The midrashiest midrash that ever was midrashed. . . . . [a spoiler-free “Noah” review]

Shall I tread where angels fear to tread and give an evaluation of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by angels. In the movie Noah, the frilly feminine harp-stroking caricatures have given way to a cross between Ben Grimm, Peter Jackson’s Ents, and Gumby. I guess we can chalk that one up to the mystery of the Nephilim. But I digress. What about the movie? Is it any good? Should Christians go and see it? Should anyone go and see it?

Before offering my opinion, I should warn you that I think Jackie Gleason’s role in Smokey and the Bandit may be the finest performance in the history of cinema. I don’t think that tells you much about Smokey and the Bandit, but it does tell you something about me and my aesthetic sensibilities. So I can’t blame you if you take these reflections with a healthy grain of salt. Caveat lector!

So what about Noah? Is it worth your time and money to see it? The answer to that question depends entirely upon what you think is worthwhile. There are at least three criteria by which I make such judgments: execution, story, and fidelity.

By execution, I refer mainly to the technical aspects of the film. Was it made well? In terms of production value, Noah is not in the same category as B-movie-Bible-epic-would-be thrillers. In other words, Noah is a little less Left Behind and a little more Passion of the Christ. The cast, cinematography, special effects, acting, etc. are all state of the art. It is a bone fide Hollywood feature. We don’t often get to see biblical material depicted with such a high level of cinematic execution. That by itself makes this film more than a curiosity. On that level, this movie stands out as one of the best of its genre. And that alone draws me to the movie in spite of its weaknesses in other areas. Grade: A+

By story, I refer to the plot and characters in the screenplay considered on their own terms apart from the source material. Are the characters compelling? Does the plot have integrity? For the first half of the movie, yes, they do. The second half, not so much. In the first half, the main character Noah (played by Russell Crowe) appears as the lone descendant of Seth, a righteous remnant in a world dominated by the descendants of Cain the murderer. Noah stands for what is good, right, and true. He alone is willing to carry out the Creator’s will in a world dominated by men in rebellion against their Creator. Noah is good. The Creator is good. Together they will renew the world. In the second half of the movie, righteous Noah turns into a murderous, drunken prig. Thus the main protagonist gets worse not better, and he does so in a way that is not very convincing. In the second half of the movie, the wise Creator is inexplicably absent and mute. So much so, that one wonders if this Creator is really even good after all. It hardly even seems like the Creator that came to Noah’s rescue in the first half of the movie. These inconsistencies make very little sense in my view and undermine the story. Grade: C-

By fidelity, I refer to the film’s faithfulness to its source material. Does the movie resemble the actual Noah story enough to establish credible points of contact? No, it does not. The director himself has acknowledged that his rendering of Noah is like a midrash—an ancient method of interpreting scripture involving ahistorical embellishments. As far as midrash is concerned, Noah is the midrashiest midrash that ever was midrashed. Aronofsky’s Noah is nothing like the biblical Noah, the only righteous man on the planet. More seriously, Aronofsky’s god is nothing like the biblical God, a long-suffering sovereign who graciously condescends to reveal Himself and His plans to Noah and to save Noah and his family. By the end of the movie, the righteous Creator turns into a celestial Erasmus—a humanist with a high regard for human nature and agency. The Sovereign Judge and covenant Redeemer of Genesis has no place in Aronofsky’s midrash. Grade: F-

Should you see the movie? I’ve seen and enjoyed more than my share of movies based merely on execution alone. Many a summer blockbuster falls into this category. I liked the movie on those narrow terms, and perhaps you will too. Here’s another way to think about it. If you enjoyed Avatar, you will likely enjoy this movie for similar reasons. If you’ve all but forgotten Avatar, you will likely forget Noah for similar reasons.

