Darren Aronofsky's 'Noah' Departs From the Bible, But Doesn't Go Far Enough

Blockbuster Flood Story Tries To Be Too Much, and Too Little

This Is the darkness, This Is the Flood: Russell Crowe plays Noah in Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic.
Paramount Pictures/Niko Tavernise
This Is the darkness, This Is the Flood: Russell Crowe plays Noah in Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic.

By Ezra Glinter

Published March 27, 2014, issue of April 04, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Rather, “Noah” tries to be a lot of other things. It’s an inquiry into the nature of good and evil, and the difficulty of maintaining a moral footing in troubled times. It’s an action movie starring fallen angels, who conveniently take rock monster form. It’s a warning about resource depletion and climate change — and the suffering that environmental disaster can cause. At its most explicit, the movie takes a crack at the old question of what it truly means to be human. In trying to do all of these things, however, it winds up doing none of them well.

At the beginning of the movie we are told that the descendants of Cain — the man who killed his brother Abel before going to live “in the land of Nod, on the East of Eden” — built an advanced industrial society, dependent on a glowing mineral called tzohar. Once the tzohar was depleted, society collapsed. Though humans had been helped once by a group of fallen angels called the Watchers, they had since turned against their protectors, provoking the Watchers’ enmity in turn.

None of this, of course, exists in the Bible, and the freewheeling embroidery has earned the suspicion of Christian groups as well as a disclaimer from Paramount, stating that the movie was only “inspired by” the biblical story.

In fact, Aronofsky and his fellow screenwriter, Ari Handel, aren’t as far afield as some might think. Though Jewish sources tend to downplay the mystical implications of the text, with most medieval commentators following the Midrash in explaining that the “Sons of the Elohim” were powerful people, not angels, other documents provide a more colorful picture. The Watchers, in particular, can be traced to 1 Enoch, an apocryphal text dating to about the 2nd century B.C.E., whose only complete copy survives in the Ethiopian language of Ge’ez.

“Noah” doesn’t follow that book exactly either — in Enoch the fallen angels are far more malicious than the movie’s stone-encrusted Watchers, and Enoch describes Noah himself as a kind of magical albino, not the gray bearded patriarch embodied by Crowe. But the problem with “Noah” isn’t its departure from scriptural sources — it’s that it doesn’t go far enough.

Indeed, for anyone looking to adapt the skeletal narrative of Bible, or even the hallucinatory story of Enoch, the first order of business might be to imagine what a degenerate human society would look like, 10 generations after creation. In “Many Waters,” for example, a Christian-inflected telling of the story by Madeleine L’Engle, Noah and his family are good-hearted desert-dwellers whose oasis community slips into anarchy when its less upstanding members undermine the social contract through theft and violence.

Aronofsky, in contrast, never tries to show what normal human life might have been like in antediluvian times. Rather than struggle against a corrupt society, Noah lives in isolation with his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his sons Shem, Ham and Jafeth (Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman and Leo McHugh Carroll), and a girl named Ila (Emma Watson) whom he rescued and adopted when she was a child. Occasionally they pay a visit to Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), who lives in the middle of a mountain like one of Tolkien’s dwarves.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.