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Antediluvian Follies Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Sunday, 30 March 2014

NOTE: I reveal a lot about the new movie Noah in this review, which I come not to praise but to bury.
 

To evoke a Biblical context, I paraphrase Nathanael: Can anything good come out of Hollywood? On the evidence, probably not; not if the Bible is source material.

If you’ve heard bad things about Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah, believe them. It’s not just a bizarre, misanthropic rewrite of Genesis, it’s a brutal, soulless epic in its own right, a failure as both Biblical drama and . . . drama.

Much of the problem is its dependence upon special effects. The “visuals” of Noah have possessed it and driven out the virtues of screenwriting, acting, and directing. Indeed, those essential cinematic elements stalk ghost-like through Noah – on screen merely as placeholders for the film’s pyrotechnics. Yet even Noah’s wind and rain and fire are no better than in many films of lesser ambition, lower budgets, and far greater artistic achievement, although scenes filmed on location in Iceland and Upstate New York are lovely.

Let’s review the source. Newspaper ads for the film helpfully remind the moviegoer that “the story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis” and in Chapter 6 we read of Man’s wickedness. There were giants on the Earth then, the Nephilim, who “came into the daughters of men,” and this was among the iniquities that led God to decide to wipe out most of the human race.

But “Noah found favor with the LORD,” because he was righteous and blameless. And our gracious God promised a covenant with him and “your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”

The movie’s four-armed Nephilim, called “Watchers,” are spirits trapped inside animate bodies of rock. Although many scholars consider Nepilim fallen angels, i.e. demons, in Noah they’re good guys (very like Tolkien’s Ents), and they help Noah fight off the hoard of wicked people hell-bent on seizing the ark. This battle – a key scene in the film – is not in Genesis, although it pops up in just about every Biblical epic ever made.

The real Noah built his seaborne, gopher-wood-and-pitch menagerie, filling it with “seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair [of those creatures] that are not clean,” and he did all in the week before the deluge, a labor Hercules himself never imagined, and especially impressive for a man of 600. All this Noah did according to God’s commands, which in the Bible are presented within quotation marks, meaning that Noah actually heard the LORD’s voice.

Well, that’s not at all what happens in Noah.

 

An enormous problem lies at the heart of the film’s message, which is that Noah is the first VHEMT. That acronym stands for Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (the ‘T’ added to make it scan as vehement), a group that believes healing our beleaguered planet requires mankind to renounce reproduction – in order to do what God did in Genesis, only without the rainbow covenant.

And this is why only Noah’s eldest, Shem, gets a wife in the movie. His son Ham woos one, but she gets caught in a spring-loaded metal bear trap – one of many anachronisms in the film. Noah (Russell Crowe) refuses to save her. Japheth, here the youngest, but in Scripture the eldest, is also without a wife.

Watching the film, knowing that there should be two more women aboard besides Mrs. Noah, called here Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and Mrs. Shem, Ila (Emma Watson), you wonder what screenwriters Aronofsky and Ari Handel are up to.

Well, after Noah and Naameh sedate all the animals with the smoke from some potion she whips up, and after Ham conceives a murderous plot with the villain Jubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who has stowed away on the ark, Noah tells his family that when they reach land and offload the animals, there’ll be no more sexual intercourse among the six human survivors, because what God really wants is to save the bunnies and the cobras but none of the people. “We will work, complete our task,” Noah says, “and die with the rest” of drowned humanity.

But Ila is with child. (We learn this early on, because Naameh concocts a saliva-in-a-dish pregnancy test!) Noah fumes, but agrees not to kill the child if it’s a boy, who’ll become Earth’s Last Man. But if it’s a girl (who might reproduce), he promises a late-term abortion.

There are no other women aboard Aronofsky’s ark, because they’d just get in the way of the plot.

And, lo, Ila begats twin girls. Nature lover Noah, knife in hand, stands menacingly over them like an antediluvian Kermit Gosnell. Crowe huffs and puffs, but you don’t believe for a second this Noah will actually butcher the babes.

The raven comes back empty-beaked, then cometh the dove with an olive sprig, and it’s a peaceable kingdom at landfall, although Noah doesn’t build the huge barbecue of Genesis 8:20.

We see hints of rape, murder, and cannibalism among the people led by Tubal-Cain (who is Biblical, just not in the flood narrative), but the movie’s version of evil isn’t the violent perversity that humans visit upon one another, rather it’s the devastation wrought upon the earth by their “industrial civilization” (literally a quote from the film’s opening narration).

We get “Be fruitful and multiply,” but nothing about tooth-and-claw dominion (Genesis 9:2-7), which is an essential part of the covenant.

Oh, there’s a rainbow at the end, but it resembles a damp, faded flag from a rainy Gay Pride parade.

See this PG-13 film if you must, but read Genesis first.

