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.
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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.


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