Antediluvian Follies

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 scenes involving Noah 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 terminal ‘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 babies.

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 the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.