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His book, The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (23)Add Comment
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, March 30, 2014
I’m surprised they didn’t have Joan of Arc as Noah’s daughter. Then again, Noah’s ark was made of wood and Joan of Arc was Maid of Orléans
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written by Jack,CT, March 30, 2014
Good Advice Brad,Thanks
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written by Mack Hall, HSG, March 30, 2014
"I come not to praise but to bury" - perfect!
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written by Stanley Anderson, March 30, 2014
I bow in admiration to Michael Paterson-Seymour's delightful comment. I can only pitifully (in comparison) add that Noah built the Arkansas rainbows after the deluge.
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written by beth, March 30, 2014
Yes, this movie is more of a historical fiction work rather than biblically accurate. Fundamentalists will hate it. One needs to understand Aronofsky is an atheist with a Jewish heritage who claims to have no religious training other than the stories his father told him(as read on another site).

I actually liked it, having known all this ahead of time. There were a few lines that do make me question his atheism, as they "tried" to show the true love and kindness of God.
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written by Myshkin, March 30, 2014
Yes, I agree with your assessment, Mr. Miner. Scripture, especially the most ancient mythopoeic texts can hardly be made into films with their modern, mechanical, narrative structures. The irony is that without "industrial civilization" there would be no films of any kind, let alone, silly stuff like this!

One quibble: the Hebrew text of Genesis 6:13 (where God initially speaks to Noah) does not indicate anything like quotation marks. These were a later redacter's addition to help make the text easier to parse. Here's the Hebrew and the Novus Vulgata of the verse just FYI:

6:13. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים לְנֹחַ קֵץ כָּל־בָּשָׂר בָּא לְפָנַי כִּי־מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ חָמָס מִפְּנֵיהֶם וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם אֶת־הָאָרֶץ׃

Gen 6:13 dixit ad Noe: “Finis universae carnis venit coram me; repleta est enim terra iniquitate a facie eorum, et ecce ego disperdam eos de terra."
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written by Tony Esolen, March 30, 2014
Bad people working from sound principles can rise above themselves and create great art. We're all sinners, and even a violent and troubled personage such as Caravaggio can still sense his sinfulness in his heart and lift his eyes to the mountains, whence cometh his help. Good people working from evil principles can, more rarely, rise above the principles and create great art. I don't know whether Maxim Gorki qualifies as a good person -- Teddy Roosevelt would not receive him, because he was living with a woman who was not his wife. But Gorki was a very good novelist. But depraved people working from evil principles produce very bad art.

This month's issue of Chronicles features a devastating review of the homosexual propaganda that won Matthew McConaghey his recent Academy Award for best actor. The world that produced John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, George Stevens, Elia Kazan, Leo McCarey, Fred Zinnemann, Anthony Asquith, and David Lean no longer exists. I'm afraid that if I watched any movie made in the last twenty years -- any one at all -- I would just roll my eyes and tune out. It all seems to me to be a combination of evil writing, arty directing, special effects, ponderous cinematography, bombastic music, bad acting by anorexic women and pretty face boys, and obvious politics. To hell with it.
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written by Derek, March 30, 2014
A spoiler alert would have been nice. Sheesh.
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written by Wollie, March 30, 2014
If the Maid of Orleans were in the movie she would be of French-African descent, forced to cook and clean up after Clan Noah and the animals. She would have been emancipated from her slavery by an angel with a stovepipe hat bearing an uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. Now that would be worthy of an Oscar!
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written by Brad Miner, March 30, 2014
Dear Derek,
I don't see how I could have given a clearer spoiler alert than that NOTE atop the column.
-Brad Miner
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written by Philip B, March 30, 2014
There are a few errors in this review. The order of Noah's sons is not entirely clear in Scripture: the description of Ham in Genesis 9:24 can be translated by younger or youngest. The beginning of Genesis 7 refers to a week for filling the ark, not building it. Also, the first reference to the villain has a typo: it should be Tubal-Cain. (And it should be Ila begat, not begats.)

In an interview on Patheos with Peter Chattaway, Darren Aronofsky insisted that he avoided contradicting Scripture (even saying that seven pairs of clean animals can be seen in wide shots). He wants the audience to feel Noah's struggle to understand God's justice and God's mercy. Noah is righteous in his generation, but he could foresee that wickedness would continue after the flood. Is it unscriptural for Noah to feel like God in Genesis 6:7, when God repents of making man? This portrayal is a bit like Jonah wanting Nineveh destroyed, slow to recognize God's mercy.

