There has been much ado over the movie, Noah.
As I often do with most big pictures, for which I have waited with some interest and anticipation, I ignored most of what I had been hearing from the critics who had offered up their punditry based on early screenings to test markets, and went in to the theatre with an open mind.
But before I get to the meat of *my take* on the film, itself, let me say a few things that need to be understood about big movies, such as Noah, that, due to subject matter, create hype and controversy. What I understood about this movie, going in (without actually knowing a single thing about it other than what I had seen in the trailers) was the obvious: it was a major motion picture, created by the motion picture industry, who have at the core of anything they fund, a need to see revenue and profit. That is just a given. No matter how amazing the visuals might be, no matter the heart, passion or bias thrown into the writing and creation of a film, no matter who may love or hate it in the long run, the bottom line for the studio that finances the thing, is the need to turn a profit. And that is not an innately evil thing, in the very least. The entertainment industry exists and proliferates based on what people will continue to pay to consume, just as any other company, corporation or sole proprietorship that exists. Very little can happen without the potential to generate revenue and turn profit.
So, movie producers, studios and distribution companies continue to live, breath and exist based on what they can produce and sell. They spend a great deal of time forecasting the success of any given project, based on a number of factors, and many times they have to be very cautious of content, producing only what they know will draw an audience that will produce the revenue necessary to pay for the production and create profit on the back end. The audience reaction at the box office – initially gaged by opening weekend – will determine whether any given property will stand on its own merit, or skyrocket to blockbuster status, or perhaps even proliferate endless sequels, creating a franchise. In the case of Noah, we know, going in, that there will probably not be a Noah 2, and Paramount was well aware that this movie needed to stand on its own feet, pleasing audiences enough for them to recoup their investment and hopefully produce a nice revenue stream and profit.
Noah is the sort of movie that could not be calculated to capitalize on its branding and merchandising, either, as many big motion pictures do. There, honestly, won’t be any Russell Crowe “Noah” action figures, toy Noah axes or model movie arks filled with animal figurines lining the shelves of Target, WalMart and comic book shops. This brand of movie – much like Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ – simply doesn’t lend itself to that sort of ancillary marketing and branding.
The appeal of Noah, then, had to be strong enough to allow the movie to stand on the dictates and anticipation of the audience. And let’s not be coy, here, it needed to appease a certain religious mindset, while drawing the attention of those who are uninterested in bearded-bathrobe-and-bed-sheet biblical offerings. The days of Charleton Heston and Yul Brenner in gloriously technicolored, storybooked, epic versions of biblical tales is long gone, and, frankly, lost on a more sophisticated, show-me-the-grit mindset of current day audiences. Noah had to reach beyond the gloss of legend and fairy tale, incorporate the obvious spiritual mystique and “power of God,” while telling a story of real people in enormously fantastical settings. All the while, the penny counters back at the studio are nervously calculating the public’s reaction to the film, and whether or not the appeal will be great enough to pull in more then the religiously curious crowd for one showing on opening weekend, only.
What I found interesting in people’s reactions to the film was that it was like watching a great divide in mindset. People either loved this film or absolutely hated it. And much of the dislike came from religious sources who panned the movie based on what they felt was the “tampering” with the Biblical tale. And I will give this some credence, as most people interested in a movie about such a religiously cherished story as Noah and the Ark, will approach any big Hollywood production with anticipation that the film will uphold their faith predilections and view of what they have been taught God is supposed to be. And make no bones about it, Noah was judged and pre-judged on this basis. Even such conservative luminaries as Glenn Beck originally slammed the film based on other people’s critiques, having admittedly never seen the film prior to uttering an opinion. Much to Beck’s credit, he apologized openly for jumping on the religious bandwagon, and took up the studio’s offer to come see the film, himself. He still didn’t like it, but I found his critique of the film to be based less on the story as a whole, and more on the fact that it didn’t perfectly align with the “evangelical Christian” story of the great Old Testament patriarch and his zoological boat. This seemed to me to represent a mindset that wanted only one version of the tale told, and that would be the version that aligns perfectly with their point-of-view and religious teachings. Ignore the fact that real humans in such off-the-normal-scale circumstances, would be a tale set in the ordeal of trauma, tragedy, survival and recovery, with the characters struggling to assert themselves as more than mere pawns in an enigmatic game – and you’ve got to admit: it doesn’t get much more enigmatic than an invisible, Almighty Deity casting all of his creation into chaos and holocaust, all while creating a “mulligan” for only a handful of his sinful humans in the form of a protective ark.
