Noah and Anti-Noah

I disagree, respectfully but rather sharply, with Mr. Greydanus’ review of Aronofsky’s NOAH. I wrote a review giving an opposite opinion, and he was kind enough to correct certain errors or oversights I had made. Nonetheless, there remains a point of polite disagreement between us which any reader who has seen the film, or toys with the idea of seeing it, might be edified or amused to hear discussed.

No spoiler warnings will accompany the essay below, because I want to spoil this film, and deter people from seeing it. The surprise ending is that mankind survives, despite Noah’s best efforts.

I submit that this movie was so bad that for Mr Greydanus to recommend it was an inexplicable lapse of judgment. I cannot explain why this film would be the one where his otherwise impeccable judgment was negligent, and I will not speculate.

In a previous essay in this space, I said was that the film was bad on three levels: first, the film was not to my personal taste, being drab and cheerless; second, the film was poorly written ; third, because Aronofsky’s film portrayal of Noah falls somewhere between indifferent to actively hostile to the source material. By ‘indifferent to hostile’ I mean the film was at best a non-Judeochristian interpretation of the Noah story, and at worst an anti-Judeochristian interpretation of the Noah story.

The first is a point not open to debate, because tastes are personal. The second is a point which may or may be not open to debate, because this point involves matters of judgment, and matters of judgment are those where reasonable men can differ. In any case, I do not debate that second point here.

The third is very much open to debate, because one side has one theory of the meaning of the film and the other side has an opposite theory, so only by debate can either side present evidence to lend weight to its theory of the film. Whichever theory explains more of the basics and also the nuances of the film should be the one the jury finds more convincing.

Defining the Debate

First things first: A reader spread the slander that I said or implied that the wonderful Mr. Greydanus at Decent Films was a bad Christian because he did not strongly condemn the film NOAH in his review. Naturally, I said no such thing, nor did I imply it.

Indeed, I made several statements to the opposite effect; and I am certainly not in the habit of using hints or implications to carry my meaning when direct and forceful language will do.

The reader has since apologized for upsetting me, so the matter is closed. The reason why I mention this unpleasant incident again is that I fear that in the minds of any other readers who noted the accusation, the charge is still outstanding. If that is the case, allow me unambiguously to state my true feelings on the matter, and silence further speculation:

I do not think that Christians go to hell for making lukewarm and hesitant recommendations for a poorly executed and borderline blasphemous movie. I hold that it is Saint Peter who sits at the golden gates of paradise, who will demand of you to confess your sins and your faith in Christ. I do not hold that it is Siskel and Ebert sitting at the golden gates of paradise, asking you to confess that CITIZEN KANE is a finer film than PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE.

These words should suffice to allay any suspicions of the kind. Liking this movie does not make anyone a bad Christian. It might make you someone who penned the one and only misleading film review in his whole brilliant career.

Second things second: What is the debate about?

The debate is not about anyone’s fidelity to Christ. The discussion is about a ‘shooking movie review, for heaven’s sake!

In other words, I am disagreeing with Mr. Greydanus’ personal taste, his judgment about the craft of storytelling, and his theory of the meaning of the film. He and I differ on a matter of artistic judgment about a frivolous bit of entertainment. That is what the debate is about. That is the only thing it has ever been about.

Those who are content to say that the film maker is allowed to make any personal vision he wishes, and to choose whatever he wishes to choose by way of theme or plot, no matter how irresponsibly or wickedly he chooses, just so long as the choice is his — to them who repeat such stale modernist bromides, we have nothing to say.  Here we are discussing the film’s moral flaws, specifically, the blasphemy of NOAH. The nihilist and the skeptic have not this word in their vocabulary or this concept in their minds. The colorblind need not pause to overhear a discussion of the rainbow.

There are two different theories of the film. My theory is that the film is starkly anti-Biblical rather than being mere extra-Biblical or non-Biblical. The film is hostile rather than indifferent to the Bible.

Mr. Greydanus has written ably and clearly on what his theory of the film is, and I would hesitate to put words in his mouth, but I do him no injustice if I say his theory is that the film is not starkly anti-Biblical. It might go ‘a bridge too far’ for some viewers, and be too dark for others, but it is not a slap in the face to Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all of whom believe in the Noah story. It is not hostile.

Mr. Graydanus does not say this film is a slap in the face to all Christians. I say it is.

The only way to prove my case is to place into the lefthand pan of the scales of judgment in the reader’s mind each ingot of evidence that the film means what my theory says it means, and remove from the righthand pan anything that seems to support the opposite theory. Wherever the most weight is at the end, that is the judgement.

What is Added and What is Missing

In one of his essays, Mr. Greydanus makes an excellent point that bears repeating. The question of what is added to the Biblical story is different from the question of what is taken away from the Biblical story. Every Bible epic put up on the big screen has to add some material. Artistic license has to be taken, because the sparse accounts in the Bible simply do not have enough dialog and scenery to turn into a motion picture.

Neither he nor I fault the film for using artistic license to add material not in the Bible account.

No Bible story can be brought to the silver screen without such artistic liberties. I do not object, for example, to the plotline in PRINCE OF EGYPT where Moses and Ramses are shown once to have been friends, nor to the plotline in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS where Moses is in love with Pharaoh’s wife. I believe both films deviate sharply from the Bible concerning the murder by Moses of an overseer. I do not object to the scene in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST where Mary sees Christ fall under the burden of the cross, and thinks back to when he fell as a small child and she rushed to pick him up and comfort him — a comfort she cannot give him now.

I do not even object to the semi-absurd plotlines in the semi-blasphemous JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR showing Mary Magdalene crushing on the rockstar Christ.

More to the point, I do not object to Disney introducing an anthropomorphic Duck as the sidekick of Noah in the ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ segment of FANTASIA 2000. That short cartoon segment was no insult to the original material, even if lighthearted.