If you value lots of action and special effects with high production value and excellent acting, this is your movie. If you value emotive story-telling with anachronistic eco-friendly howlers, this is your movie. If you value truth and beauty and if you define those concepts by God’s revelation, this is not your movie. Overall Grade: D+

21 Responses to The midrashiest midrash that ever was midrashed. . . . . [a spoiler-free “Noah” review]

  1. Terry Galloway March 30, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Thanks for giving wisdom. I am very careful to turn sway from ungodly images. Never thought about seeing Avatar or this Noah but enjoyed reading your review. I have been refined by God’s discipline (I asked for it ) and grace to be a contender for the faith against false teaching whether it is in movies, on tv, in books like The Shack or preaching like Andy Stanley. You have good discernment and thank you for being “iron sharpening iron”.

  2. Jason Kates March 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    I think it is best to go into a movie like this knowing that it’s not faithful to our sacred text. I went with low expectations for fidelity and higher expectations for entertainment. Viewed from that prism, it was a decent movie, especially on IMAX.

    • Denny Burk March 30, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      I saw the IMAX version too. Good stuff.

  3. Seneca Griggs March 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Andy Stanley? Have I missed something? I didn’t like The Shack but I’m curious as to why Andy Stanley was also named?

    • Terry Galloway March 30, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      Hi. Many people set Andy Stanley on a pedestal. I live in Atlanta and was a member of his church for 6 years. Denny Burk has pointed out areas of Andy’s false teaching. Christianity Today, Albert Mohler, The Christian Post and many others have gone public with confronting the error of Andy’s cheap grace, easy believism and man-centered gospel.

      Sorry to say that after a great amount of prayer for him, he has violated the truth of God’s Word on many non-disputable matters. Some examples are: Preaching through the book of Acts and skipping over chapter 5. Preaching what Jesus says about divorce and remarriage and then saying he tells couples if they have waited two years, that it is okay to go ahead (essentially saying that because he says that they have waited two years that it is no longer sin to God). Preaching on the parable of the talents and saying that weeping and gnashing of teeth and the worthless servant being put out into outer darkness does NOT MEAN HELL. Preaching that the new normal family, microcosm of the church is the family sitting in church together where the two practicing gay men are sitting in church with the ex-wives and kids. Preaching multiple times on 1 Corinthians 5 about church discipline and saying that it is not his job, but the small group leaders job to remove from the fellowship. He has mocked people who take the Word seriously to not even eat with the immoral brother and mocked God that God’s prescription for restoration involves turning the sinner in the church over to Satan. He called President Obama the “Pastor in Chief”. He is no longer a speaker at the Passion conferences.

      I met with him twice to personally ask him to do discipline on my sexually immoral husband. Not only did he refuse, he strongly disagreed with my upper high school teens who are born again and know the Bible very well that had implemented God’s instructions with their Dad until he repented. Because of Andy’s lack of support for this biblical mandate, my husband never repented, left the family, divorced me without biblical grounds and the church baptized the new adulteress that he was having sex outside of marriage with. Because of Andy’s preaching my husband believes that he is saved, can live however he wants, will be punished in heaven, that there is hell only for Hitler, that there is no judgment against chronic lying, etc. Andy depends on people not knowing their Bibles which also translates to not personally knowing Christ.

      Denny Burk also preached a sermon recently on the importance of confronting false teachers. I told the Director of Membership when I was leaving the church that I would be speaking out to expose Andy’s false teaching. She said fine. She also said that she would tell Andy. Almost two years later, I have checked twice and my membership is still a member in good standing and they send frequent mailings asking for financial support. Jude 4 says that many have crept into the church whose condemnation has been written about long ago who are using the grace of Jesus Christ as a license to sin. Rob Bell is also a false teacher with Joel Osteen.

