I loved Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. No apologies. Straight up. And I’m going to tell you why.
But first let me say, if you’re expecting a literal retelling of the story, you will probably be disappointed. There is much that is the same as the Scriptural text, but there is also a lot of creative license. Aronofsky amplifies and heightens the drama through several plot twists. My least favorite of these was “The Watchers,” fallen angel stone people who remind me of some of the fantastical creatures in Tolkien. Their origin story is interesting and I can’t condemn the filmmakers for using creativity and imagination, but so much of the rest of the story is so credible and human. Talking stone people might contribute to the idea that the story is a mere myth. But there was so much more to love in this film that I decided to just roll with this plot device and appreciate it for what it was.
Here are 10 reasons why this Christian loves Aronofsky’s Noah.
1. It shows that creation really is central to the story of Scripture.
I’ll admit that, along with many Christians, I got a little nervous when I started hearing reports that Noah featured a “radical environmentalist message.” I hate when people impose meanings on the text from outside the text. I got to see lots of that in seminary and in ministry. I’m someone who believes in exegesis (reading out of the text) instead of eisegesis (reading into the text). We all know that Scripture can be twisted to say any number of things that it doesn’t actually say in its totality.
But after seeing Noah, I have to say I was impressed with the insight it gave me on creation and how central that is in the story of Scripture. The way Aronofsky engages with this theme involves very fair interpretation of what Scripture actually says. For example, he starts with the creation story, the fall of man, and the first murder. Later in the film, he brings in an incredible, imaginative creation sequence that reminded me of the one in The Tree of Life. It stirred wonder and worship within me. What a God we serve!
In addition, Aronofsky brings in the command God gave to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28, NIV). This is one of the most important verses in Scripture in relation to stewardship of creation. We see further from Genesis 2:15 that God’s intent in the dominion over creation was stewardship: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (NIV). To suggest that human beings were created in order to care for and tend to creation is not a stretch from Scripture; it is deeply embedded in the Biblical text.
I know and believe that creation is central for God, but it is how Aronofsky unpacks the rest of the story in Genesis in relation to these Biblical facts that really got my imagination going. That leads me to points #2 and 3.
2. It helps resolve the conundrum of a loving God destroying His creation through the Flood.
I have struggled with this idea: how could a loving God destroy the world through a flood? I won’t say I’ve fully come to understand God’s ways, but this movie was a tremendous gift in helping me reconcile God’s love with the fact of the Flood’s judgment. The movie vividly shows the utter destruction and rape of creation that humanity had brought about in only 10 generations. This not only with “tree-hugger friendly” issues. No, there are virtually no plants. And yes, Noah and his family are vegetarians. But we also see violence and inner motivations of evil. We see rape. We see arrogant refusals to follow the Creator. When you see the earth razed to the ground, abused and used up, burnt and filled with violence, you realize something: God didn’t destroy the world; humans and their sin did. God just let them have what they wanted anyway. Oh, how powerfully this hit me! It released me from indicting God’s character. It released me from my fears of what His judgment meant. God is loving. God had good purposes for life in all His creation. But we destroyed it. In this, we see the good heart of God which is so present also at the Cross. He is the same God–Old and New Testament alike.
3. It showed me a powerful image of what sin actually is: “I wanted it, so I took it.”
The movie shows a sequence several times that includes a ripe pomegranate being plucked from a tree, a representation of the first sin. In the film, sin is depicted exactly as it is in Scripture. Sin is going against what God commands and sin is lust for what I want, everyone else be damned. Sin is depicted as original sin. At one point in the film, Noah says, “For ten generations, sin has walked within us.” There are numerous references to the inner nature of sin, not just to the act.