Need I go on? No one here is objecting to things like Transformers made out of rock, or Adam and Eve looking like extraterrestrials, or Noah using magical incense that only stuns animals and not people, or antediluvians armed with magical explody rocks — I like that kind of stuff. I do not mind the additions.

But what is taken away from the Bible account in this film version? Here is where the crux of the discussion is. Here is where Mr. Greydanus and I disagree, and sharply.

The Elements of the Story

I intend to show to the candid reader that not one or two but all of the essential elements of the Noah story in the Bible have been either subverted by Aronofsky or removed entirely.

Here are the nine elements of the basic Bible story:

 1. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

And God said the end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth ….

2. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.

3. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

4. And God said unto Noah, Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.

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

7. In [that] day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark.

8. And it came to pass [that] the waters were dried up from off the earth: behold, the face of the ground was dry. And God spake unto Noah, saying, Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.

9.  And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord said,  I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Let us contemplate these elements one by one, as they pertain to this film.

1. The Wickedness of Man was Great in the Earth

My theory of the film is that the film is preoccupied primarily, nay, overwhelmingly, with environmental concerns, including overpopulation, deforestation, mining, conservation, and, absurdly enough, vegetarianism. The other evils of man are not explicitly shown or stated.

  • Overpopulation: there is a graphic showing the cities of man spreading over the super-continent of the antediluvian world like a black spiderweb.
  • Deforestation: the landscape is a rocky wasteland covered with stumps.
  • Mining: the Sons of Cain are on a mining expedition, complaining about the exhaustion of resources (magical explody crystals) when they come across Noah’s father Lamech and kill him.
  • Conservation: Ham is shown plucking the tiniest imaginable flower and being upbraided by Noah for taking more than he absolutely minimally needed for bare substance living.
  • Vegetarianism: the sin for which man is explicitly wiped out is eating meat, and the vision that convinces Noah to build the Ark is not that the earth is soaked in human blood, but in animal blood. The vision that convinces Noah to kill his own grandchildren, hence to kill all mankind, is an image of himself eating meat.

Mr. Greydanus answered me on this point with this comment: “My most crucial disagreement is with your claim, perhaps never quite as explicitly stated as this, that the film not only adds environmental concerns to the catalog of human sin for which God sends the flood, but essentially reduces the entire catalog of human sin to this single charge, essentially omitting anything else.”

But that was not my claim. My claim was that the wickedness of man is never explicitly on screen, not emphasized, not clear, whereas the innocence of the animals is explicitly stated, the eating of meat is unambiguously condemned, and the plucking of a single tiny flower made into a moral issue, as if living without making an environmental impact were crucial.

That is not to say that no other evils are on stage. As mentioned, the murder of Lamech by Lamech is explicitly onstage. Sorry for the confusion if these Bible figures, like Joseph and Joseph, share one name, but they are two different people. Lamech is Noah’s father, and he is killed by Lamech, Tubalcain’s father.

And then there is … ah … let me think … there is a girl screaming ‘no! no!’ when Noah sees the camp of the Cainim. We also see an open mass grave. The Sons of Cain are starving. And the unruly crowd then pushes over a fence and seizes an animal, a goat or something, and rips it to bits and eats it raw.

If there are any scenes of rape or slavery or cannibalism, I can only report that I did not see them, and I am not willing to see the movie a second time to check this detail. In any case, my argument is that the other violence was not emphasized, was not obvious, was not onstage, whereas the moral prohibition on flower picking and eating meat was onstage, was obvious, was emphasized.

One act of violence we see is Noah brutally killing three men who are hunting a scaly dog. While there is a clear implication that the Sons of Cain will also kill the remaining Sons of Seth if they find them, I will point out that Noah’s motive of avenging the dog is explicit, whereas that of protecting of his family is implied.

Noah not only upbraids Ham for plucking a flower, he talks with his wife in tones of worry that Ham is fascinated by the idea of hunting animals and eating meat. Is there actually any honest argument about what this scene means?

To make this point clear, imagine the same movie made in the 1950s.

In this movie, Ham sneaks away from the humble but honest brown burlap tents of the Sethim, allured by the noise and uproar ringing from the golden towers of nearby city of the Cainim. He peers through a crack or crenelation, and sees a wild orgy with dancing girls twirling in silk, venal priests bowing to a golden calf, and two naked gladiators chained to their swords fighting each other in the pit while the overweight merchants laugh and wager, and then they throw a baby into a hollow brass statue of a calf, and light a fire under it, and applaud as the screams of the roasting baby echo from the calf’s mouth. We also see an evil moneylender kick a puppy.

Ham is fascinated and allured. The harlots are wearing heavy red lipstick and light silk bikinis. He sneaks forward, steals a gem-encrusted hookah, returns to the burlap tents, and starts to take a few puffs on the dubious opiate burning inside: but then Noah finds him and chides him, telling him to walk in the footsteps of God.

Later, Noah says with some worry to his wife that Ham keeps looking toward the golden city. He seems too interested in their sinful ways. While they are talking, Noah and his wife slaughter a sheep and eat mutton, because they are simple shepherds.

I am not suggesting my imaginary 1950s version of the scene is better or worse, nor that it is more Biblical or less.

What I am suggesting is that by it is crystal clear what the meaning of the scene is if we imagine what it would be like if the meaning were different. The paragraphs above are my take on what the scene would look like if the message wanted to emphasize that the Sons of Cain were being destroyed for the various sins of harlotry, idolatry, murder, and human sacrifice, gambling, usury, drunkenness and smoking.

There is room in the 1950s version for environmentalist concerns, as symbolized by the moneylender kicking a puppy. But no one would argue that concern for animals being abused is the main point of the theme, nor the main message of the film.  You can tell what the message is by what is put onstage.