For another perspective, I recommend Steven Greydanus's review of Noah in the National Catholic Register. The movie should not be watched uncritically, but it is an interpretation that takes Genesis seriously, and invites viewers to do the same.
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written by Patti Day, March 30, 2014
I had no intention of seeing this movie from the git go, but I really enjoyed your review. I hope everybody in the theater laughs out loud when the narrator reads: their "industrialized society".
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, March 30, 2014
I presume this film is more of the homosexualist agenda, given the rainbow motif (I do presume they included something about the covenant). I won't be seeing this film as I have an aversion to rainbows these days.
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written by Angel, March 30, 2014
ROCK PEOPLE, ROCK PEOPLE, ROCK PEOPLE!
What a stupid clown movie, waste of my money.
The rock people help Noah build the Ark! ha, ha, ha!
This is the same director that did The Fountain!
And in that nutty nonsense movie, the Aztec guarded the Tree of Life and Buddha shows up!?!?! HOLLYWOOD STICK WITH YOUR LAME CAR EXPLOSION, VIOLENT, AND other FILTH!
Please do not interpret the Bible for us!
When the Rock people showed up, I should have walked out!
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written by Joshua, March 30, 2014
With all due respect, I have never heard anyone say that the character Noah "did all in the week before the deluge." The narrative establishes that 120 years pass between God's grim decree and the execution of said decree.
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written by John Gillis, March 30, 2014
The archetypical stories in the Hebrew scriptures are best understood when viewed in the light of the stories serving similar purposes in other cultures. I think it makes sense to view something like this using the same kind of contexualization. In other words, it should not be seen as an "artistic interpretation" of the Biblical narrative, but rather as a religious piece in its own right, using the common vocabulary and motifs of the archetypical global cataclysm story to assert its own theological and anthropological worldview - one which obviously seeks to repudiate the Biblical assertions concerning God and man, in favor of a vision that reflects the god(s) of the writers and producers.

In other words, we need to understand that this cannot possibly tell anyone anything about the God of the Bible - nor can it even pretend to. But it speaks volumes about the god(s) of the modern age, and of their worshippers and apologists.
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written by Bornacatholic, March 31, 2014
I received a special dispensation from my Bishop just so I could luxuriate in Schadenfreude vis a vis this psychosis as art.

So what if the perps of this carnal barbarism took Genesis seriously? Didn't Stalin take the Kulaks seriously?
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written by ken tremendous, March 31, 2014
I agree with Philip B. I thought it was a very good movie with a very provocative moral message. It is well within the Jewish and early Christian tradition of retelling stories changing some details and creatively interpreting and filling in the gaps in places that the Bible itself leaves opaque. It is a fascinating attempt to reconstruct a paleo-Hebrew morality tale.

That so many here are so suffused in politics that they can't get past the questions raised about the creation and industrial society and God's original plan for man says far more about them than the film. If one wants to see a perfect encapsulation of why conservative Christians and Catholics stink at creativity and telling stories one need go no further than this review and its comment thread.

The folks here are looking movies that cater to their own identity politics, genuflect before their pieties, and stroke their moralistic solipsism and nostalgia fetishes. It's not surprising then that they didn't like this film which happily did none of those things.
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written by Bornacatholic, March 31, 2014
I think the Producer nuked, Noe, a Biblical nogoodnik; and so what if he smuggled in some propaganda about the putative duty of man to disappear (actions speak louder than movies, sir)?

In the retelling (a three syllable word meaning lie) of the truth about Noe and The Ark, The Director and the Producer provided the perfect opportunity for our betters to point-out how we who won't go to the movie (rewarding the wealthy for trying to destroy the Faith) are a bunch of backwood bohunks and hysterical hillbillies who are all about solipsistic nostalgia fetishes whereas the plain and simple truth is that the modern function of Hollywood is Myth-making in the service of supplanting the truth.

O, and one other thing. Abraham was ante-semitic.
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written by JoyceM, March 31, 2014
I think this is not a Christian, nor a Jewish movie. It is not talking to Christian nor Jew, it is talking to the VHEMT. It is telling them that they are right that there is going to be a reckoning for the damage humans have done to the earth, but the choice to not reproduce is not just. The movie is preaching to the VHEMT crowd, telling them to choose mercy and love and the continuation of humanity. I think the makers are trying to convert the annihilation crowd to choose life. Which is very strange, because they are not who you would expect to do this. So, that is the only good I see in the movie.
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written by SWBentley, April 01, 2014
I love the paraphrasing of Nathaniel at the beginning!

Of course the beautiful irony of it is that, "yes" something good does come out of Nazareth! The son of God himself. I can only assume that Brad Miner was highlighting his own cynicism by casting himself as Nathaniel here.
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written by Derek, April 02, 2014
Brad, I linked here from the email newsletter, which neglected to include your note. And since I was already halfway through the article when I linked over to here, I did not start at the top of the page.
- Derek
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written by king joffrey, April 04, 2014
The movie was a great account of human mythology.
I fnd it strange and humorous that so man people are trying to judge it (thou shalt not judge right?).
Its liked people getting upset that thor is in the avengers.

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