Continuing with the theme of movies I have seen with a member of the clergy (whether future or present), the first time I saw Noah (2014) was in the cinema with my current pastor. He did not have this position at that time. In fact, he had been a priest for barely a year. After walking out of the theater, I assumed he was going to launch into a tirade about its awfulness. I was right there with him too, ready to tear down yet another pathetic attempt by Hollywood to portray a Biblical story, The Passion of the Christ (2004) excepted. Instead, he was quite positive about it. Fast forward six years and, of course, he suggests on social media that The Legionnaire reviews it. Thanks, Father, but no matter what I am about to say, we are still cool . . . I hope.
If you do not know the story of Noah, pull out your Bible (blow off some dust if you must), and flip to Genesis, roughly chapters five through nine. It is about five pages of a book that usually exceeds a thousand, unless the print is really small. Hey, Salvation History is lengthy! However, if you read the version in the Bible and then watch this movie, you might be a little confused. I know I was, and my recent viewing did not help. It starts out with a brief synopsis of the generations between Adam and Noah (Russell Crowe). So far, so good . . . except for the fallen angels that become rock people known as the Watchers, or the existence of industrial cities that had apparently used up all the Earth’s resources in ten generations. Do not bother trying to look up these things in Scripture because you will not find them. And I am just getting warmed up. Noah is given a vision of the flood in a dream by the Creator (what the movie euphemistically refers to as God, for some reason), as well as of the ark that is to be life’s salvation. Still, he feels he needs clarification from his uncle, Methuselah (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who predictably lives seemingly on the other side of the planet and deep in Watcher territory. Along the way, Noah’s family come across a group of people who had been massacred by the bad men, and among them is a young girl named Ila (Skylar Burke) who they take in as one of their own. Not in the Bible. Once they reach Methuselah, Noah receives the clarity he is looking for, along with a magical seed that, once planted, instantly springs forth all the raw materials needed for building an ark. This is also not Biblical, but that is what I call miracle grow! Thus Noah and his family get to work. Trouble begins to come, though, when they get close to completion. The first potential sign of discord is with Noah’s middle son, Ham (Logan Lerman), who sees his older brother Shem (Douglas Booth) and the now grown up Ila (Emma Watson) kissing and decides he would like a lady too. You know, hormones and all. When Ham complains to Noah, Noah reminds his son that the Creator (almost wrote God!) will provide. Sure enough, a few scenes later the leader of the bad men, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), shows up with a legion of followers, having noticed how all the birds in the world had suddenly started moving in one direction. He is not in the Bible either. Initially Noah believes he can obtain women for his unattached sons from the bad men’s camp, but when he walks among them he sees how bad they really are and decides that God is telling him that humans needs to all be destroyed, including his family. Really not in the Bible. Noah makes it back to the ark just in time for it to begin to rain and the bad men attack. What prevents the ark from being overwhelmed is the presence of the Watchers, who had agreed to help build the ark. They sacrifice themselves so that the ark can get away, although it does have a stowaway in the form of Tubal-cain, though he is being hidden by Ham to spite his dad who failed to obtain a wife for him. Not long into their voyage Noah informs everyone that they are to be the last people on Earth, though this is complicated by the fact that Shem has gotten Ila pregnant . . . while they were supposed to be out looking for Ham! Anyway, Noah kills Tubal-cain, almost murders Shem and Ila’s twin daughters, the ark strikes land, Ham wanders off, and Noah gets drunk. Inevitably, Noah comes to his senses and decides that humanity is okay to start over after all, and that is what they presumably do. Aside from the actual flood and Noah getting hammered (and naked, I might add), none of this is in the Bible.
Look, I am okay with creative license. Sometimes imagination is needed to fill in the gaps. But let us take just one subplot in Noah as an example of how this film crosses a certain line for this Catholic viewer: Ham wants a wife. In those five chapters in the Bible that discuss Noah’s family and the flood, Ham already has a wife. The end. I could almost stop at this point, but since Hollywood did not, neither will I. They had to invent all sorts of things, I guess, to make the story more . . . dramatic? Interesting? Less Christian-looking? Okay, these last two border more on conspiracy theory than anything else, but I am led in that direction somewhat by the fact that they just cannot bring themselves to refer to God as God. Yes, God was, and is, the Creator of all, and that is one of His titles. But there is only one that, like the Trinity, accomplishes an understanding of all that He is, and that is God. It is not a foreign concept. People of any faith profession can understand that word and its full meaning. So if my own conspiracy theories are not satisfactory explanations for the choices made in filming, what about the idea of making it more dramatic? My answer would be: why does it need more? I would think that a globe-spanning inundation would provide all the thrills you need in a movie, thus affording you the opportunity to stick more closely to the source material. You do not need rock people, or blood-thirsty kings, or some pseudo-indictment of man’s wastefulness. What is in the Good Book has been sufficient for the last two thousand-plus years. Why not go with that?
Alright, let me give Noah some credit, which I really did not do the first time I saw it, mostly because I was so flabbergasted by the Watchers. I enjoyed Noah’s recitation of the first few lines of Genesis . . . even if he shortly goes off the rails by ad libbing a bunch of other crap! Okay, I need to calm down, and actually it speaks to a common misconception that Christians (and us Catholics as a part of that group) are somehow anti-science because they believe that God created everything. It is more of a visual thing, but if you see it you will understand what I mean. The other aspect I appreciated was Noah and his family’s concern for all life. Granted, Noah eventually stopped caring and almost put a knife through a baby’s skull, but the kindness they show for the animals in the ark was genuine.
I cannot recommend Noah. I think it is an important story to tell, but not in this manner. For those who know what the Bible actually says, it is frustrating. For those who do not understand such things, it can lead to misconceptions. If you must take liberties, why not give names and backstories to Noah’s son’s wives? Please, populate the world with more trees. It appears the shot this film in mostly treeless Iceland, but luckily they did not bump into the crew filming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And for all that is good and holy, no rock people!