Sunday, March 30, 2014

Noah Review

After going to see “Noah” on Friday a few friends asked me to write a review. Here goes. My opinion: I thoroughly enjoyed Noah as a movie, an adaptation of a biblical story, and for drawing attention to a largely forgotten but important tradition—the Watchers!

I. As a Movie

I thought Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, was an entertaining and, in some ways, profound movie. The acting and writing was well done and I was particularly impressed with Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Noah as a conflicted man. Too often Christians tend to think of biblical characters, especially the good ones, as righteous robots. They have no inner-conflict, no choice, and, as a result, no humanity. Crowe showed us a Noah at the brink of insanity because of his calling. In addition to Crowe’s Noah, the movie explored profound existential questions about justice and humanity’s relationship with the rest of the world. I was intellectually challenged and engrossed in the movie that somehow managed to avoid being predictable. 

At the same time, there were parts of the movie that I didn’t enjoy. I thought it was a bit long, dragging out scenes without much effect. There were occasional montages of nature footage which I thought were over the top. (Confession: I hated Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”). I thought the environmental justice message was inconsistent with Noah’s unflinching and merciless killing. Still, I was challenged to see a well-known story in a new way and think about its implications for the contemporary world.

II. As an Adaptation

As an adaptation of a biblical story I thought Noah was fantastic. Sure, there were parts of the story that were not exactly as portrayed in the text of Genesis 6–9, but Aronofsky managed to stay remarkably close to the text and write a fascinating story addressing contemporary issues. Good preaching does much the same thing, fills in narrative gaps to re-tell an old story in a new way. Agree with it or not, I think the movie is an interesting adaptation that deserves attention.

III. Watchers

What about the “Watchers”? 

Did this Hollywood director simply add angels-turned-rock-people to make Christians angry and blow some of his budget? The short answer is no.

The flood narrative in Genesis begins with an odd account of the “Sons of God” taking “daughters of men” as their wives and producing giant offspring (Genesis 6:1–4). Most contemporary preachers avoid this weird story so many people have never heard it. But, this story was the most important resource in the Hebrew Bible for Jews and Christians from about 300 BCE to 200 CE to talk about the origin of evil.

To summarize a fascinating and complicated narrative, the story of Genesis 6:1–4 was interpreted in the Book of Watchers to tell the story of fallen angels called “Watchers.” In this story, angels see human women and want to have sex with them and produce offspring. These 200 angels make a pact, leave heaven and find earth girls are easy. The result of their transgression is the introduction of magic, sorcery, metallurgy and cosmetics, all technologies that led to the deterioration and destruction of humanity. In addition to these destructive arts, the Watchers have giant offspring that devour humanity and perpetuate more and more violence on the earth. Eventually, these creatures become demons.

This story gets reworked in different ways in Jewish and Christian literature, but the basic outline of the Book of Watchers story is fairly consistent. In fact, the Watchers story is explicitly mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. It also appears in post-New Testament Christian writings as an important resource for explaining the origin of evil. Justin Martyr is a particularly clear example:

God, when He had made the whole world, [. . .] committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begat children who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and the punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they were enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate deeds, and all wickedness. (Apology 2:5, cited from ANF 1.190).

Aronofsky draws from an ancient interpretive tradition that developed around the story of Genesis 6:1–4 to tell his story about angels getting redeemed. The movie version of the story is substantially different from the ancient one because in the ancient retelling the Watchers are far more problematic and mate with human women. SPOILER ALERT: The rock-people Watchers of Aronofsky’s movie are basically good angels trying to help humanity and end up returning to heaven. Also, they are not getting physical with the ladies. Interestingly enough, then, the most substantial deviation that Aronofsky makes from the tradition is in regard to the Watchers, but not because they appear in the story but because of what they do in his version. Had we gotten a more “accurate” version this movie probably would not have been PG-13. 

In full disclosure, I was disappointed with the portrayal of the Watchers, who do not get redeemed in any traditional retelling of the story and are held as significantly responsible for the evil that plagues humanity. Also, the rock-people Watchers seemed goofy to me, just sayin.


This is a good movie. I don’t think it was a great movie, but certainly worth watching. I thought it was a laudable adaptation, faithful to the original story and an imaginative retelling. Best of all, Aronofsky’s Noah can help us recover a largely forgotten tradition.

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