There’s so much to this movie that I couldn’t get into all of it in one blog post. It’s far more nuanced than many would suggest. Therefore, this review reflects the things I found most relevant to address. Also, in case you were wondering, I couldn’t resist making a soundtrack to listen to while writing this post. Here’s the playlist. Enjoy.

Forecast (Spoiler-Free):

Anytime mainstream Hollywood attempts to convey a biblical story, there’s going to be controversy. Noah is no-ah exception.  Personally, I care way more about the story, themes, and art of the film itself than the controversy surrounding it. But I know there are those who do care. So, should you see it? Yes. But not if you’re going to be too distracted by it not being done exactly how you want it to be. I find that going into movies like Noah with an open mind gives me the most satisfying experience and helps me be most honest about how I really feel about the movie afterwards.

Does Noah convey a literal interpretation of the biblical story of Noah? No. Ah, it’s more of a creative expression of the biblical story, but one that highlights some of the story’s most important themes. This movie isn’t good because it presents the story word-for-word from Scripture (it clearly doesn’t); it’s good because it maintains important elements of what the story means. It will make any relatively thoughtful moviegoer think seriously about sin and its implications.

Keep in mind that this is a fictional movie. It’s a piece of art based on a biblical account. Whether or not someone likes it doesn’t automatically make them good or bad. As with all art, the experience is subjective. And it’s meant to be that way. Here’s the deal: Noah the movie is to the story of Noah like Steinbeck’s East of Eden is to the story of Cain and Abel. It’s literature; it’s dramatized, embellished, metaphorical, symbolic, expressed from the perspective of its artistic creators. It’s not Genesis 9, Hebrews 11, hall of faith Noah. It’s 21st century American Hollywood Noah.

The movie also portrays God as Creator very heavily. You might not agree with exactly how the process of creation is presented, but it’s done in a tasteful and (I think) not explicitly controversial way. My friend Sudhakar pointed out that he was very glad this movie was also released in his native India, where most people are not familiar with the biblical creation story and the Creator God.

The film features beautiful production and rem-ARK-able acting from the likes of Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman, and Anthony Hopkins. While some of the special effects seemed a bit hokey, they are mostly awesome-looking. Expect some (very) odd surprises as well as some excellent drama. The setting and characters are skillfully, satisfyingly embellished, sparking the imagination to ask that ever-important question when it comes to historical stories: “What was it really like?” Overall, I give Noah 4 out of 5 stars.

Storm Chaser Analysis (Spoilers, Ahoy!):

The thing I appreciate most about Noah is that it doesn’t shy away from the tensions raised by the account of the flood. Think about it. God creates a world without sin, full of beauty and life. To cap off His masterpiece, He makes humans in His image and gives them authority and responsibility over the rest of His creation.  They live freely in a perfect garden, in perfect communion with their Creator. But they choose to disobey, to rebel against Him. And so they bring the devastation of sin and death on themselves, their descendants, and the rest of creation. From that day on, the human race falls further into wickedness, ignoring their mandate to care for creation, including each other.

Into this world, Noah is born, the descendant of a few men who remained loyal to their Creator. From a young age, he recognizes the wickedness of men in contrast to the way God would have them live. Noah follows God. God expresses to Noah that because of this wickedness, He is going to rinse clean the earth with a great flood and start over. Does this fit with the biblical account? Check. Does the movie reflect this? It’s creatively embellished, but I feel that it does.

Wack Theology

But this is the point the movie really starts to set its own course, posing the “What if?” questions and the queries about what it all means. We see Russell Crowe Noah doubt and hesitate. His interaction with God comes mainly through dreams, so he doesn’t have the luxury biblical Noah seems to have of speaking with God and getting a step-by-step plan for this whole surviving the flood thing. One of the themes throughout the movie is the question, “What if we ask God to speak to us and we (feel like we) don’t get an answer?

It’s interesting that both the hero and villain in this movie (though those lines become blurred sometimes) struggle with this same question. In fact, the big trailer moment that wasn’t as prominent in the film has been something I’ve kept in mind since the moment I first heard it: “He speaks to you. You must trust He speaks in a way that you can understand.”