      I like to use the web site http://www.gotquestions.org. Search false teachers, antinomianism, easy believism, cheap grace, seeker church, etc. Also you can Google Andy Stanley false teacher or homosexuality. The news is getting out. God has had enough of His gospel being distorted and twisted. If you go on to the web site of Northpoint, most of the messages are still available to watch. I watched several this week to make sure that I had heard correctly and was not representing something as truth that was not true. We as followers of Christ have the indwelling Spirit of truth and have agreement with the Scriptures. As Denny says–we must rise up and contend for the faith and not be afraid of conflict when we are standing up for the truth. Seems to me that John the Baptist died for telling two people that their remarriage was adultery, and of course, our Lord and Savior was crucified by “religious in name only” people who were offended by the gospel. Blessings!

  4. Steve Potts March 30, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    The real sad point about “Noah” is that it could have been really good. If it was a tad more realistic about the “fallen angels” thing (how did mud-covered Transformers get into Genesis?). If Noah had a bit more mercy toward his family at points and if he had been presented more as a “preacher of righteousness” warning his fellowmen rather than simply a proto-environmentalist it would have been a more compelling (and biblical) story. Some of the backstory was intriguing and engaging, but other parts were distracting. Still the casting was excellent, the performances superb, and much of the special effects (especially the ark, the animals and the flood) were amazing. It was sort of like seeing Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” with a couple of zombies in the background. Something doesn’t quite fit. Too bad, but it does give an opportunity for biblical discussion.

  5. Lauren Bertrand March 30, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    Surprising to think that Aronofsky would make such a movie. Considering his previous oeuvre, one would hardly expect him to capitalize on the special effects this story depends upon in order to transform the entire venture into a popcorn flick. But it sounds like that could very well be the film’s biggest selling point, and–for many–its ONLY selling point.

  6. scott arbuckle March 30, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    Why do evangelicals get so ticked of about environmentalism in movies? Seems like we as Christians should care about the environment. Or are we a bit more like the movies presentation of Tubal-Cain?

    • Ian Shaw March 31, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

      Because there is an agenda being pushed of environment/earth worship, rather than the Biblical mandate of Stewardship. 2 completely different things.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy March 31, 2014 at 12:21 am #

    The best thing of all is how the first born male birthright got passed onto females. Wrapping teffilin was passed on to women – certainly a modern touch. And the knit and woven fabrics in their costumes were great! But one has to ask how Noah’s wife got that kind of training in fashion design. I would advise earplugs if you want to see it.

  8. Kathleen Peters March 31, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    I agree with your perception. It was totally on its way to being the best Bible-based moved ever. And then, excuse the phrase, a total shipwreck. Totally enjoyed the first half, second half broke my heart. Thanks for your honest write-up.

  9. Ian Shaw March 31, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    Denny, was your title of this blog piece based on a Simpsons episode where Homer was talking about the local baseball team (Isotopes) and refered to them as the “suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked”?

  10. Bob Wilson March 31, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    It should be noted that some believers are liking the movie and finding it serious and intellectually rich:

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/sdg-reviews-noah

    • Suzanne McCarthy March 31, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

      I agree. The strong points are:

      1) The recurring imagery of the snakeskin used as teffilin in the opening and closing scene of the movie.

      2) The introduction of Tubal Cain to provide a debate between him and Noah on the purpose of humanity.

      3) The disturbing theme of patriarchy.

      4) The nephilim portrayed as jinni, made of fire or light, encased in golem like bodies.

      5) The self ostracism of Ham and his voluntary surrender of the teffilin.

      6) Fertility in spite of previous barrenness.

  11. Terry Galloway March 31, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    I got out to the hair salon where those had seen it, not me, said the special effects were great but the story was disturbingly far from truth. These were people who don’t read the Bible but knew that Noah was a real man. It was particularly interesting to me since I frequently use Noah to witness to people of other races to start a conversation about God loving all races, hating racism and that I am related (as a middle-aged suburban white woman) to them ( Vietnamese in this case). This always gets their attention since they have experienced so much racism even from customers at the hair salon or nail salon from”Christian”women. Then I can share the gospel. I am sure God will use even this movie for His glory as He always does.

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