There is a really interesting villain in the story, the character of Tubal-Cain. For those who are unfamiliar with the minutiae of the Biblical text, it might be easy to assume he as an invented character. But although Scripture doesn’t tell us a lot about him, it does tell us enough to see that Aronofsky’s Tubal-Cain flows very much from the text. Tubal-Cain is mentioned in Genesis 4:22 (he “forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron”) as the son of Lamech (who also happens to be Noah’s father). I think Tubal-Cain is drawn from the picture of Lamech that Scripture portrays and it isn’t really a stretch to say that Lamech’s son would be molded and shaped by his worldview (although Noah shows that one can take a different path). And this is what we are told Lamech says:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times (Genesis 4:23b-24, NIV).
In the film, Tubal-Cain exemplifies the attitude of sin. He is arrogant and rejects God even though he believes in Him, “A man isn’t ruled by the heavens. A man is ruled by his will.” This is so like the temptation of the serpent, “Did God really say…?” Tubal-Cain says, “We decide if we live or die.” He refuses to submit himself to the Creator. He says, “I told you; I’m not afraid of miracles.” God exists, but Tubal-Cain will defy Him!
But most significantly, Tubal-Cain says several times, “I’ll be damned if I don’t take what I want.” Have you ever heard a more succinct explanation of sin? I don’t think I have! Recently I heard this in a sermon: “Gluttony is the essence of all sin. We want it, so we take it.” Yes! That is exactly what sin is! Our Creator has given us all of creation and asks us to use it according to His purposes and to take care of it. Life flourishes when we do so; life is destroyed when we don’t. Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief [the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV).
Think about the many applications of this concept of sin. When you should resist the temptation to gluttony and honor the body God gave you, you binge on snacks. God’s good creation in your body is disfigured. When God calls you to honor His boundaries for sex, you reject them because “the heart wants what it wants.” When you are called to love and tend your children, you reject them as annoyances. When God calls you to faithfulness to your spouse, you turn aside from them and turn instead to the siren call of pornography. God gives you the gift of a child and all you see is an inconvenience or difficulty and you kill that life forming within your belly, hashtagging it #NoRegrets. You want to sleep with more people so you ignore the call to parent your children together and you engage in conscious uncoupling. You pile up trash in landfills and pour tons on chemicals into the world God made because you want an easier life. When God gives you the world to tend and care for, you use it up and fail to tend it. “I want it, so I take it.” That’s what sin is. All of it.
Christians can choose to get all offended that someone is saying we should take care of the environment and putting it in a film about a Bible story (even though it actually is there in the Bible) or we can let our hearts be convicted by this definition of sin. Where are we taking instead of tending? Where are we being driven by our desires instead of God’s Word and His command to us to be life-givers instead of life-takers? Powerful stuff!
4. It honored the gift of human life.
Spoilers ahead: In the film, Noah initially believes God is calling his little family to repopulate the earth. But as time goes by, he becomes so distressed at the wanton wickedness of mankind–including the wickedness within his own heart and his family’s hearts–that he comes to believe God wants mankind to die out after the Flood. Some Christians will be troubled by seeing Noah become a real extremist, grappling with dark questions. We want to see a guy who has it all figured out. But the truth is that those who are gifted with prophetic vision often do become overcome by justice to the exclusion of mercy. When you see how bad sin is, it can be easy to be locked into negativity instead of seeing the hope that God provides.
In one plot twist that riffs off the Old Testament text, Noah has only one daughter-in-law. She was violently attacked as a child and is no longer able to bear children. Meanwhile, Noah’s other two sons have not found wives (yes, I know this is different from the Biblical account, but bear with me). The barrenness of Noah’s family’s future is one of the major reasons why he believes God is leading humanity to die out. Noah comes to believe that his family is only surviving long enough to shepherd the animals into a new world, a world that will be absent the vile corruption of humanity.
Ok. The story could have stopped there. There are pockets in the environmental community where this is exactly how humanity is viewed. Humanity is tarnished and corrupt and needs to leave the sweet animals alone. Honestly, I think this is what conservatives react to when they hear an environmental message. They feel that humans are being placed below the interests of animals and plants. And Biblically, you really can’t argue that that is how God made the world. People matter. People are the only ones who bear God’s image.
