As a screenwriter of faith-based films like "To End All Wars" and "Alleged," and the author of a novel called "Noah Primeval" about what led up to the Great Flood, I am especially conscious of issues relating to the intersection of Hollywood and religion.
So I’ve been keeping tabs on a film that lives at that intersection, "Noah," written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. I’ve also watched with great anticipation as a post-"Passion of the Christ" Hollywood tries to come to grips with how to reach the massive faith-friendly audience, and I’m concerned about the phenomenon that I see - film being developed for that audience by people who don’t understand it and are destined to fail.
Then when they do fail, as expected, smug Hollywood executives declare, “See, that audience doesn’t really exist.”
I don’t want that to keep happening. I want films to be properly developed so that they can succeed. It is in that spirit that I offer my analysis of Aronofsky and Handel’s "Noah" script. I believe that it’s never too late to right a ship that is heading in the wrong direction.
Having gotten a chance to read an undated version of the film's script (the final film may be based on a revised script with scenes added or deleted) I want to warn you. If you were expecting a Biblically-faithful retelling of the story of the greatest mariner in history, and a tale of redemption and obedience to God, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
"Noah" paints the primeval world of Genesis 6 as scorched arid desert, dry cracked earth and a gray gloomy sky that gives no rain – and all this, caused by man’s “disrespect” for the environment. In short, an anachronistic doomsday scenario of ancient global warming. How Neolithic man was able to cause such anthropogenic catastrophic climate change without the “evil” carbon emissions of modern industrial revolution is not explained. Nevertheless, humanity wanders the land in nomadic warrior tribes killing animals for food or wasteful trophies.
In this oppressive world, Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family seek to avoid the crowds and live off the land. Noah is a kind of rural shaman and vegan hippie-like gatherer of herbs. Noah explains that his family tries to study and heal the world whenever possible, like a kind of environmentalist scientist. But he also mysteriously has the fighting skills of an ancient Near Eastern Ninja.
Hey, it’s a movie. Give it a break.
Noah maintains an animal hospital to take care of wounded creatures or those who survive the evil “poachers,” of the land. Just whose animal rights laws they are violating, I am not sure, since there are only fiefdoms of warlords and tribes. Be that as it may, Noah is the Mother Teresa of animals.
Though God has not spoken to men or angels for a long time, Noah is haunted by recurring dreams of a rainstorm and flood that he surmises is God’s judgment on man.
All of God's creations are dying because of mankind, Noah says, a point with which his grandfather, Methuselah, concurs.
People are being killed, too, but it’s not really as important. The notion of human evil is more of an after thought or symptom of the bigger environmental concern of the great tree hugger in the sky.
Noah seeks advice from Methuselah, the oldest man alive, who lives in a cave. Unfortunately for fighting pacifist Noah, he has to go through the Watcher’s Land to get there. The Watchers are angels who came down from heaven to help fallen humanity by granting them wonders of knowledge from magic to science to stars, metal and fire. But when mankind turned that knowledge into weapons of war and tools of environmental devastation, God banished the Watchers to earth and turned his back on them.
Now, they reside as 18-feet tall, six-armed grumpy angelic complainers who resent mankind.
Through tricky movie dialogue, Noah convinces the Watchers to help him, and he receives a magic seed from Methuselah that blooms a magical forest in the desert. It’s really a quite imaginative and powerful scene that shows God’s miraculous provision.
Noah uses this timber to build his boat (Wait a second. Wouldn’t that make him an evil clear cutting lumberjack?). So the Watchers help him build the craft. Followed by another beautiful sequence of a magical thread of water that spreads out from the forest into all the world that calls the animals two by two to come to the ark.
Like a magical Mesopotamian Dr. Doolittle, Noah has the ability to “lead” the animals peacefully into the ark as they come from every corner of the earth. And yes, even the insects. Well, they finish building the ark, the rains start, the evil mobs try to get on the ark, but the Watchers fight them off, blah, blah, blah, movie action and we are at the midpoint of the movie, with Noah and his family on the ark, weathering out the flood.
What Noah doesn’t know is that evil warlord Akkad snuck onto the boat and plans to kill all the men and rape all the wives to start civilization as his own brood of evil minions.
Meanwhile, Noah has himself become a bit psychotic, like an environmentalist or animal rights activist who concludes that people do not deserve to survive because of what they’ve done to the environment and to animals. Noah deduces that God’s only reason for his family on the boat is to shepherd the animals to safety.
The world would be better off without humans, he concludes.
He decides there will be no more births in this family so that when they start over in the new world, they will eventually die out, leaving the animals in a human-less paradise of eco-harmony and peace.