But what is put onstage in this movie? Why take the time to show Noah upbraiding Ham for plucking a flower? Why show a polluted landscape, over-mined and over-logged? And why show Noah fret to Naamah about Ham’s interest in ham sandwiches?

One scene explicitly equates goodness with a low-ecological impact, the another with evil with strip mining and logging, and a third with being a vegetarian.

Why take the time to show the audience Noah burning a dead dog but not burning the corpses of the men he slew, his distant cousins?

Concerning the point of why mankind was being destroyed in Aronofsky’s film, Mr. Graydanus says:

In the camp scene I saw, screaming women are being dragged around and bartered, as chattel sex slaves for the raping pleasure of men, in exchange for meat.  We see people apparently being led to slaughter. Watch closely and it appears that, yes, cannibalism is taking place. Near the camp, Ham stumbles into a pit of corpses, many of which appear to have died violent deaths.

The operative words here are ‘apparently’ and ‘watch closely and it appears’ and ‘appear to have’. There is a woman being dragged and screaming, but whether that is a chattel slave instead of a daughter being beaten by a father, or a women being cheated out of her share of the rations, or whatever, is unclear to a casual and bored viewer.

To the contrary the pit of corpses actually displaying no sign of any violent death, since they were all wrapped for burial, with no part of the body showing.

If any man can see in the gloomy and foggy night-scene of a hundred shouting and screaming extras all dressed in the same black rags, all I can say is that, first, his eyes are better than mine. And I say, second, that sharp-eyed man, whoever he is, must be careful not to attribute to the movie things that are in the Bible, or in the imagination of a too-generous viewer, but clearly not in the movie.

Here, the filmmaker intends to show the horrors that follow upon life in a refugee camp in the midst of a land without food and shade because the Onceler in his greed has cut down all the Truffula trees: and therefore people are angry and hungry and starving, perhaps even eating each other.

The sin being shown is the sin of harming the environment, poisoning the ground, and making the ecology unfit for human life. The sharp-eyed man can look at a scene filled with screaming people, and assumes that the evil being shown is the violence and lawlessness because that is what the Bible account portrays. It is not what the film portrays. It shows the deprivations and degradation caused by hunger caused by man rendering the earth barren.

So far, every positive review I have read of this movie mentions at least one significant or major thing which was not in the movie, merely in the imagination or interpretation of the reviewer.

There is nothing in the movie to show why, if at all, The Creator disapproves of the killing of Noah’s father but blesses the death of Noah’s grandfather (to be killed by the flood) and blesses the death of Noah’s children (to die sterile and childless) and the killing of Noah’s grandchildren (to be killed by Noah by a knife with a serrated edge). We know the Creator disapproves of Ham plucking a tiny flower because a miraculous drop of water instantly restores it to life.

In all fairness, there are some Biblical scholars who interpret a particular passage  (Genesis 9:3), where God grants Noah the right to eat clean animals, to mean that  antediluvian man did not eat meat, or did not eat meat lawfully. I should mention this is the minority view, since Abel is a herdsman, and so is Jabal. The majority of Biblical scholars interpret the passage to mean that God explicitly gives a permission that was previously implicit. Others speculate that the time when the animals in the ark were neither afraid of man nor food for man was the duration of the shipboard life, and that this had ended.

However, in this film God never grants Noah the right to eat animals; and if He ever forbade carnivorous diet to the Antediluvians, neither the Bible nor the movie makes mention of it.  Most churchgoers, and nearly all moviegoers, are unfamiliar with his particular vegetarian interpretation of this one line in the Bible. I suspect I was the only one in the audience that night who had Genesis 9:3 in mind during these scenes.

It is inconceivable that any competent filmmaker would make a film under the assumption that the moviegoers would see an Antediluvian man eating meat, immediately  remember the obscure passage in Genesis, immediately adhere to the vegetarian interpretation of that passage, and understand that the Antediluvian character was breaking divine law concerning diet in such scenes.

And even if that were the case, why use the violation of the dietary laws of God as the main horror provoking the wrath of the Creator, and not, say, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah?  — that is, assuming the film maker wants to show the wrath of God as just, or, at least, as understandable.

And even if that were the case, granting all these assumptions for the sake of argument, nevertheless there is no reading of Genesis where plucking tiny, pretty flowers is against God’s law. Living in balance with the ecology is a moral law only to modern Leftist fanatics.

Noah is not addressed by God in words in this film, but, like Joseph or St. John of Patmos, he sees the will of heaven in dreams and visions. The first and most striking vision shown on screen is Noah stepping on black soil. He lifts his feet, and we see his feet, and, indeed, the whole earth, is covered with blood.

At this point in the movie, the unwary viewer (as was I at that moment) might be impressed with the shocking and clear imagery (as was I). Surely a world soaked in human blood deserves to be cleansed by a deluge!

That impression is removed when Noah sees with his eyes the scene he foresaw in vision. When he sees it with his eyes, the blood is not leaking from a battlefield, not from a steaming Aztec-style idol coated in the gore human sacrifices, not in the sands of a gladiatorial arena. It is coming from an outdoor kitchen. It is the blood of an animal that starving men are eating.

It is as if Aronofsky at that moment leaned forth from the screen and slapped the viewer sharply across the face. We were all suckered into thinking this film was about a world soaked in evil, where man preys on man. Instead the film about how hungry men  should starve and die rather than eat a ham sandwich. This message is sick, it is fanatical, it is disturbed.

If this scene had been placed in balance with other scenes where other acts of violence were seen and given equal emphasis, there might be an argument about what the movie was about. It was not and there is not.

So let us now place in the balance scales of your judgment, dear reader, the difference between Mr. Greydanus’ theory of the film and my own.

