I saw Noah this weekend, and I enjoyed it. My review in five words: pretty, well-acted, humanistic, overwrought, moving.
[This will contain spoilers, but I’m not going to spell out too much of the film in detail.]
The movie has been controversial, which is unsurprising, but I find one of the controversies really strange. Throughout the movie, the characters refer to God as “the Creator.” In fact, never once is the god of the story called “God.” As far as I can tell, this controversy boils down to some Christians forgetting that Jews are not Christians.
As I understand it (and backed up by the about.com Judaism page), Jews do not say God’s name out loud. Instead, other descriptors are substituted. In the about.com page, “the Creator” is cited as an example. The story of Noah appears in Genesis, which is a part of the Hebrew Bible. I shouldn’t have to spell it out, but just in case, this means the characters taking part in the Noah story are Jews. They wouldn’t say “God,” per se. They’d say something like “the Creator.” As such, there’s nothing controversial about that part of the film except that it doesn’t privilege a Christian reading of the story of Noah. It keeps that part of the story historically accurate, so to speak.
On Sunday, Fox & Friends interviewed Father Jonathan Morris about the film, and I find his criticisms of Noah way off the mark. In particular, these two lines stick out: (1) “[God was an] impersonal force that tells you to do crazy things” and (2) “[Noah was] borderline schizophrenic.”
Regarding the first criticism, yes, commanding someone to build an ark to house their family and the animals while the rest of creation is destroyed does seem a crazy thing to tell someone to do. However, I’m pretty sure that bit is accurate to the Bible. One of the things I liked about the movie is that it doesn’t go out of its way to justify God’s actions. Yes, it uses an environmentalist message to give God a motivation to etch-a-sketch creation while preserving the innocent; however, this isn’t treated as a justification. Aside from a throw-away line from Noah about how humans broke the world, God’s actions are just presumed to be justified. This helped the story because it allowed the narrative to focus on Noah coming to terms with his role in the eradication of humanity, and it does this without getting preachy and telling the audience they shouldn’t feel a sense of injustice about the whole thing.
This leads nicely into the the second critique. Noah wasn’t “borderline schizophrenic;” he was a human tasked with saving the innocent creatures of creation while ensuring no humans survive. That is a burden to carry, and it would tax anyone. Noah has to steel himself so that he can see the task to conclusion. If he doesn’t, everyone else’s death is in vain. If Earth is not going to be cleansed of humans, why drown anyone? Noah isn’t schizophrenic. He is trying to remain steadfast in light of the suffering that surrounds him and in which he plays a role.
The climax of the film involves Noah failing in his task, and his failure is the result of human love and compassion. Noah didn’t directly kill those who died because they weren’t on the ark. However, circumstances force Noah to kill twin baby girls to guarantee humanity ends with his family, and he cannot bring himself to kill the infants. Love causes Noah to fail God. It was a fucking great scene, and it brought a tear to my eye.
My final point regarding the criticisms, though the film does not hide the suffering experienced by those drowned in the flood, it never condemns God. As I said above, God’s actions are presumed to be justified, and the movie is better off for it. Perhaps a stark portrayal of the flood is causing people to really grasp its literal implications, and this is why they think the movie portrays a heartless deity, but the movie doesn’t actually do this. God is neither judged nor condemned in this film. The audience is left to judge for themselves.
Okay, now that I’ve praised the film, my critiques. First, as the film is wrapping up, Noah’s daughter-in-law spells out the moral of the story in case we didn’t get it. That was really annoying. Come on, respect your audience. Second, the whole Tubal-cain plot line was of little value. Tubal-cain was a pantomime villain. He’s supposed to be a foil to Noah, and he works to demonstrate the level of violence found in humans, but he comes off like a one-dimensional misquote of Nietzsche. Moreover, his plot line extends the middle of the movie way more than it needs to be. It results in some decent action sequences, but I didn’t think the story of Noah needed a scene with a large army fighting rock creatures.
My two cents: see Noah. The acting is solid, the visuals are stunning, and the story’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.