The Good, the Bad, and Theology of Noah

NoahI had the chance to see the movie Noah with my new friend Jon Blevins while I was in Manitowoc, WI, this past weekend doing a parish mission at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. My love and prayers to everyone who attended: I had a blast sharing the Gospel and getting to know you.

Jon and I decided to go see Noah, not so much because we wanted to, but because we knew teens would watch it and ask questions. After seeing it I’ve come across numerous blogs that think that it’s either wonderful, awful, faithful, or heretical. For anyone who cares, here’s my two cents on Noah.

The Good

Visually, the movie was stunning. There’s a five minute scene where Noah tells his family the story of creation and it blew me away—sure to be playing at every youth group in the world once it comes out on Blu-ray. The rock monsters were awesome. Yes, theologically wacky, but I have a special affinity for rock monsters and I personally think every movie should find a way to include a rock monster in it. Especially rom-coms. But I digress. Some great action sequences, and Russell Crowe is a stud and fun to watch in pretty much anything he does (unless he’s singing a monologue on a ledge).

The Bad

It was loooooong. At the end I was kind of hoping God would wipe everyone out so I didn’t have to keep listening to them talk. For an eco-friendly pacifist, Noah was really good at killing dudes, which stuck me as a bit odd. The rock monsters were awesome. Oh, I already said that. I thought the last half of the movie faltered in it’s pace and emotional drive. The stuff heading up to the flood was pretty riveting; once they get on the boat it I felt it floundered.

Theology

This was a big-budget, Hollywood movie, so I didn’t expect it to nail the Biblical story, and to be honest I didn’t mind the creative license the director took in adding new characters, new story lines, etc. I’ve read a few blogs that really hated against some of the theologically questionable things in the movie, like the rock monsters, which were awesome. Here are the things from a theological perspective that bothered me.

I didn’t like how the movie changed what the Bible says about one of Noah’s sons, Ham. In Scripture, Ham is cast out because he rebelled against his father. He becomes the father of Canaan, whose offspring become the enemy of the Jewish people. But the movie created story lines where you felt that Ham was actually doing the right thing most of the time and there was no sense of him being banished. Really, the movie made you blame Noah for being so thick headed as to alienate his son. I didn’t appreciate that.

There was a complete disregard for human life and an over-sensitivity for animal and plant life. In the beginning of the movie, Noah comes across some kind of armadillo/dog-thing that was wounded by hunters. The dogadillo dies and Noah kills the three guys with little effort (seriously, where did he get that kind of training?) He shows no remorse for the loss of human life but is really torn up about the animal. I know the hunters were “bad”—but how about a guy who regrets the taking of any life, even if necessary? In Scripture, the story wasn’t about saving all the animals as much as saving humanity and creating a new covenant with Noah. In one of the greatest moments of biblical irony, the first thing that Noah does is sacrifice some of the animals in thanksgiving to God. The Noah of the Bible was not a vegetarian/animal rights activist who taught his kids that people who ate meat went against God’s plan. I’m eating a hamburger as I write this, by the way.

What happened to 40 days and 40 nights? In this movie, they were on that boat for at least 8 to 9 months, as the girl got pregnant right before the flood and gave birth on the boat. Or did people magically have shorter pregnancies back then? That bothered me not just from a biblical perspective but also as a plot point, ‘cause that was a long time for the bad guy to hide and keep eating the other animals. I imagine he wiped out a number of species over those months. I was so hoping they would show him eating a unicorn.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mark Hart, the Bible Geek, for correcting this. The flood lasted 40 days. Then there was 150 days before the water subsided. So the timeline was about right, but I still think it was weird to have the bad guy not discovered for so long (which obviously wasn’t a part of the biblical story).

But the biggest problem for me was the lack of God’s mercy. God was vengeful, not loving. One could argue this was part of the Biblical story: didn’t He wipe out almost all of humanity? Well, “almost” is the key word here. In a world that had completely rebelled against God (say that again with a deep, movie trailer voice), He was willing to not give up on humanity in spite of their sin. He caused the flood and saved Noah and his family to establish a covenant of peace (symbolized by the rainbow.) That’s the key element of the story, and that was completely missing here.

I really liked many elements of Fr. Barron’s review of the movie but I was surprised when he wrote, “At the emotional climax of the movie, Noah moves to kill his own granddaughters, convinced that it is God’s will that the human race be obliterated, but he relents when it becomes clear to him that God in fact wills for humanity to be renewed” (my emphasis). That wasn’t in the movie I saw. In the movie, Noah was convinced that God wanted all humanity wiped out, including his own family, and when he couldn’t bring himself to kill his grandchildren Noah was distraught because he thought he had failed God’s plan—so much so he later isolates himself in a cave and gets drunk.

Yes, there’s a little conversation at the end with Hermione that suggested that perhaps his “failure” was actually God’s will all the time. But it was a nuance, a brief whisper amid the message the rest of the movie shouted from the beginning. The overall theme was that man was made for nature, not nature for man. This focus contradicts not just the main point of the Noah story but the entire Creation narrative. I found it disturbing that one of the only voices in the movie that suggests that nature was made for man was the bad guy (and said while biting the head of an animal).

I didn’t mind that the director made changes to the story of Noah—I am disappointed that he changed the message. When you look at the pollution of the planet, it’s clear that in many places humanity has not lived up to God’s command of being good stewards to what was given to us. We should repent of this and need to do a better job protecting the earth, not just for the earth’s sake, but because the first victims of pollution are usually the poor and the marginalized.

Creation is a gift from God to man, not man a poison to creation. God created the world so we could know Him through it. And even when we sin and turn away, He reaches out to us. He didn’t make us like the plants, trees, and animals. We are more than just another part creation—we are His children, made in His image and likeness.

There were parts of the movie that spoke to that. But more often than not, I think that message was lost and replaced with something more culturally palatable. And that’s why, even with some inspiring moments and awesome rock monsters, I walked away disappointed with Noah.

As always with my blogs, feel free to respectfully disagree in the comments. Biases against rock monsters will not be tolerated.