What these sort of religious critics (generally found incorporated and invested in the “Religious Right” movement) did not seem to acknowledge – or, quite possibly completely overlooked due to an ignorance birthed from a singular religious point-of-view, is that the movie, Noah, was based not only on the story as found in the Book of Genesis, but also on other ancient, biblical accounts as sourced in the books of Enoch and Jashur, two Old Testament books that had been eliminated from the biblical canon of scripture under the councils convoked by Roman emperor Constantine in the mid-forth century A.D.
And just in case you are not up on your history, Constantine was a thoroughly Pagan emperor who utilized Christianity to coalesce his empire. When he launched the Council of Nicea, among several others, gathering Catholic bishops together to determine matters of church polity, governance and scriptural veracity, the mandate was not “Go seek the truth.” The mandate was to establish unanimity. The bottom line for Constantine had nothing to do with truth. It was all about quelling dissent.
The books eventually ejected from the canon of scripture were done so on the basis that the council could not come to a unanimous agreement as to whether or not it was truly “God-breathed.” Some of these books were regarded with such a difference of opinion by the members of the council, that they were simply set aside, placed in a grouping of writings known as the Apocrypha, and there they sat while others were tossed out completely.
The mention of the Watchers in the movie, was something scoffed at by many reviewers, when in fact, the Watchers, while not mentioned by the same name in Genesis, were spoken of to great extent in Enoch and Jashur, two books removed from the canonical scriptures. Yet, even the Book of Genesis mentions the Watchers by another name, “The Sons of God.” In the Hebrew language, the English translation of “Sons of God” is literally “bene ha’ Elohim” (“those of the Elohim”) And when you begin an arduous research into comparative scriptures in the Old Testament, you find reference to the Elohim as corresponding, not to angels, but to Enoch’s Watchers. Same beings, different labels.
As a side note, the Book of Enoch was widely quoted by other Old Testament writers, and even by Jesus, himself, in the Gospels, yet Constantine’s Councils still found it unsuitable for the Scripture, and lost its place in the queue for inclusion in what we have as our present Old Testament.
As for the Watchers being represented in the movie as stone creatures within whom the spirits of the Watchers had been condemned and confined, it was a visual representation of, again, a seemingly little known account from the Book of Enoch. The account of the Watchers in Enoch, tells the reader that the leader of the Watchers, Shemyaza, as a result of his intermingling with humans and giving away “forbidden knowledge of the gods,” was buried in the desert, encased in rock for a time until God eventually freed him. The ancient stories of the “scapegoat” can be sourced in the annual ritual played out by ancient followers of pre-Hebraic religion, in which they would send a goat out into the desert as an offering to appease the “fallen god.”
The depiction of the stone creatures in the movie was a little too Hollywood CG for my liking, but it made the point, added to the fantasy aspects of the film, and was, in a small sense, honest to the nature of Enoch’s writings – despite their absence in the Book of Genesis. Many evangelical Christians have absolutely no idea that these texts even exist, let alone these beings, and they base their understanding of the story of Noah and the antediluvian (pre-flood) world solely in the Genesis account.
