Many Christian reviews of the movie “Noah” by Aronofsky have made it clear that the film departs from the biblical text. But had this film been made by a Christian, I would be much more distressed by it and more forceful in my response. I was surprised that a Jewish atheist filmmaker would include content from Genesis chapter one on creation, and the fact that man fell into temptation and sinned, thus leading to a world of depravity and wickedness in rebellion to the Creator. The wickedness is vividly portrayed.
As many have noted, Aronofsky drew heavily from Kabbalah beliefs for this film. This is not a surprise given that Aronofsky is Jewish and used Kabbalah teaching in his movie “Pi.” There are online interviews with him discussing his discovery of the Kabbalah and learning from some Jewish rabbis who are experts on the Kabbalah.
In the movie, fallen angels called Watchers are imprisoned in stone as punishment for disobeying the Creator. This seems to be a reference to the Nephilim (giants, warriors) of Genesis chapter 6 and to the Watchers in the book of Enoch, or a combination of them. They protect Noah and help him build the ark. Certainly one may wonder why fallen angels are doing this. The answer is that it is a Kabbalah belief that fallen angels (and Satan) will one day be redeemed. They help Noah in order to go back to heaven, and later we see two of them ascending towards the heavens after bursting out of their rock shell.
Noah comes to believe while on the ark that the Creator wants everyone destroyed. Noah realizes he himself has wickedness in him, and his family as well, and so he concludes they should not live, either. Creation would be better without man, he concludes. This idea leads to Noah almost killing his twin granddaughters. Yet this idea is not presented as a good one, nor shown as coming from God, but more as a delusion held by Noah, or a product of his own thinking (we see earlier that Noah indicates God is not speaking to him, inferring he is left with his own thoughts). Noah is unable, however, to carry out the killing, and later recants this belief that all men should die and rejoices in the love of his family.
Tubal-cain, a minor figure in the Bible, the “forger of all implements of bronze and iron” (Gen. 4:22), and from the ungodly line of Cain, is shown as a villain representing the wicked who did not heed the Creator. He manages to get on the ark and hide there (this is not in the Bible). He voices the desires of men who do not want God’s will but rather their own, asserting that he is a man who can be like the Creator. He uses the phrase about having dominion over the earth, which is stated in the Bible by God, but Tubal-Cain’s take on it is distorted and perverse, and is illustrated through his actions and character as one desiring a brutal and destructive rule over the earth (and other men). In this way, Tubal-cain represents the basest urges and desires of men that are revealed when they reject God.
As someone who believes the narrative of Noah and the Flood, I was impressed and excited by the fact that the ark was shown in the dimensions according to the biblical text. I also enjoyed the scene of the animals rushing toward the ark — it was quite a striking visual. The animals are shown going to sleep, illustrating some speculative theories of how the animals were able to endure the trip (put into a deep sleep by God).
Although the Kabbalah has strong gnostic elements, the Kabbalah is a system apart from 2nd century Gnosticism. More of the Kabbalah is in the film, especially in the idea of fallen angels being redeemed, and in the end when Noah talks about how mankind can build paradise again. These are both teachings from the Kabbalah. Neither Noah nor any other human character expresses the gnostic belief that he or she is trapped in a body or is really a spirit creature. Only the fallen angels are in a state of being imprisoned on earth. Gnostics would not be interested in any paradise on earth or in helping earth as Noah is; their goal is through secret teachings to get back to the remote gnostic god and once again be spirit beings.
The Creator in the Kabbalah and in the film is not the Demiurge of 2nd century Gnosticism, the evil lower god who created the material world. The gnostic view is that the material creation is evil, but in “Noah,” creation is seen as good but destroyed by man’s wickedness. There are numerous references to the Creator in “Noah,” and the Creator is linked to righteousness early on and always depicted as good through Noah’s words.
In the film, a snakeskin is a relic passed down from Methuselah to Noah. There are various interpretations of this by different reviewers. I believe that possibly it is presented as a reminder that man sinned and was expelled from paradise (which must be regained, according to the Kabbalah). It is not an homage to the serpent, whose image in the film (occurring at least three times) is always portrayed as evil and the source of temptation which led to sin, the Fall, wickedness, and destruction. This is more in keeping with the Hebrew Scriptures (known to Christians as the Old Testament).
Adam and Eve are shown as glowing in the Garden before they sinned, not because they are or were spirits, but I believe to represent their purity before the Fall. In the Kabbalah, Adam and Eve were able to contain and share the Creator’s light until they sinned, when their vessels were broken and unable to hold and share that light. There is nothing in the film (as I recall) to indicate the early Gnostic views that Adam and Eve were once spirits. The creation account is given at the beginning of the film in a very powerful way, recounting how the Creator made the universe and made Adam and Eve.
If Adam and Eve had been spirits and the movie based on 2nd century Gnosticism, then there would have been no interest in caring for the earth or animals (a very strong theme in the film), or in regaining a paradise, and Noah and others would have wanted to be free of their bodies, asserting their true state as spirits. The movie is entirely lacking in these themes.
Additional storylines are inserted into the movie that are not related to the biblical account, and despite a strong pro-environmental theme throughout, there is nothing indicating nature worship. Noah and his family are shocked that the wicked hordes eat animals, but this in keeping with the fact that God’s command to eat the flesh of animals was not given until after the Flood (Gen. 9:2-3), apparently showing that part of man’s evil before the Flood involved killing and consuming animals (according to Aronofsky). Aronofsky clearly drew on a number of sources, including his own creative views, in making the film.
There is plenty in “Noah” to disturb those who know and believe the Genesis text. On the other hand, there are several points of discussion for interaction with a non-Christian. One can offer to read together the biblical account and discuss it, for example. In fact, right after the movie, the two friends I went with and myself had a cup of tea while one read the Noah story from Genesis on her phone via Bible Gateway.
The Fall and the wickedness of man is more fodder for discussion, leading to an explanation of the redemption offered through Christ. There are many references to the Creator. The godly line of Seth and ungodly line of Cain, as well as the ark itself and what it represents from a Christian view, provide more food for dialogue. Jesus referred to Noah (Matthew 24: 27, 28), another point of discussion. If you are a Christian who has seen it, use it as a way to discuss the truth. If you know young Christians who have seen it, use it as a way to guide them through the biblical text to correct the errors of the film.
Article giving straightforward differences in main movie details from the biblical account:
Link to another review:
If interested in Aronofsky’s comments on the influence of the Kabbalah in his movie “Pi,” read this interview: