Investigating the Interpretation of "Noah"

There has been a lot of backlash in regards to “Noah”. If you’re in the crowd who may enter “Noah” with your guard up because you heard it’s not Biblical, you may miss out on a great conversation starter and thought provoking film. No. The story does not stay true to the Biblical account. Director Darren Aronofsky, has called it the “least Biblical biblical film ever made.”  In fact, within the first two minutes of on screen opening text the film strays from the Bible in its’ tale of what happened to Cain. If you’re looking for the 100% pure biblical story you won’t find it. You will find the story you’ve read or heard visually come to life on the big screen, while investigating faith topics. 

The film starts with Noah (Russell Crowe) having dreams of a flood that will be the end of mankind. There is never a voice of God in the film, but rather “the creator” (as the movie calls Him) speaking to Noah through visions and dream. Noah moves throughout the rest of the film trying to interpret what God is saying to Him. 

The movie spends most of its time preparing for the great flood, a portion of it on the ark during the flood, and then ends with them on land. Yet it’s not that simple. We follow Noah as he searches for answers from his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Picking up Ila (Emma Watson), a girl left for dead by men, along the way. After receiving a seed from his grandfather, Noah enlists the help of the Watchers (fallen angels whose light has been encased by rock...aka rock angels...aka Rock Biter’s grandkids from “The Never Ending Story”) to help him build the ark with his family: wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), Ila, and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Hearing of miracles, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), king of men, confronts Noah because he wants to be on the ark when the flood comes. 

As both sides gear up for the flood Noah seems to represent good and Tubal-Cain the wickedness of men. Yet, Noah comments to Naameh “we all have wickedness in us” and names the different sins he sees in his family who are all going to get on the ark. This is the idea that drives Noah to believe that his family will too succumb to God’s punishment even after the flood. It’s this seed in his mind that plagues him to a maddening obsession to please God through the ark and (SPOILER ALERT) kill his unborn grandchild(ren) if it comes down to it to ensure God’s will is done. It divides his family against him in their own ways. Shem feels he must protect his wife from his father, Naameh won’t forgive Noah if he crosses that line, and Ham is upset at his father for leaving him single by not letting him take a wife on the ark. Which is a setup for great cinematic storytelling with flawed characters, but Biblically inaccurate.

Although Aronofsky has put his own vision to the renown Biblical story, he draws out some of the complexities of Biblical characters’ lives that the Bible doesn’t specifically layout but we have to assume the men and women may have felt. Noah was tasked with building a large ark that would save his family and pairs of all animals. What a heavy task that is for anyone! People like Noah, Job, Esther, Mary, Jesus and the list goes on; they had such a heavy weight on them that must have been in their thoughts and effected the people around them. How do you have faith and come out on top on the other side? How do you silence the opposing voices and forces and keep on task? How do you love and support your husband, or father who is claiming God told him to build an ark? This complexity is an area the movie takes license in for Noah and his family. 

This is where I can appreciate the film on a level outside of the cinematic. Visually seeing the the world flooded, pairs of animals filling the ark, and seeing the compartments and levels of the ark is incredible.  While philosophically, don’t we all in our quiet moments have plaguing questions about our world? Does God exist? Is God talking to me? Is this the right thing to do? Aronofsky’s take looks into those questions in his own way, but they’re valid questions to ask and try to find the answers to in our personal lives. 

In short, if you want a movie that sticks to scripture, don’t see “Noah”. The story of the fall of Cain, Noah’s sons not all having wives, men not carrying on with life as they knew it (Luke 17:26-27) in the time leading up to the flood, and the rock characters are just a few of the things way out of left field. If you are confident in your faith and open to seeing an interpretation that will have you thinking afterwards, then “Noah” is for you. You don’t lose/gain anything by not seeing it, but I do think you gain an appreciation for the task Noah and his family completed in seeing it. You will reflect on the film after the closing credits and perhaps have a great conversation starter at the water cooler tomorrow. When was the last time a Hollywood trailer encouraged people to read Genesis (though they were covering themselves)? Either way, the film is well acted, entertaining and visually stunning. 

Rating: B+

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.