His theory, if I understand it, is that while ecological concerns loom large in the film, mankind is still nevertheless being wiped out because of every imagination of the thoughts in the heart’s of men is only evil continually, and the earth is filled with violence. My theory is that only the ecological concerns are given center stage, or any place on the stage.

While he saw cannibal rapists raping cannibals in the dim background of one confused scene that went swiftly by, I did not, nor do I care. If it was not obvious enough for the average viewer to see it, it was not obvious enough to be the main point of the scene. The only thing Noah condemns is picking flowers, that is, taking more from nature than you need for your immediate use, and the only thing he worries about is Ham being interested in the meat-eaters.

I submit that it is not reasonable, indeed, it is not possible, to see this movie without seeing that he main reason the Creator destroys mankind is because of their despoliation of nature.

It is the only reason explicitly on screen.

It is the only reason to which any dialog is devoted.

It is obvious from the choice to have everyone dressed in black rags and every landscape look like a desolation on industrial logging and strip mining that this world is dying because man polluted it and exploited it.

The wickedness of men in this film is nor portrayed as the violation of any real moral rules about idolatry, treason, selfishness, murder, adultery, theft, perjury, covetousness. Those are either in the background or not mentioned at all. Front and center and in the spotlight are the things the Bible explicitly grants to mankind, which is dominion over the earth, rulership over all lesser living things, and the command to subdue it — all denounced as exploiting and polluting nature. Despoiling nature and eating meat is not merely shown as one evil among many, but depicted as the crowning evil, the main reason for the deluge.

Not to get ahead of the argument, but we shall see below that Noah’s one act of clear goodness and righteousness in the film is when Noah spares his granddaughters that the Creator commands Noah to kill. In other word’s Noah’s disobedience to the Creator is precisely the climax and precisely the act of goodness that saves mankind. Noah saves mankind not for his God but from his God. More on this point later.

This is subversion: what is called wicked in the Bible, namely, disobedience to God, in this film is shown as good. What is called good in the Bible, namely, man’s dominion over nature, in this film is shown as evil.

Wickedness, which in the Bible means failure to obey God, and in the Noah story means violence, in Aronofsky means failure to be an environmentally-sensitive vegetarian.

Which leads to the next point.

 2. They Were Eating and Drinking, and Knew Not Until the Flood Came

The wickedness seen, at least by a viewer who is not sharp-eyed, in the refugee camp of the Sons of Cain is meat-eating, this is, living out of balance with nature.

Everything else that is evil portrayed in the scene springs out of this one evil. The reason why they are refugees is because they built cities that filled the continent of Pangaea from coast to coast. That made them live out of balance with nature. They took more than they needed. They chopped down all the trees, dug up all the minerals, ate all the animals, polluted and poisoned the land.

In other words they spoiled the world and brought all this on themselves. Because they are dying of starvation, they are selling their daughters into slavery to get food, or eating their sons, or breaking down fences to rob the pigsty, and tearing critters to bits and eating them raw. They are also setting out bear traps.

Because the first element of the Noah story, the reason for the Flood, has been subverted, the second element is simply missing. The evils of men shown on the screen in the camp scene are those to which any refugee, starving, in the midst of a barren land with nothing to eat, would be tempted.

In other words, they are all crimes which have at least some excuse, or should, in the mind of most moviegoers. When I read of the cannibalism during the Ukrainian famine that Stalin orchestrated, my heart goes out to the starving, not to the animals they polished off before gnawing on grandma.

This makes a mockery of the point of the movie, if it were a Christian movie. In a Christian movie, the Sons of Cain would be shown in a situation where they freely choose evil. That is because in a Christian movie, the point would be to show that God’s judgment, while appalling and shocking, was justified.

Here the point being made is the opposite.The Sons of Cain are shown in a situation of desperate starvation committing crimes which Noah realized he himself would have done the same thing in the same circumstance.

Not only does he see himself eating meat (in this film, the ultimate sin) but when he asks his wife if she would be willing to do anything for her children, she answers that she would, and from this he comes to the conclusion that she, and he, and their children, and therefore the entire human race, is unworthy of salvation, and deserve to die.

This is an appalling omission: what is called wicked in the Bible is the violence in the world and evil in the hearts of men, described as continuous. In the Bible, the Antediluvians did not see the Flood coming; one day the world was hale and whole, and the next day it was under water. But the things shown as wicked in this movie are all excusable, or at least understandable, brought on by famine and desperation. Since the sins are not shown as being all that wicked, Noah is being shown as being not all that just, and the Creator is shown, or at least implied, to be cruel and arbitrary.

 3. But Noah Found Grace In The Eyes Of The Lord.

Mr Greydanus in his letter to me asks several questions of Antediluvian vegetarianism, none of which, as far as I can see, are pertinent to what I said. He seems to think that I am objecting that Noah is a vegetarian and Tubalcain is not on the grounds that humans were biologically unable to digest meat, and he asks, quite reasonably, why the film maker cannot show the disobedient Tubalcain as violating the dietary restrictions against meat to show their evil?

The question is based on a misreading of my point. My point is that I am objecting that Noah being a vegetarian and Tubalcain not is explicitly portraying obeying the dietary law of vegetarianism as a major, almost the sole, sign of righteousness — and that portraying vegetarianism as the sole sign of righteousness is ridiculous. It makes a mockery of real righteousness.

Mr. Greydanus argues that since at one point Noah says that mankind fought wars, that this means the normal interpretation of sin and righteousness is in the film. Noah tells his children:

For ten generations since Adam, sin has walked within us. Brother against brother, nation against nation, man against creation. We murdered each other. We broke the world.