His ethical reasoning? The same as all environmentalist activists: The ends justify the means.
There’s only one problem. One of the women on the ark is pregnant, and Noah decides that if it is a boy, it can live, but if it is a girl, he must kill it. We can’t have more of those nasty little virus-like humans swarming the earth. So most of the last half of the script is a family killer thriller like "Sleeping With the Enemy," that asks the dark dramatic movie question “will Noah kill the child if it is a girl or not?”
Ancient sex-selection infanticide. The woman gives birth to twin girls, and Noah gets all the way up to killing not one but two female infants, after killing evil meat-eating Akkad. But in the end, he fails. He is just too compassionate to carry out God’s cruel plan. Noah is more loving than God.
The denouement shows a miserable, drunken Noah with his growing family of future earth-killing grandchildren being told by his daughter-in-law to teach them how to live in the world in a way that will spare it the pain of the past.
It is no secret that Aronofsky set out to make a political propaganda piece for environmentalism. He said so himself to entertainment reporters:
“It’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist.”
Before analyzing the message of this story, we need to get a few things straight. First off, there is nothing wrong with retelling stories of the past to highlight an issue in the present. In fact, pretty much all period pieces do this. "The King’s Speech" was about more than courage to do public speaking, it was about standing up to global terrorism.
"The Crucible" was about more than the Salem Witch Trials, it was a metaphor for McCarthyism. Heck, even the Bible does it. It’s the way we writers write. We interpret the present through the past and the past through the present. But is our analogy or metaphor legitimate and germane to the original meaning? Or is it a distortion akin to making someone say the opposite of what they actually said?
Secondly, there is nothing wrong with engaging in creative license, whether it is magical seeds or six-armed Watchers, or even Noah as a warrior. I don’t even think there is a problem in using non-biblical sources like the Book of Enoch or the Sumerian version of the Flood story, where unlike in the Bible, Noah receives dreams about the coming Deluge.
The question is, does it support the spirit or meaning of the original story, or the original author’s intent?Bible believing Christians do not necessarily own this category of Biblical interpretation. The Bible doesn’t say what vocation Noah had before the Flood, only what he was afterward (a tiller of the soil). So if a Christian attacks the notion of Noah as a warrior shaman, he may really be illustrating his own cultural prejudice of the notion of a white bearded old farmer which is not in the Bible either.
Saying “That didn’t happen on the ark,” is sheer ignorance because nobody knows what happened on the ark, because it wasn’t written down! Hyper-literalists are too often ignorant of their own unbiblical notions.
On the other hand, postmodernists fancy playing God and changing the meaning of texts to suit their agenda because they believe language creates reality. Therefore, it’s okay to “make the Bible say what we want it to say.” This is manipulative narcissistic nonsense, but that doesn’t change the fact that understanding the original intent is not always easy. All authors unavoidably bring some of their own meaning to the text.
The real question is: Does the creative license or embellishment serve the meaning or theme intended in the original story or does it twist it into an alien meaning against the original story, a favorite propaganda tactic of postmoderns, leftists, and radicals?
Was Noah the first environmentalist and animal rights activist? Was the moral failure of man in Genesis, disrespect for the environment? Was that why God completely destroyed the environment and killed all of the animals of the land except those on the ark?
Of course not.
Aronofsky’s Noah is deeply anti-Biblical in its moral vision. While the Bible commands mankind to “work and keep” the garden of earth as its stewards, the sin that brought about the judgment of the Flood was NOT violence against the environment as depictedin the script, it was violence against God and his image in man. That’s no minor difference. From Cain’s murder, to the Noahic command of capital punishment, all the way to the Tower of Babel, Genesis repeats its theme of God’s righteous anger with the violation of the sacred image of God in mankind through murder and idolatry.
The Genesis creation account was hated by pagan earth worshippers because it had depersonalized nature and divested it of deity. In the Biblical worldview, the earth was created for man, not man for the earth.
In the "Noah" script, what God cares about is the environment, not so much man. Turning the tale of Noah into an environmentalist screed and animal rights diatribe does violence to the Biblical meaning and turns it into something entirely alien to the original meaning of the text.
Admittedly, the script does include murder and violence against man as an additional “evil,” but this is secondary in the story. The primary sin of "Noah's" script is man’s violence against the environment. Which is kind of contradictory, don’t you think? Claiming that God destroys the entire environment because man was -- well, destroying the environment?
Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of the Aronofsky/Handel script is its portrayal of God in the moral worldview of Noah. I’m not talking about the fact that Noah is sinful in the movie or that he gets drunk. That is in the Bible. That’s not the problem. The problem is that Noah is depicted as attempting to follow God’s will in the script, a will that includes the complete annihilation of the human race, as opposed to the Genesis depiction of starting over with eight humans to repopulate and ultimately provide a Messiah.
Someone could well make the argument that Noah’s journey is one of realizing that his zeal for his environmental and animal rights cause has gone too far, and that he finally realizes that killing people is too extreme. There must be a balance of interests. In one scene, Japheth accidentally kills a lizard that will now die out because it was only one of two. Noah explodes in rage upon his son for his carelessness. Then he repents and realizes that we all share that potential for “wickedness."
But I am skeptical of this “balance of interests” interpretation of the script. Noah does not have a revelation that he has made animals more important than humans, rather he has “realized” that the evil against animals is in all of them, such as his son. Then the very next thing he concludes is that there will be no wives on the ark and they are not going to repopulate humanity after the Flood.
Add to this, the fact that the animals aboard the ark help Noah to pindown his family so he can kill the infant girls. That clearly supports the notion of God being behind it all.
Also, at the end, when psycho Noah realizes that he cannot kill the baby girl to stop the human race, the reason is not because he realized he was too extreme against humans, but because he was too weak to follow through with God’s commands and his “higher cause” of genocide. This Humanistic worldview certainly tugs at the heart strings of our hubris.
Man’s weakness of compassion makes him superior to God.
Killing all humans but eight in order to start over (as the Bible portrays) may seem harsh to our thoroughly Modern Millie minds, but it reaffirms that Image of God in Man that gives man value despite the evil. God always saves a remnant of the righteous in order to bring about his Messianic plan of redemption. In "Noah," man has no higher value than the animals and the environment.
Noah wants to get rid of us all and return the environment to its pristine condition untouched by the presence of man. What is so disturbing is that this motivation to violence is exactly the worldview of many extremist leaders of environmentalism. For documented samples of their human hate speech and dog whistles to violence see here.
This violent hatred of humanity that is displayed in the script also seems to emanate from significant quarters of the environmentalist movement. But ironically, it is logically inevitable that if you deny the image of God in Man, and you elevate the environment over humanity, then you will inevitably wish to eliminate humanity for a better environment.
Another significant deviation from Biblical truth in the Noah script is the identity of the Watchers. In the script, they are portrayed as misunderstood rebels who, like Noah, are also more compassionate than God. It seems everyone in this story is more compassionate than God.
The Watchers of Biblical fame are “Sons of God,” or angelic beings who violated God’s separation of the heavenly and the earthly, and mated with humans. The New Testament quotes from and paraphrases a non-canonical Jewish text called Enoch that has retained a tradition of respect within Judeo-Christian history. Though it is not considered Scripture, its picture of the fallen angels cohabiting with humans affirms the Biblical notion of these being rebel sorcerers, not well-intentioned educators who get blamed for mankind’s misuse of good gifts.
Aronofsky apparently uses some of his notions of the Watchers from the book of Enoch, such as the names of the angel Samyaza and their act of revealing secrets to mankind as well as the idea that they helped Noah build the ark. But the script’s view is the opposite of the Biblical/Enochian view of the Watchers as rebels who reveal occultic forbidden secrets that are part of the reason why God sends the Flood.
All in all, the script for "Noah" is an uninteresting and unBiblical waste of a $150 million dollars that will ruin for decades the possibility of making a really great and entertaining movie of this Bible hero beloved by billions of religious believers, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim.
This movie will be rejected by millions of devoted Bible readers worldwide because once again it subverts their own sacred narrative with a political agenda of pagan earth religion that is offensive to their Faith. In a very real sense it engages in the very sin of the primeval history in Genesis: A denial of the image of Godin man.
If "Noah" is released, and as I am predicting, does horrible numbers at the box office after being rejected by traditionalist Christians and Jews (in spite of the studio undoubtedly hiring faith-based marketing companies who will try to put lipstick on the pig for a buck) as well as mainstream viewers, studio executives will cluck about faith-based audience never turning out for “their movies.”
The real story will be that "Noah" was made by someone outside of their community that was insulting, degrading and contrary to their deeply held beliefs and values.
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Brian Godawa is the screenwriter for the award-winning feature film, "To End All Wars," starring Kiefer Sutherland, and "Alleged," starring Brian Dennehy and Fred Thompson and the author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment. His most recent book is "Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination." His new novel series, "The Chronicles of the Nephilim" is an imaginative retelling of the primeval history of Genesis, the secret plan of the fallen Watchers, and the War of the Seed of the Serpent with the Seed of Eve.