I also heard, in advance of the release of the movie, that Noah depicts its main character as an ancient animal rights activist and “green earther” of his day. This would certainly be stretch of imagination, but not inconsistent with the type of character they were attempting to portray in the movie. Noah, in the movie, Is a man who respects what is around him. He is shown as a man who believes that Nature is to be revered, and that this is an element of humanity that has been lost. He was a man stirred to action by a dream encounter with the “Creator,” who chose him, he supposed, because he kept pure to the laws of the Nature. Its a dramatic vehicle. But while we are on the topic of “purity,” let’s address the understanding of what the Genesis account meant when it calls Noah a “righteous man, pure in all his generations.”
This has been grossly misinterpreted in English to mean that Noah was a “good, righteous man.” In fact, in the Hebrew language of the Book of Genesis, “righteous” meant “pure blooded.” In actuality, when you examine the linguistics of the Genesis text, it clearly states that Noah was a man who was “pure blooded in all his generations,” meaning that his family line was “of pure human blood,” as opposed to the mixed blood of the rest of the population of the known world at that time. According to the Genesis account.
Remember when I stated that the Watchers “intermingled with humans?” Well, even that is found in the Genesis account when it speaks of the “Sons of God” (the bene ha’ Elohim”) as descending to earth, choosing human women and breeding with them, proliferating a race of mixed human/Watcher offspring. What you find when you cross-reference the Genesis account with Enoch and Jashur, is that the earth was “wicked and impure,” filled with humans of mixed blood – except for Noah and his family, the only “pure blooded” humans left, tracing their ancestry (their generations) all the way back to Adam, the first man.
The reason I find it necessary in a film review such as this, to address these matters of biblical research, is to establish that a lot of the criticism of the movie coming from pointedly religious circles, is plain and simply ignorant to the information contained in the story. No matter if you view the entire tale as truth, legend or myth, the story of the Noah and the Ark is much more far-reaching than the Genesis account, alone. (I address all of these issues in much deeper detail in my book, The Rise and Fall of the Nephilim, New Page Books, 2012.)
Having an understanding of human nature, as well as a comprehension of how things were recorded in ancient times, will give one a completely different focus on the movie, Noah, and a clearer understanding of some of its seemingly fantastical elements. For certain denominationally-minded critics to see the film as a complete derivation from the biblical story, is indicative of a mindset that wishes to see “only what they know and understand” of the story to be promulgated. There is so much that we do NOT know, so much of what we CHOOSE to believe, that we base our opinions solely on only one version of the ancient story – which has several other versions that come from different religious cultures, such as the ancient Sumerians and their Epic of Gilgamesh, which would be an incredible film all on its own.
Is Noah a good movie to see? Is it worth your ten bucks and three hours of time? In short, yes. It is an excellent film with splendid actors and amazing visual effects. The Ark, itself, is one of the most anticipated “characters” in the film, and was based on the biblical descriptions and dimensions sourced in Genesis – unlike any motion picture predecessor before it. Gone is the fairy tale version of Noah’s big, shiny boat with the curved prow and gloriously maritime features, and enter, stage right, is a depiction of the ark that actually looks like something built of “shittim wood,” and smeared with tree tar. The grittiness is a welcome advent to the Noah story.
Is “God” mentioned in the film? Absolutely, yes. While there is only one time the word “God” is actually uttered, and that by Ham, Noah’s son, who says, “The Creator IS God,” the film repeatedly refers to the “Creator.” And we all know they aren’t referring to anyone other than God, whichever way you want to mince this to be a watered-down reference, as the ancients didn’t use the same vernacular we are used to uttering in our more modern liturgies. Even Solomon, in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, refers to God as “Creator.” So, the argument that God is not mentioned in the movie is as feeble as much of the other religiously based criticism of the film.
Did Noah, in the movie, run around wielding an axe with the intent of murdering his family? Absolutely not. He is not depicted as a psychopath by any stretch of the imagination. The film does, however, depict Noah as a man who was greatly, psychologically impacted by his brush with the Divine, and how he struggled in his attempt to interpret what it was he was supposed to be doing. After all, he is told to build a huge barge to save all the animals, followed by a major geologic catastrophe in which he saw all of humanity destroyed. Noah’s story is punctuated by the saving of animals, which the scripture even clearly states was not his doing at all, as the biblical account says that God “brought the animals to the ark,” and this is clearly depicted in the film as being a huge supernatural event.