I respectfully disagree. The statement means that “man against creation” is a sin akin to murder and war. That quote ends with “We broke the world.” In the context of the film, where killing in self defense does not make Noah unrighteous, nor does hunting down babies with a knife, but plucking a flower, touching a weapon, and being curious about eating meat does indeed make Ham unrighteous, to the point where he cooperates with a scheme to murder this father.

In this movie, forgive me if I continue to harp on this point, Noah is counted righteous because he will not pluck a flower, but the fact that he kills three men and leaves his son’s fiancee in a beartrap and chases his terrified daughter in law around a boat with a knife after blowing up her escape dinghy trying to stab his own granddaughters is not counted as unrighteous.

Meanwhile, the film is busy portraying real righteousness, that is, obedience to the Will of God, as something between a child-killing insanity (if Noah were right that God wanted him to kill his children) or as something Noah did not do (if Noah were wrong that God wanted him to kill his children).

In fact, Noah is not spared by the Creator because he is righteous. He is spared because he is obedient, so Noah himself says, and all the surrounding evidence seems to confirm. What superlative moral act is he shown doing on stage to confirm his righteousness?

Let us list: he defends a flower from Ham. He defends Ham from three hunters who mean to murder them. One of the hunters is helpless on the ground when Noah kills him. Noah respectfully and reverently burns a dog. When he finds an orphan girl, he does not leave her to die nor eat her alive, but nurses her to health and adopts her as a daughter. He is brave when facing rock monsters. He is tricked into drinking spiked tea. He plants a seed, he defies a king, he walks into the Cainim camp looking for wives, he gets disgusted and loses his mind and resolves that all mankind, including his own family, is too evil to live.

This resolve hardens from a willingness to submit to a life without children to a thirst to kill any children once the one barren girl on board by a miracle is cured and has twins. He listens to no advice on this point, convinced that God wants the babies dead. He ignores maybe one maybe two omens from God on this point, depending on how we are counting. He blows up the escape raft his son and daughter in law were going to use to flee from his murderous rampage. In a moment of weakness, he disobeys the Creator, calling up in woe to the sky that he lacks the strength to do the bloody deed the Creator demanded. Then he wrestles with Tubalcain who stowed away, and the Ark hits a rock. They land. Then Noah gets drunk. His son, the would-be-kinslayer, leaves the family and Noah, the other would-be-kinslayer, just lets him walk off.

Then, suddenly reconciled with no dialog and for no reason, the rest of the family now welcomes him back to the farm. They put up a flag to the Creator and watch an atomic bomb style rainbow explode in a rippling circle out from the sun. The benediction Noah bestows on Seth is missing any words about being fruitful, multiplying, or subduing the Earth.

I am not kidding. That is the course of events in the movie. That is what we are discussing here. If your mouth is hanging open and your eyes are blinking vaguely, your reaction is the same as mine.

Noah, I suppose, gets credit for learning how not to need food in the barren landscapes through which he wanders, where there are no plants and no livestock. He does not break his strict rule against killing plants except when it is time to strip the forest for lumber to build the Ark. He breaks his strict rule against killing animals if they happen to be human. But only animals get a proper burial. He adopts Ila. He obeys God when commanded to built the Ark. He obeys God when commanded to kill his grandchildren, unless, as I said above, he was disobeying God, in which case, why was he spared, again, exactly?

The answer is that the purpose of the filmmaker is to uplift the evil, to make it look not so bad, and to put down the good, to make it look worse than you thought.

So Tubalcain is given a clear and sympathetic motivation: we wants to survive the devastation of the world, he wants to survive the famine, and he wants to kill Noah and take his wife and daughter in law as wives for himself.

Perhaps to you this seems evil at fist glance. Take a second glance. Speaking as a human being, when I am watching a movie and there are two characters fighting, one in the black hat who says that Man is the image of God, and that human life is sacred whereas animal life is not, and if he wins the fight, mankind lives; and the other in the white hat who is trying to commit infanticide for the express purpose of wiping out all human life, namely that remnant which God Almighty Himself by divine miracle reaching down out of heaven declared He would spare, and if he wins the fight mankind dies, I darned well know for which of the two I am rooting.

Meanwhile Noah is given a motivation so appalling, so horrid, so blasphemous against everything good and decent and normal in life, no one in his right mind can do anything but hate him.

I am a Dad, and to see any portrayal of a Dad threatening his granddaughters with a knife would have to have a strong setup and clear plot logic in order for the knife-happy maniac not to be a monster.

A glimpse of a hallucination showing a man seeing himself eating raw meat, so that our Hero finally understands that all men are guilty of sin, is far, far too weak a motive to turn a man in to a kinslayer, a murderer, an infanticide.

As a matter of logic, asking your wife, “Is there anything you would not do for the children?” is not the same as asking “Are you willing and eager to commit murder, adultery, incest, theft, idolatry, and cannibalism?” and the emotional reaction of discovering everyone in your family is a homicidal adulterous incestuous thieving idolatrous cannibal is not the same as the emotional reaction of discovering the a woman is brave enough to kill in self-defense if her children are threatened.

So the point of Noah finding grace in the eyes of the Lord in this film is reversed from the norm. Noah is not a saintly, wise and kind man whose saintliness is rewarded when he and his family alone is saved while the rest of the evil world is destroyed. Instead, he is an obedient thug, willing to kill children, or don a dynamite vest and blow up Jews, or do anything else, merely because God says so, especially when God does not say so. He is selected for his obedience, but mankind is saved because and only because at the last minute he is disobedient. Noah disobedience to (what he thinks is) the command of God to wipe out all life is what saves mankind.

It is another example of subversion.

4. Come Thou and All Thy House in the Ark

At this point, I hope the reader has enough information to imagine the movie as it must have looked to Mr. Greydanus and to any other moviegoer who liked this pretentious trainwreck of a film. It must have looked like a dark but deep and challenging movie, but one that makes sense without overtly mocking God and slapping Christians in the face.