But the story doesn’t stop there. The daughter-in-law who is barren miraculously conceives. You’d think Noah would realize this was God’s work! But he is so locked into the belief that God wants to destroy all of humanity that he thinks God is giving him a test. He believes God is asking him to show his faithfulness by killing the baby when it is born. God never said this, but Noah believes this is the only answer. If it is a son, he will let it live, but if the baby is a daughter, he will kill it. His family members begin to plead with him. They cry out for mercy! They beg Noah to spare the innocent child. But Noah says that sin is within all of us and must be stamped out by total destruction.
Until he sees the babies. Yes, there are twins! He lifts the knife, but he can’t do it. He can’t kill them. He walks away, believing he has failed God. This is a large part of what leads to his despair and drunkenness and alienation from his family. But there is hope and there is redemption. The film makes clear that God was not asking Noah to stamp out humanity. God was giving humanity a second chance–through the family of this man of faith.
Where a radical fringe of environmentalism could suggest that humans were not worth saving, this film honors God’s creative intent and declares that they are worth saving. There is no Pollyanna-ish suggestion that sin is now gone. Sin remains very real within the breast of mankind, but God still extends His mercy and forgiveness to humanity. How rich with meaning! And–get this–we see the respect for unborn life in this film. This is life worth saving, life that Noah’s family pleads for. Heck, you could easily call Noah a pro-life film–not in a political way, but in its richer themes. Human life is worth saving, however feeble or broken or small it is.
5. It honored the Biblical text and engaged deeply with its themes. It refused to make fun of faith or twist the message of Scripture.
I saw a tweet today from a prominent Christian that said, “Just saw ‘Noah’, do NOT recommend. I felt like it was mocking what I believe.” I honestly don’t know how a person could get the impression that the film is mocking their faith. The filmmakers spent a long time meditating on and studying Scripture. While there are some departures from the text and creative license taken, the film is very much in sync with the overarching themes of Scripture–Creation, Fall, Redemption. It is respectful of believers. It takes the existence of God for granted. It brings in themes and stories that resonate with other happenings and themes in Scripture (such as miraculous birth, the frustration of a prophet with the people). I believe that atheist/agnostic Darren Aronofsky deserves a huge amount of credit for being so fair to the text and to people of faith. He thoroughly lives in their world in this film.
6. It ignited my imagination.
When it comes to the very familiar stories of Scripture, we need something to shake us up and make us hear the story freshly. Biblical stories have gotten so safe to us. But really. Have you read the Bible lately? That’s where some of the artistic license in the film didn’t bother me. It enabled me to see the deeper meaning of the story in a way that was friendly to the overall message of Scripture. It helped me to look at a familiar story from new angles and derive fresh meaning from it.
7. It gave me powerful images that helped me understand Christ better.
When Noah believes (wrongly) that God wants him to kill his granddaughters, but refuses to do so because of the love he finds in his heart for them, he takes on himself what he believes is the wrath of God. He becomes willing to take on God’s wrath in order that he might extend mercy. When this happened, all I could think of was how Christ in actuality took on God’s wrath so that we might experience the mercy of the Father. See, sin is real. It can’t be explained away or treated like no big deal. That is why the old explanation of the Atonement still makes sense. The Atonement is where Christ brought “at-one-ment” again between us and the Father. It is where Christ took the burden of judgment for sin upon himself. When a human being attempts to do this (as Noah believed he was doing), it becomes a crushing load of condemnation. When Christ, who is perfectly without sin, takes our sin upon Himself, He is able to absorb it, die, and rise again. The power of an indestructible life .