I was hoping this thought would be more explicitly explored in the movie, but it wasn’t. Though the Creator does what He promises and provides for Robin Hood Noah’s obedience (through the magical seed, etc.), He is mostly silent. As the film progresses, we see the Creator’s supposed silence leading to Noah’s erratic decision-making. However, there are subtle moments throughout where we see that perhaps the Creator is speaking to Noah through his circumstances, and while his family may point these things out, Noah does not seem to give them any thought. In the end, he must blindly make a choice he believes goes against the Creator, then is overcome with grief over his own failure to obey.

Gladiator Noah’s theology gets pretty wack. He thinks his mission is to save only the animals, and that his immediate family should be the last people to ever live, so as not to perpetuate the wickedness of humanity. While I’d think that someone who “walked with God” would know the importance of Imago Dei– the fact that all people are created in God’s image and therefore valuable above all creation–  Robin Hood Noah is focused on the wickedness he’s experienced in the past, not on the goodness of life God has in store for the future. He believes more in the sinfulness of man than in the power of God to restore man. 

I think this says something about the views of the non-believers who made this film, and American non-believers in general. It’s almost like they’re saying, “Is God even listening? Does He even really take any interest in the problems of people? Can He really work in our lives? Isn’t God just focused on obliterating sin?” Noah gives Christians a somber understanding of how modern non-believers might view God. But it also gives non-believers a prompt to consider creation, sin, mercy/justice, and the nature of man.

Some will balk at Jor-El Noah’s affinity for plants and animals. I think it fits well with the biblical creation mandate we see given both to Adam and later, to Noah. Even after the fall, Noah still takes seriously God’s instruction to care for the earth. He is also appalled by the injustice humans are inflicting on each other. The troubling thing is that he reaches a point where he values plant and animal life over human life (his wack theology-in-progress). In particular, the scene where he lets Ham’s would-be wife die is gruesome and horrifying. But this “What if?” about Noah ends with a bang. When Noah decides not to kill his granddaughters (and ultimately that human life is worth preserving), he proves in a powerful way what earthly mercy must look like. Mercy, in its basest form, is a choice to extend life even when justice calls for death. It’s the same mercy God extends to Noah and his family, who were still sinful and did, in fact, deserve to die in the flood. In his merciful heart for people, Noah emulates His Creator. He just doesn’t realize it. And perhaps neither did Noah‘s filmmakers.

Noah’s response to his merciful decision is still disturbing, however. He’s done the right thing, but he still feels like he failed God, because he misunderstood his mission. Thankfully, he has wise-beyond-her-years Emma Watson is there to (sort-of) help clear things up.

Personally, I think the best movies are often ones that leave some questions up in the air, forcing viewers to wrestle with them on their own. Here are few other questions Noah poses:

  • If man is what ushered in evil and destroyed creation, should a new creation be absent of man?
  • Is the potential for good worth risking the potential for evil?
  • Who decides who is innocent? Who decides who to show mercy to and who not to?
  • How do you reconcile how to treat human life when considering both: 1) the wickedness of human nature and 2) the preciousness of the life God created?

Weird Additions

Of course, there’s more to talk about in regard to Noah than just the deep stuff. I think you know what I’m getting at…

What was up with those rock monsters?! They reminded me so much of the Ents from Lord of the Rings that I started calling the main one “Treebeard” in my head. They were weird characters I found more laughable than anything. I mean, the boulder monsters in my Lego Rock Raiders set as a kid were more intimidating. I guess, though, that in the movie their outer shells were meant to be punishing rather than formidable.  I thought the filmmakers had just pulled this out of nowhere, but it turns out the idea for the Watchers came from the apocryphal Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish text.

Basically, the Watchers’ purpose in Noah is convenience. How do you adapt this hundreds-of-years-long story to a timeline in which you could reasonably keep the same attractive actors on screen? How do you build a giant ark with two adults and a handful of teenagers? You give them rock monsters, of course! They also help protect the ark from an angry mob. So there’s that. I understand the usefulness of the timeline changes for the sake of feature film story-telling, but I feel like there might have been another way to do it without lesser-Treebeard and the gang. But that’s just me.

Rock monsters aside, I thought Noah was great. While it could be improved in some ways, it’s entertaining, thought-provoking, and well-made. It’s an imaginative look at a biblical story from an outsider’s perspective. Noah is a dramatic, entertaining take on a timeless tale that raises a boatload of bold and important questions. 

-LC

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Have you seen Noah? What did you think?