I’m a big fan of this movie and have had the opportunity for some great conversations about it. I decided I would like to try jot down most of my thoughts and favorite quotes about the film into one place.
If you have been raised with the story of Noah, one of your first thoughts might somewhere along the lines of, “What the frak?! Like, 98% of that wasn’t written in the Bible!” Obviously much artistic license has to be taken to fill a two hour movie that is inspired by a handful of verses in the Bible, but as we bring a lot of our preconceived notions about how the story should be portrayed, there’s still lot of stuff in the movie that seems really weird.
Arronofsky on Noah as a “documentary”:
Well, you can’t. You can’t. It’s impossible to understand what these times are because there are four chapters in the Bible. It’s just important that you don’t contradict any of it and that you study each word, and study each sentence, and try to use and extract as much juice out of that to be inspired to turn it into a vision that represents the spirit of it all.
That’s the goal. It’s like—not to compare me to Michelangelo in any way, I’m in awe of
him—but you look at the Sistine Chapel and there’s the moment of the fingers almost about to touch the moment of creation—and that’s not described in the Bible that way. There was no finger-to-finger, E.T. moment in the Bible. But that’s how Michelangelo decided to draw it.
Then we look at all the art that depicts Noah’s ark, religious art for thousands of years in temples and in churches around the world, and there’s never an appropriate representation of the ark even though the exact proportions are described to the number in Genesis. It is the most specific element of the entire story, besides “40 days and 40 nights.” But the numbers are so important to the story that they’re in there. And yet that’s a very easy problem to do proportion. I mean, they had the technology 300 years ago. They had that technology 2,000 years ago, and yet it’s always drawn as a boat.
In our research we started to notice that 300 or 400 years ago, that the dove wasn’t always white. You see the white dove in [the works of] El Greco, which is 1500s, but then you go back before that and you start seeing doves that aren’t white. And you realize, Oh, that’s an interpretation from somewhere. We couldn’t actually find out the source, but you realize people have been interpreting this material for all of history.
So what happens when Darren Arronofsky interprets the story of Noah? Noah is an artistic film that falls somewhere into the “adventure sci-fi post-apocalyptic” genre. So even if you “get” the symbolism and metaphors it may just not be your kind of movie. But I feel that many are turned off by Noah – or wont even see the film – because there is this sort of atmosphere of “hollywood blasphemy” surrounding it. In my opinion, Noah is a profoundly “Christian” film made by non-Christians. There are many seemingly outlandish story decisions that actually help support the context of the rest of scripture of which Noah is deeply entrenched and – most importantly – they do not change the meaning of the story. Rather, in using the language of film I believe these symbols help enhance the meaning of the story for film. They show the filmmaker’s commitment to the Biblical text and their devotion to bringing it to the screen authentically.
I recently watched the film Enemy and my initial thoughts were that the entire movie was a convoluted mashup of ambiguous B.S.. I was so confused that I scrambled across Google trying to figure out what I had “missed”. Upon viewing some commentary by a critic explaining the film’s meaning through use of understatement and symbolism I believe I now understood what the director was trying to say, even though it took a little more “connecting the dots” than I’m comfortable with. I don’t like the movie much, but I do have a new respect and appreciation for the film as well thought-out and cohesive creative work.
I don’t know if a film should be as seemingly vague and difficult to understand as Enemy, but after reading a few interviews with the writer and director of Noah I believe that most if not all of the story decisions in the film were informed by scripture and have a Biblically inspired — and in my opinion really cool — explanation. For skeptical viewers the film may require some connecting of the dots to have an appreciation of where the filmmakers are coming from, but once you do it is easily accessible and exceptionally meaningful.
If you believe the additions to the story and artistic liberties are wielded only for blockbuster appeal, take a moment to consider one of weirdest symbols: the snakeskin that is passed down in Noah’s family. Upon first viewing, this thing seems like some sort of creepy pagan artifact. It’s also a little disturbing to think of the skin of a snake being portrayed as a good thing. But here’s what the director has to say about it:
When Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, it says God gave them a garment of skin—sort of a parting gift from God to mankind as we leave Eden and go out into the world. So we wondered what that was—and as we looked at commentaries about it, one of the common ones was that it was the skin of the snake. We wondered why that would be, and it occurred to us that God made the snake. The snake was good, at first. But then, the Tempter arose through it. In our version, we have the snake shed that skin, and the shed skin is the shell of original goodness that the snake left behind when it became the Tempter. It’s a symbol of the Eden that we left behind. It’s a garment to clothe you spiritually.
So was snake skin the garment that was given to Adam and Eve? Maybe. Probably not, but who knows? The Bible doesn’t say either way. If you’ve got something important to say in a movie, its usually better to show what you are trying to say through the actions of your characters. The filmmaker’s use the snake skin as a creative visual reminder of the story of the garden which is very important to the story of Noah. It’s this physical embodiment of holiness that is symbolically and literally tossed back and forth between good and evil. Noah is loaded with rich visual metaphors like this that help us see Biblical themes.
Another example is Noah’s character arc. To bring the on-screen character of Noah to life, the creators could have chosen more or less any path for him (as long as it ended with the happy rainbow) – many of which would probably have just as much opportunity to garner box-office appeal – but surprisingly for hollywood the filmmaker’s chose a particularly challenging path: they attempted to use the character of Noah to dive deeper into what the Bible is saying:
All of it’s a test. We were trying to dramatize the decision God must have made when he decided to destroy all of humanity. At the beginning of the Noah story, everything is wicked and God wants to start over. The pain of that, the struggle of that, must have been immense. To basically go from creating this beautiful thing to watching it fall apart, and then doing this horrible thing where you have to try and start again.
So we tried to take that huge cosmic idea and put it into a human’s hands. That’s what Noah’s story is. If you think about that moment, when God looks at the wickedness, it grieved him to his heart. We wanted to get that grief, that struggle, and stick it into Noah, so we can understand as people what it must have felt like. What would hurt more than to do — in vague terms — what Noah is about to do? Which for us was an exact metaphor for what the decision was, what the Creator went through. But he chose love! He chose mercy, which for us is the exact same story as the story in the Bible, just put into human terms.
The filmmaker’s used plot, character, dialogue and action to exegete one of Genesis’ most profound themes. This is good artistic license and it is the the spirit in which I believe these stories should be told.
I recognized I was not such a good kid, and felt guilty about it, so how could I get on the boat? …I found the story scary because I sympathized with everyone who drowned. - Darren Arronofsky
The story of Noah brought some sort of sense of conviction to Arronofky and he’s been waiting a long time to try to relate his understanding of the film to audiences. To me, watching the film felt like listening to a good sermon, I was left with lots of questions and inspired with a fresh sense of what the Bible is trying to teach and what that could mean for me. It’s an artistic achievement for movies about Bible stories and hopefully an inspiration for more Bible movies to come. That’s not to say that I don’t wish some things in the film were a little different or that this is some sort of “perfect” Bible movie, but I do believe it is an excellent film worthy of your time and attention.