I can’t believe the news today. Oh, I can’t close my eyes… Review of Noah

It had to come to this.

Everybody thought that it was a bit odd when the final Harry Potter book was split into two films, but then Twilight did it as well.  Maybe there were good creative reasons for stretching the novel out into two films, but then we had the Hobbit trilogy.  The Guardian put it best when it compared the number of pages to minutes of film: 310 pages were being turned into 495 minutes worth of film — more than a minute and a half per page of the book.

Noah gives us an even more extreme case.  139 minutes long for four chapters of Genesis.  Here’s the story in full… to the King James Version!

The Wickedness and Judgment of Man

6 Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.

And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of theLord.

Noah Pleases God

This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

The Ark Prepared

13 And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.17 And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. 21 And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.”

22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.

The Great Flood

7 Then the Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you arerighteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” And Noah did according to all that the Lord commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth.

So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. 12 And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On the very same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark— 14 they and every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort. 15 And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. 16 So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.

17 Now the flood was on the earth forty days. The waters increased and lifted up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. 20 The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. 23 So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive. 24 And the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days.

Noah’s Deliverance

8 Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained. And the waters receded continually from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. Then the ark rested in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. He also sent out from himself a dove, to see if the waters had receded from the face of the ground. But the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, and she returned into the ark to him, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her, and drew her into the ark to himself. 10 And he waited yet another seven days, and again he sent the dove out from the ark. 11 Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leafwas in her mouth; and Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth. 12 So he waited yet another seven days and sent out the dove, which did not return again to him anymore.

13 And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry. 14 And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dried.

15 Then God spoke to Noah, saying, 16 “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every animal, every creeping thing, every bird, andwhatever creeps on the earth, according to their families, went out of the ark.

God’s Covenant with Creation

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.

22 “While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”

God’s Promise to Noah

9 So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.[a] And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man.
And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Bring forth abundantly in the earth
And multiply in it.”

Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants[b] after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. 11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that iswith you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; 15 and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Noah and His Sons

18 Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan.19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

20 And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. 21 Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

24 So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. 25 Then he said:

“Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brethren.”

26 And he said:

“Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Shem,
And may Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth,
And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;
And may Canaan be his servant.”

28 And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. 29 So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.

At more than half an hour per chapter, Darren Aronofski has helpfully filled the movie with rampaging hordes of Mad Max-esque barbarians, magical forests, drug-induced visions, and — best of all — an action scene where rockbiters from the Neverending Story smash up an invading army of infidels.

It is absolutely nuts, but it totally works.  I can’t think of a moment of this film that I didn’t love.

Reunited after playing wife and husband in A Beautiful Mind, Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe reprise their roles as ‘long-suffering wife’ and ‘man who talks to hallucinations’.  They are the last of the noble line of Seth — the third son of Adam and Eve — who vowed to protect God’s creation from the descendants of Cain.  When Cain was punished by God for killing his brother, Abel, his family took up the sinful arts of ‘establishing cities’ and ‘eating meat’.  Seth, on the other hand, maintained a life of strict vegetarianism which he passed down along the generations until we get to the young Noah.

In the opening moments of the film, Noah’s father — Lamech — is killed by the king (a descendant of Cain).  Noah is forced to run as his father is beheaded, but he soon grows strong and starts a family of his own: a wife and three young sons (none of whom have wives of their own, mind).  This time, when he encounters descendants of Cain who are chasing some sort of lizard-goat, Noah is able to smash those punks.

Arriving back in his tent for snu-snu with Jennifer Connelly, Noah is sent a vision from God: Noah’s feet are covered in blood, and then he’s drowning in water lousy with the corpses of men.  Noah doesn’t understand this vision and so seeks out his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).  Methuselah is a hermit who lives in a cave on a distant mountain.  In order to reach him, Noah must befriend a ‘Watcher’ — a fallen angel who was a being of light before deciding to help Adam and therefore became a rock giant.

For two crazy hours, this plays out and the film ends up splitting quite neatly into two chunks.  The first half is Noah trying to understand his great task.  It’s not just to build an ark; he is saving the innocent and, through his resolute refusal to help human beings who aren’t his family, condemning humankind to die.  Initially, he thinks he is going to find wives for his sons before boarding the ark, but Noah comes to the view that all humans are inherently sinful and we must all be terminated.  He believes that God wants to start again but without the wickedness of humans.  Thus, when his son, Ham, finds a young girl to be his wife, Noah refuses to help her when she gets caught in a bear trap, condemning her to be trampled to death by a rampaging army seeking his ark.