In the deep and nonslappy version of the movie, the movie goes something like this: the world is ruined and corrupted both because of the violence and bloodshed of men, and also because they log and mine and build cities, but the main emphasis is on the evil of men. Noah receives a vision where he is told to build an ark, and he does so. He clearly intends to obey God and find wives for his sons, and so goes into the camp of the Cainim. He sees the wickedness of men, which includes not just men eating animals, but also each other. At that point, he sees a second vision where he sees himself as a Cainim, committing their same murders and acts of mayhem. This second vision convinces Noah that the Creator intends to wipe out his family as well.

Once aboard the Ark, Noah discovers to his horror that God has healed Ila of her barrenness and she is going to give birth to the two wives that Ham and Japheth need to restock the world with the human race. This miracle cure means that Noah is being asked like Abraham to kill his own, perhaps as a test of his loyalty.

Noah wrestles with his doubts about the wisdom of God, and he sees and hears the injustice of God as the world drowns, screaming. Noah stands by, sad, but he makes no move to save them.

Noah goes forward with a knife to kill the children, and, in a highly emotional scene, while the mother is screaming at him to commit the murders quickly, Noah’s nerve breaks. He cannot commit the terrible deed.

They crashland, he gets drunk, overwhelmed by the guilt and horror of witnessing the whole world executed, but then he realizes that God’s providence halted his hand from the knife, and God intended to save him and his family all alone. Ham goes off to die by himself in the wilderness, but he will one day return and be reconciled and marry the baby once she is grown. 

The only problem with the deep and nonslappy version of the film is that this is not what is actually shown on the screen.

In reverse order: It is not said or implied that Ham will return. It is not said nor implied that God intended to save Noah and his family. It is not God’s providence which halts the hand of Noah, it is Noah’s inability to be a cruel as he (perhaps wrongly) thinks God wants him to be.

Note the perhaps in that sentence. Nothing in the film says that God was against the idea of Noah stabbing the babies, and, indeed, the only line of dialog on the matter is expressly the other way: Ila says that God meant Noah to choose whether the world would live or die. God would no doubt have been cool with either decision.

For those of you who saw the movie V FOR VENDETTA, there is a parallel scene where the masked terrorist Codename V dies, and, in dying, leaves into the hands of Evy, his disciple in crime, whether to blow up the Parliament building or to let it stand.

In both movies what is portrayed there is a worship of choice as such, combined with a revolting indifference to the matter and the outcome of the choice. Whether you live or die, blow up Parliament or let it stand, kill your grandchildren ergo your whole race or live and prosper and multiply (both movies said explicitly) is a matter of no difference whatsoever. The choice does not matter, only the fact that you and you alone make the choice, not God, not any higher power, you and you alone.

Likewise, the other elements in the nonslappy version of this movie are imaginary. Noah does not see a vision of himself committing horrific murders and enjoying it, but enjoying a hamburger. For that reason he goes to attempt child murder, which is a crime astonishingly more vile than eating raw meat. He is not the one righteous man in a bloody world, he is the one eco-friendly vegetarian in a carnivorous world inhabited by the badguys from the cartoon CAPTAIN PLANET.

There is nothing wrong, indeed, there is much to recommend, a movie that takes the Noah story seriously enough to show Noah wrestling with doubts about the justice of God who kills a whole world, or the mercy of  God who spares Noah and his household for no reason man can understand, but then …

But then what? The scene where God’s justice is vindicated is not here in the movie. Nor is there any scene where the doubts about God’s mercy are resolved. This is not the story of Abraham. In that story, Abraham was explicitly and clearly told to sacrifice his son, and in that story the crucial moment is when the angel Tzadkiel swoops down from heaven and stays his hand.

Contrariwise in this version, Noah’s second vision cannot be a command from God to kill his family, because, if it were, God would not have healed the barrenness of Ila. If it were God’s will for her to live out her days childless and bring the race to an end, why cure her? So what was the point of the second vision? Merely to show that Noah and his family were also evil. But if they were evil, why were they spared, when Nael and Methuselah were drowned?

Nor could Noah have actually thought that God actually wanted to wipe out all mankind, because then he would have stayed behind with the rock monsters to die in the last battle, or stayed behind with Methuselah to die in the flood. He would not have entered into the ark with the animals if he thought the animals only were supposed to live. He would have closed the door with himself and his wife and kids standing outside.

Now, to be fair, Noah did not know Ila was pregnant, or even able to bear children, so he may have thought God wanted him to tend the sleeping animals, then die, and for that reason entered the ark. But that, again, is not actually said or shown on the screen.

 6. According to All that God Commanded Him, So Did He

Did God order Noah to kill the grandchildren, or not? As best we can tell, this is a misunderstanding on Noah’s part.

By having Noah misunderstand the second vision, the whole point of the film is undercut. In order to construct a plot properly, the main character must have a goal which something, internal or external, is opposing. Here, Noah is allegedly struggling between his desire to obey God and his natural human instinct to protect his children; and the internal obstacle is his doubts (I think there is one line where he mutters he does not want to do it) and the external is Tubalcain, his two children, his wife, his daughter in law, but (the absence is conspicuous) not the Creator.

But no one is rooting for Noah to stay obedient to the Will of God, and defy the heathen world and its ways, and kill the babies. No one human. So where is the plot tension? What is the conflict supposed to be? Are we waiting, twiddle thumbs and yawning (as I was) at this absurd plot twist to be resolved the moment Noah realizes that God did not mean the human race to perish utterly? But there is no wait involved. That is the point of the first vision, or else there is no point to getting on the Ark with his family.

In this film, there are only two logical options, both bad.

Option One is that the Creator all along intended Noah to spare the animals only and kill the men, including Noah and Noah’s children, and that only at the last minute, when the knife was hovering, twitching, over the baby’s eye, did God change His divine mind and inspire Noah with a change of heart.