8. It portrayed the tension between judgment and mercy with deep engagement.
One of the central themes of the film is judgment vs. mercy. We know that God is a God of judgment but also a God of mercy. How can these both be present in one God? Generally speaking, many people who try to engage these themes end up jettisoning one or the other of them. God is portrayed as so loving that sin is no big deal. Or God is portrayed as all judgment, the god of Fred Phelps. In this film, we see a God who takes sin seriously, but also is so deeply committed to humanity that He extends the mercy of another chance to it. He is a God who provides all that Noah needs to build the Ark, who provides a miraculous birth so that humanity may not be cut off, who uses water not fire to destroy the world (“Fire consumes; water purifies–separates what sinks from what rises to the top. He destroys the earth to begin again.”)
As I watched this film, I kept thinking of that old saying that the cross is “where justice met grace.” I think that is rather where the Ark is too. I could not help but think of what Peter wrote about the Ark:
In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him (I Peter 3:20b-22, NIV).
Jesus is our Ark. And because God is merciful, He considered us worth saving.
9. It is the most important faith-based film since The Passion of the Christ because people will actually go to see it.
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is the most important faith-related film since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. There have been some notable artful films related to faith in the intervening years. Bella comes to mind, for one. But largely “Christian” films are not seen by the general population. Christian films are getting much better than they used to be, but they still lag behind in terms of artfulness, nuance, performance, and the like. Noah is so significant because it engages themes related to faith and the Biblical account in an artful, nuanced, well-performed way. And this is key: because of its star power, special effects, and excellence, people will actually see this movie.
I really encourage Christians to go see this film with an open heart. Yes, know the differences between the Biblical text and the film. But don’t go into it with a battle mindset. This is an incredible opportunity to talk about deeper meaning with friends and family. This movie actually takes faith, God, creation, original sin, and redemption seriously! That hardly ever happens in Hollywood. You’re going to want to see this film so that you can be part of the conversation. As I sat in a crowded theatre for a matinee showing, I found myself glad that so many people were seeing the movie, but I heard some remarks and sighs that suggested to me that the likely Christian audience might be missing the point.
Let me implore you, Christian friends: please, please don’t get militant about this film. Instead, let this piece of good art give you new insights. And let it start conversations. See it as the incredible opportunity that it is. You may not like everything about it. That’s ok. If your beliefs are solid, you don’t need to be intimidated by other viewpoints. Be gracious. Hear within the film the cry of creation for redemption. Please.
10. Aronofsky reminds me of the people Paul met in Acts 17.
As I watched this film, I found myself hardly believing that Darren Aronofsky is either an atheist or an agnostic (depending on who you listen to). The depth of his understanding of Biblical themes is unbelievable. What other mainstream filmmakers have grappled this deeply with sin and redemption? What other filmmakers have looked at sin not just as acts but as something intrinsic to humanity? What other secular filmmaker would dare to make a film about judgment that does not suggest God is a Cosmic Bully but is in fact merciful? Friends, Aronofsky is not far from the Kingdom of God! He reminds me of the people the Apostle Paul met in Acts 17, the people of Athens. If you haven’t read that story in a while, it might be time to go back and revisit it. When Paul visits Athens, he is distressed to see its idol worship, but he goes beyond distress to see spiritual pain and spiritual hunger in its people. He goes on to take key elements from their culture in order to point to the Creator God and to His Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us. If the modern American Christian were to visit the Athens of Paul’s day, what would they see? Would they see a city to turn their nose up at? Or would they see a city with deep spiritual hunger? Would they be willing to get to know the culture so well that they could point to the broader story of Creation-Fall-Redemption?
How very sad if a secular filmmaker takes the time to take a Biblical story incredibly seriously and to engage its themes with deep respect–and then the Christian world attacks him! Can we think about how some of the statements being made in the press by Christian leaders might impact this actual person? Can we please approach his work with respect–just as he has approached our faith community with respect? What a compelling witness that could be! And let’s pray for Aronofsky, giving thanks for his artful work and praying that our Triune God might reveal Himself to him.
This is a rich and layered film and it will bear many re-watchings.
Have you seen Noah? What new insights did it give you? What new conversations did it start? I would love to hear your stories!