Aha, that last sentence.  This film is so good.

But Noah also believes that God is not sparing him and his family from punishment.  He believes that his youngest son, Japheth, is destined to be the last human.  This idea haunts Noah, especially when they listen to the screams of people drowning during the flood.  He could have saved hundreds of people, but he knows that God has chosen him for his strength of character: he will not save the descendants of Cain.

Through a convoluted series of plot twists (each is pure gold), Shem’s hitherto barren girlfriend becomes magically pregnant, throwing off Noah’s great plan for the very short future of mankind.  This allows us to enter the second part of the film, when Noah himself becomes the embodiment of the evil within man.  He stalks the ship like the alien in Alien, peering through cracks in walls to watch as his daughter-in-law prepares to give birth.  Noah has sworn that mankind must end with him and thus institutes a one child policy: if his grandchild is male, the boy can live; if it is female, then it might give birth… somehow, and so Noah will slaughter it.

In this moment, Noah becomes Abraham.  He knows the vision that God has shown him, and he can’t understand why God would choose to slaughter humankind en masse if it’s not to wipe them all out.  Therefore, it follows that God must want him to slaughter his own grandchildren.

Thus, Noah goes completely shitcake mental and becomes the villain of the film.  His family turns to hate and fear Noah in equal measure.  Ham resents the fact that Noah let his girlfriend get trampled to death in a bear trap.  Shem is determined to protect his unborn child.  And Jennifer Connelly hates the monster that Noah has become.

Go see this film.  It is soooooo good.

There are two ways to approach classical myth.  On the one hand, you can seek to understand the classics in their original context and try to reproduce those contexts in modern performances.  On the other, you can use the classics as the key ingredients in new and original stories, adapting them for new messages.

I can’t think of another example where Biblical stories were so radically reinterpreted along the lines of the second approach to the classics.  This does more than just ask: ‘What must it have been like to be Noah?’  This asks bigger and deeper questions.  Noah stands in for the righteous zealot who is given a vision of the ugliness and depravity of the world around him.  That depravity is personified in the king, who routinely preaches humanist ideals about man being the measure of all things.  But this Noah is deeply, passionately analytical and wants to make sure that he is doing the right thing.  It is in that moment of reflection that he realises that he is not to be spared from punishment — he wasn’t saved because he is good; he was given the mission because he is resolute.

This then becomes a movie about faith.  Noah must see the mission through, even when it conflicts with his personal desires and wants.  More than that, he subordinates his desires and wants to his rational faculties: how could he have been saved if he were good when he shows anger, violence, and self-indulgence?  Noah believes himself to be worthy of saving if and only if he is morally perfect.

In order to make this exploration work, the line of communication between Noah and God (as seen in the Bible) had to be severed.  Noah works through intermediaries to God, not least the hermit Methuselah.  Noah isn’t faithful because he has a direct line of communication to God, but this also means that his faith is built on the interpretation of signs that he is given, however imperfectly transmitted.  It would seem that this Noah has more in common with the modern faithful than the heroes of the Old Testament.  That’s almost certainly true by the end, when Noah deals with the horror of his actions by getting wicked drunk and falling asleep naked on a beach.

And Enoch gets mentioned.  That’s awesome because he’s my favourite Old Testament character.

On the other hand, Aronofski’s world of the Old Testament is very peculiarly white.  It is a world full of Caucasians (which must suit the KKK fine, as they believe that Noah’s son, Ham, was the progenitor of the non-white races).  This feature makes it difficult to rest easily with the film as schlock entertainment: why is everybody so white?

The other part to the story: how mankind is given a new beginning after the flood — and the covenant symbolised by the rainbow that God would never again wipe us all out — struggles to get explored.  Noah recognises that he was wrong about God’s plan, but it’s not like there are now enough wives for his sons to repopulate the Earth.  Noah really needed to realise that he was wrong prior to letting all the women drown (or die in bear traps).

Oh, and they formulate a sleeping potion for the animals during the flood.  That’s also extremely funny.

And the rock monsters.  So good!

Go see this film.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

4 thoughts on “I can’t believe the news today. Oh, I can’t close my eyes… Review of Noah”

  1. Jennifer Connelly’s mother is Jewish and Logan Lerman is 100% Jewish. Surely they can play Old Testament characters.

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