The problem with Option One is that, in order for Noah’s doubts to be legitimate and convincing, it has to be sufficiently established in the previous scenes that the family of Noah is just as bad as the race of Tubalcain,  and deserves equally with them to die, and it is merely God’s arbitrary whim at the last minute to save the children of Noah.

This is not established. There is one scene where Noah asks Naamah whether there is anything she would be unwilling to do to save her children, and when she, naturally enough, answers she would do anything, Noah takes this as an admission that every imagination of the thoughts of her heart was only evil continually. It is, in fact, only an admission of motherly love. If memory serves, no son of Noah has eaten any pork or beef at this point, so even by the twisted vegetarian logic of this film, they are innocent of wrongdoing.

Option Two is that the Creator sent Noah a vision that he grossly misunderstood, and the idea of suicide and child-murder was entirely Noah’s invention of his own guilt and imagination, because, after all, Noah was right, and all men are evil continually. But if this was not the point of the second vision, what was it?

A movie which resolved the issue by having Noah realize that he is not better than the Cainim, but was spared because he asked for mercy whereas Tubalcain did not, that would have been a movie with an ending which made sense. This is not that movie. Nothing was resolved.

The option that Noah correctly interprets the vision and God does not change His mind nor change his mind, is not possible in this plot continuity, because then Ila’s miracle cure of her barrenness is meaningless.

The question of whether Noah’s household (and I assume in the Biblical version, this perhaps meant his vassals and retainers, servants and slaves and all their goods) is supposed to be spared is not a question in the Biblical version, because the Voice of God is explicit. In trying to make this the central question of the second half of this film, the film has no choice but to make God vile and Noah attempt child-murder.

Of course, no matter which way you slice it, Noah did not do what the Creator commanded.

If in the first vision the Creator was commanding Noah to save a remnant of mankind, then Noah disobeys this when the goes after the children with a knife, and ignores the one or perhaps two miracles which seem to indicate God wants Ila to bear children.

If the second vision was the Creator (for some reason) changing His mind and telling Noah that Noah was too evil to live after all, then Noah disobeys this second vision, because he spares the children, not out of mercy, but out of weakness.

I would have liked a film where the angel Tzadkiel appeared out of heaven, and grabbed Noah’s knife hand, or better yet, kicked him in the balls with a flaming kneecap, and told him not to harm the little ones. But that did not happen. I would have liked Noah to slap his hand against his forehead and say, “Wow! I was not supposed to kill my own daughter’s babies! What was I thinking?” But that did not happen.

Nothing happened. According to what is actually on the screen and not in the mind of a viewer trying to make sense of this senseless muddle, God in the first half does indeed command Noah and all his household to enter the ark, and they obey Him, and in the second half, God does indeed want Noah to kill the grandchildren, Noah fails, and he cannot do what God demands. And then there is another moment when it is announced that God does not care a flaming rat-fart whether mankind as a whole lives or dies, just as long as Noah is the one who makes the decision.

This is an inversion again. Instead of a story about a man who is commanded to save all mankind, like Christ, from the judgment of an angry Creator, or a story about a man commanded, like Abraham, to sacrifice his own posterity, and then halted by divine grace, this is a story about a man who is commanded to sacrifice his own posterity in order not to save all mankind, who disobeys the order. Except in this version it is okay to disobey an order from God because He wants you to make the choice. And the choice He wants is not, like Christ or like Abraham, obedience to the point of death, but just a reasonable amount of obedience.

7. And the Three Wives of his Sons with Them

In order to produce this false and boring tension of having Noah chasing around babies with a knife, the filmmaker has to artificially make it look like Noah’s expectation that all the Sons of Noah will die in one generation is reasonable. And so the plot requires that no fertile women of child-bearing age be present on the Ark. By introducing this plot element, the story is missing a basic element.

Noah is a foreshadowing and symbol of Christ, the man who saves mankind. Noah is a foreshadowing of Moses, the man who brings the chosen people through the Red Sea that drowns the armies of Pharaoh. Moses leaves Egypt behind just as Noah leaves the antediluvian world behind.

By eliminating the wives of Ham and Japheth from the film, Aronofsky eliminates the image and the idea of Noah as a savior. Aronofsky’s story is about a man who does not know whether he will save mankind or not, and, for the silly second half of the film Aronofsky’s story is about a man actively trying to destroy mankind.

It is inversion. Aronofsky’s story is about an unsavior, the opposite of a Christ, an anti-Moses trying to force the chosen people back into Egyptian slavery, an Antichrist.

 8. And the Dread Of You Shall Be Upon Every Beast Of The Earth

When finally, after an endless tedium of the bogus tension of the bogus plotline of Noah the child-murderer is resolved by being not resolved, we see the new world. Noah is drunk, which is as it should be from the Bible, but here he is drunk because of survivor’s guilt, which strikes me as a particularly clever interpretation. I wish there had been a real movie around it. Noah is reconciled for no particular reason with his family, except that Ham leaves.

In a final scene, perhaps meant to be touching or symbolic, the blessing of the serpent of Eden, the same blessing Noah did not receive from Lamech, is now passed from Noah to Shem.

The Biblical elements missing from this scene include the permission by God that man should have dominion over the beasts and birds and fish and creeping things of the Earth. They are our food. Also missing is the burnt offering sacrifice offered by Noah. Also missing is the blessing and commandment for men to go forth and multiply and subdue the earth and fill it.

This is a second example of the inversion we saw earlier. This is not a story about the one righteous man, obedient to God, who is spared, he and his family, while the rest of the world drowning in sin is literally drowned. It is the story of a world which was overlogged and overmined, and polluted. It is the story of MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR with Noah in the role of Max Rockatansky, and Tubalcain as Lord Humungus.