Noah, I am sure, suffered the madness of encounter with God that seems to be indicative of prophetic types down through the ages. If he, indeed, experienced divine epiphany, and like most biblical patriarchs was simply left alone to pick up the pieces afterward, you can be sure that a human being could certainly become conflicted over what he was supposed to do next. Remember, after the whole event was over, the biblical account tells us that Noah planted a vineyard, made wine and became a drunk. Perhaps the coping mechanism of a mind that got a glimpse of the divine, yet left to live the rest of his in the mundane world, waiting to see if it ever happens again, can drive one to an apparent madness of sorts.
In the movie, Noah felt that he was divinely ordered to bring about the end of the proliferation of humankind, and he interpreted his mandate as being the one responsible to kill off ALL of humanity, including his own family, after the flood waters had subsided and the earth was cleansed. He never chased down his family with an axe in the film, but there were times in this interpretation of the story, in which he believed that the end of all mankind was what God wanted as an eventuality – even extending to the end of his own family, whom he interpreted as being chosen solely for the purpose of saving the animals. Man, as interpreted by Noah in the film, were the blight that God was eradicating. When you see the film, determine for yourself the kind of man Noah is being shown to be, and how you may have interpreted what it was you were called to do. It is a very interesting take on the psyche of a mind touched for a moment by the madness of the Divine.
SPOILER ALERT!! In the end, there is a rainbow, and all works out well.
We have been so immunized from the reality of the lives of biblical patriarchs – whether the miraculous events attached to them are true or not – that we forget that they were human beings, too, whose only unique quality was that they simply experienced the divine on a very different level – and even then, that encounter was usually at mere glimpses, moments, visions and dreams, leaving the man or woman to wrestle for the rest of their lives with what they believed they encountered.
One of my personal complaints with Christianity, is that we have turned ancient stories and legends into biblical fairy tales, “storybook-izing” the miraculous and idolizing the people who encountered it. For many, the story of Noah and the Ark is a true account, bolstered by their faith. For others, it is a legend and myth, made spectacular only in the realm of faith, and the cultural history of religious tradition.
The film, while divergent in its interpretation and presentation of the ancient religious story, may fall outside the realm of what we may have been taught in certain circles. Yet, it is inclusive of more information than we have been exposed to in our limited religious classrooms. It delves into the psychology of how this man and his family must have felt, as the rest of humanity perished on the other side of the wooden hull.
There is a scene in the movie where Noah and his wife are sitting together in the dark, inside the ark, the flood waters are raging and there are the sounds of people screaming and crying outside. Noah gently tells her that, soon, the cries will end, and to simply do her best to not listen. This is an aspect of the biblical tale that we never read, nor never been taught. What was it like for these people to experience what they were going through? Were they praying and rejoicing, or were they completely distraught, knowing they were sole survivors of a devastation that wiped everything and everyone they once knew from the face of the earth?
The movie reminds us all that there is Something much bigger at play, running the affairs of mankind and the universe. The obedience of Noah to “the Creator,” the salvific nature of the ark story are all intact. Whether it is based on a factual account, a legend or mere religious myth based on disastrous geological events, it presents a real story of real people placed in enormously fantastical events. What is truly gratuitous, in my estimation, is how the Sunday School interpretations of wrathful Old Testament stories attempt to lull us into thinking that they make perfect sense.
My recommendation is that you take the time, go see the movie, enjoy it for its entertainment value, then go look up the story for yourself and read it. But enter the theatre knowing that the movie is intense, traumatic and emotionally engrossing. Do not marry yourself to the Genesis account, alone, for the story of Noah and the Ark is much bigger and farther reaching than the mere chapters given it in the Old Testament book that has come down to us in our modern day bibles.
As with everything, don’t let someone else tell you what to think or what to believe, but find it out for yourself. Take in the information and process it with the brain given to you – by… the Creator.