem to bear some resemblance to Transformers – only this time made of stone – together with the deep sounding voice of Optimus Prime. But the most classic of all references I believe is when director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky borrows the “tear of God” image from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, with the first drop of rain falling from the heavens onto Noah’s face.
Aronofsky turns the movie into one centring around Noah’s family and their coming to terms with God’s will in their lives.
The only thing true to the biblical story is that of the ark, the animals and the flood. Even Noah’s family is inaccurately portrayed.
In the biblical story, when God calls Noah, his sons are already married. In this movie they are not. So the quest of Ham, Noah’s second son, to find a wife; and Noah’s wife Naameh’s dealing with Methuselah to help Ila, Noah’s eldest son’s wife, to be rid of her barrenness; form an important subplot.
Noah comes to believe that the punishment God is meting out to the world includes the annihilation of the human race and his sole mission is to ensure that the animals arrive to safety to start life all over again.
So bent is his delusional belief that he even considers killing his own grandchildren.
Noah doesn’t get a direct revelation from God in the movie. There are only three moments when Noah encounters some form of revelation from God but in all of these, God is literally silent.
The first two is by way of dreams. The last is questionable, in which he hears that Ila is supposedly pregnant. He is now tormented, wondering how he is going to fulfil God’s will (which he believes is the end all humankind). He stares at the sky for a moment and says. “I will not fail you!” Did God speak to him?
A discerning audience is left to wonder whether it was God’s revelation that Noah was trying to fulfil or his interpretation of God’s silence.
Movies don’t irk people so much when they do a retelling of fairy tales or folklore, even though artistic licence is taken to its limits – as can be seen in movies such as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, or even historical figures to a certain extent such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
But when biblical figures are portrayed far from the norm it affects the sentiments and religious sense of many who subscribe to the faith.
So what can we say of this movie besides its entertainment value and CGI effects? One pivotal moment of realisation comes when Shem, Noah’s eldest son, cannot understand the way Noah acts and shouts at him, “I thought you were chosen because you were good.”
Noah replies, “I was chosen because I can get the job done.”
This is not the Noah we know and definitely not the Noah we believe in. Scripture tells us in Genesis 6:8-9: “Noah found favour with Yahweh ... Noah was a good man, a man of integrity among his contemporaries and he walked with God.”
Looks like a lot more has been lost in the storm and flood of this Noah movie.
By Fr Richards Ambrose
Fr Richards is the managing editor of CatholicNews, Singapore.