In this film, man’s dominion over the earth and all the beasts within it is explicitly not granted by the Creator. Man’s dominion over the earth, in this film, is the original sin, the only sin that is emphasized over and over. The Biblical story is simply reversed.

Because it is reversed, the story makes no sense. The Sons of Cain should been shown, as the Bible describes them, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage — that is, living large and hearty.

As a matter of mere logic, God need not impose on any land a curse which man has already rendered unlivable. The curse of pollution is the pollution. Nothing more is needed. The Creator in this film never needed to have Noah build an ark. All that was needed was the one seed from Eden from which a forest springs and five springs of fresh water. Noah could have lounged in a hammock among the fruit trees, sipping mint juleps, while the Rock Monsters kept the starving Sons of Cain away, to dwindle and die in the barren wasteland. Problem solved.

9. And Noah Builded an Altar Unto The Lord

I almost laughed at the final scene, when we see Noah putting up a flag rather than a sacrificial altar.

Of course Noah the ultravegetarian, who will not pluck up even a leaf, would not offer burnt rams and sheep to the LORD, or even two turtledoves. This is the movie where man has no dominion over nature; Nature is the goddess, and she has dominion over us.

While the criticism that there is no mention of God in this film strikes me as wrong, even absurd, the deeper criticism that there is no reverence for God in this film is true. There is not one act of prayer or praise. There is no altar, and no worship. Noah never offers a thanksgiving to the Lord for the salvation. Instead of gratitude, Noah is troubled and tormented.

That, dear reader, is what is missing from this film. There is no thanksgiving, no salvation, no divine justice, no divine mercy, because there is no divinity. The same events are portrayed, but Aronofsky portrays each one to carry the opposite of the real meaning.

What is missing from Aronofsky’s NOAH is Noah.

The Elements of Aronofsky

Here are the nine elements of the Aronofsky film:

 1. The Creator destroys mankind is because of man’s despoliation of nature.

2. For as in the days that were before the flood they were starving and desperate, and committed crimes as just about anyone would also.

3. But Noah did not pluck flowers, he killed people. He was an obedient thug willing to kill children for the Creator.

4. And the Creator sent ambiguous visions to Noah, who drank spiked tea, and provided a forest that he might make a boxlike Ark.  And the Lord said nothing to Noah. Whether or not Noah was meant to bring his family along is unclear. Maybe only animals are innocent enough to live.

6. Noah was willing to obey the Creator, but what the Creator asked of him, to kill his grandchildren, was beyond his strength. Except maybe the Creator did not ask this of him, in which case Noah was a crazy person.

7. In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the one wife of one of the sons with them, into the ark. Tubalcain was a stowaway. Noah conceived that all those in the Ark with him should perish, being too evil to remain upon the face of the Earth.

8. And it came to pass that the waters were dried up from off the earth: behold, the face of the ground was dry. And Noah passed the blessing of his bloodline to Shem, and Ham departed, and Japheth hoped he would marry his twin nieces.

No blessing was forthcoming from the Creator giving the world into the stewardship of man, and man was not told to be fruitful and multiply, nor are animals under man’s dominion. Indeed, dominion over animals is man’s sole and original sin.

9.  And Noah was reconciled with his family, for the Creator intended all along that Noah define what is right and wrong, for his was the knowledge of good and evil, like unto a god.

Noah offered no prayers nor thanksgiving to the Creator, who had imposed too difficult a burden on him.

What is Missing and What is Added

Every reviewer I have read who likes this film, as best I can tell, is interpreting and interpolating, that is, he is adding material to the film which is not in the film, only in his imagination. It is like seeing a face in the clouds. Because he is familiar with the real Bible story, he thinks that story is this one.

My daughter is eighteen, but she was raised in Red China, and not exposed to the normal Bible stories any child in America in the previous generation knew. She is the perfect test case, because she has no preconceptions. On the strength of Mr Greydanus’ recommendation, I took her. He warned me in general terms that the film was not for everyone. I thought that while the film might take artistic liberties with the source material (including liberties offensive to that kind of Christian who regards Harry Potter and Gandalf the Grey as satanic figures), that nonetheless it would get the basics of the story straight. It thought that is was not going to be overtly pro-Biblical, but I thought that if it were overtly anti-Biblical, Greydanus, or any Christian reviewer, would warn me. His warnings, alas, were too elliptical and polite for me to understand that this film was indeed overtly anti-Biblical. In short, the film makes Noah into an antihero, if not a villain.

In addition to the scene where Noah abandons Nael to be trampled by a crowd, and the scene where he is chasing his daughter in law with a knife, more significantly, there is a scene where Noah simply sat in the ark with a pout, listening to the screaming multitudes dying as vast tidal waves are sloshing over the peak of the hill where they are clinging. His children ask him fearfully why they cannot lower ropes from the hull and pull the dying to safety. He says nothing and looks glum.

He does not say it is the judgment of the Creator, who is just and holy. He does not say that he built the ark for 120 years in the sight of his neighbors, giving them plenty of time to see the work, know its meaning, and repent. He says nothing, because there is no justice, no holiness, and, except for the Watchers, no repentance in this movie. That is not what the movie is about.

Some reviewers think that repentance is what the movie about, because that is what the Bible story is about. This is case where a favorable preconception blinds their eyes, so they do not see.

If you want to know what someone with no preconceptions sees when she sees this film, I will tell you. After I was done watching, my daughter turned to me and asked why Noah  did not help the drowning people.

That is what she got out of this film. That is what the Noah story is to her. Not a story about one man brave enough to be good when the rest of the world is evil, not a story about a man who believes when the world scoffs. It is a story about a savior who does not save, like a lifeguard who watches a girl drown and does not lift a finger to save her.