This is not a review of the movie Noah, it’s an analysis of an interview Darren Aronofsky the director of the movie Noah recently gave where he orated about the story of Noah and the Bible in general.
In his interview with the Atlantic, Darren Aronofsky, the director of the soon to be released film about the biblical character Noah, displayed a clear lack of understanding of the lessons in the Noah story in particular and the Bible in general.
In the interview Aronofsky addresses why it’s the messages of biblical stories—not the historical details—that matter, and then gets the message wrong. Part of his problem is he looks at the Bible as a living-breathing document. If by that phrase he meant that it is as relevant to life today as it was 3,500 years ago that would be fine, but he believes it is living and breathing in the way that its core meanings can be changed which if followed through in the movie will diminish its value.
We constructed an entire film around that decision. The moment that it “grieved Him [God] in his heart to destroy creation,” is, for me, the high dramatic moment in the story. Because think about it: It’s the fourth story in the Bible. You go from creation to original sin to the first murder and then time jumps to when everything is messed up. [The first three stories in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, are the creation, Adam and Eve, and the story of Cain and Abel, which is often referred to as “the first murder.”] The world is wicked. Wickedness is in all of our thoughts. Violence against man and against the planet.
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The “grieved in his heart” moment was not meant as a minute of indecision, but to teach us that God values each and every life. Some of the scriptures contend that the “evil” that man was doing was theft, others contend it had to do with rampant forbidden sexuality, such as rape and incest. But it takes a modern global warming proponent like Aronofsky to believe that it had anything to do with violence against the planet, especially since the settings for the Noah story is a few thousand years before the industrial revolution.
Aronofsky talks about Noah being righteous, but when he is described in the Bible he is called “righteous in his generation.” In other words Noah wasn’t necessarily good, but good in comparison to the rampant wickedness of his peers.
And so it was so bad that He decides that He is going to destroy everything and destroy this creation. So what we decided to do was to align Noah with that character arc and give Noah that understanding: He understands what man has done, he wants justice, and, over the course of the film, learns mercy. What’s nice about that is that is how I think Thomas Aquinas defined righteousness: a balance of justice and mercy.
Here is another thing Aronofsky gets wrong, it’s not God’s job to show mercy, it is Noah’s. Something we learn in the next section of Genesis when God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham intercedes, arguing with his maker to try and save the people living in the cities, “What if there were 50 good men in the cities?,” Abraham says. Abraham negotiates God down to the promise he will not destroy the cities if there are as few as ten good people living there. Part of the tragedy of Noah is that he selfishly doesn’t try to change God’s minds.
Later in the interview Aronofsky almost gets it:
Because really, Noah just follows whatever God tells him to do. So that led us to believe that maybe they were aligned, emotionally, you know? And that paid off for us when you get to the end of the story and [Noah] gets drunk. That was a huge thing; they didn’t teach us that in CCD either, did they? What do we do with this? How do we connect this with this understanding? For me, it was obvious that it was connected to survivor’s guilt or some kind of guilt about doing something wrong.
While it’s true Noah felt shame, but most of all he felt sorry for himself. And one reason for the “cursing” of Ham is to set up the “world order,” to explain what happened after the Exodus. The son who “tells of his father’s nakedness” was Ham. He was the father of Canaan. Later, during the time of Joshua, the children of Israel invade Canaan, revealing the relevance of Noah’s curse.
Whether you look at Noah as history or as a parable, the story of the flood has many lessons. A man who wasn’t necessarily a hero but good enough is chosen to save the human race and each of the animal species. From that we learn that animals are God’s creatures also. They are destroyed and saved, just as the human race. While Noah follows God’s words in the end, he is a failure because he doesn’t lift a finger to help the rest of mankind. And when he figures it all out, he still doesn’t cry out to God. Instead, he gets drunk in an act of self-pity. When he wakes up from his drunken stupor he learns that one of his sons is just as selfish as he was. And for that act of libel and dishonoring his father, that son Ham gets cursed and eventually thrown out of the Holy Land. A much different story than Aronofsky tells in his interview.
At this writing I have not yet seen the movie, but it will be interesting the story he puts up on the screen, whether or not it agrees with the Bible story.