Noah posterEveryone seems to have an opinion about Noah. Some say it’s a fresh and creative, yet appropriate, adaptation of the celebrated story.  Others say it borders on blasphemy. Having seen the film, I can say that one thing it is definitely not is blasphemous.

Which is good, I suppose. But just because a movie isn’t blasphemous doesn’t mean that it’s good. The sad thing is, this movie showed so much potential. You can tell that Director Darren Aronofsky and writer Ari Handel studied their Bibles while writing the script. There is an abundance of creative interpretations, such as rock monsters as the Nephalim and ice age animals boarding the ark, beautiful images, such as stars visible in the daytime sky (which may have been a reality in the pre-flood atmosphere), and some truly touching subplots. The best of these is the one in which Noah’s family rescues a girl named Ila from a massacre and raises her as their own. Years later, Ila (Emma Watson) and Shem (Douglas Booth), Noah’s eldest son, are in love. However, due to a sword wound, Ila can’t have children.  As the ark is being built, she wrestles with her inability to repopulate the earth at this crucial time, and wonders why she has a place on the ark. There is a beautiful scene in which Noah (Russell Crow) comforts her, and the crowning moment comes when Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) “blesses” her and takes away her sterility, after which she runs into Shem’s arms.

Film Bible Blockbusters

“You’re dressed strangely. Are you one of the watchers?”

There are a few problems early on. For instance, Noah gets the idea that the purpose of the ark is to save the animals because “they still live as they did in the garden,” despite the fact that animals routinely tear each other limb from limb. The movie pushes the idea that Noah and his family are vegetarians, and that that is part of their righteousness, yet Noah thinks nothing of hacking down human beings at several points in the movie. It’s very unlikely that the real Noah was a vegetarian, given that God told him to bring extra animals onto the ark for food, (Gen. 7:2) and that Abel had been sacrificing animals to God nine generations earlier. (Gen. 4:4, 5) But that’s okay. I can forgive some Ferngully-esque nonsense for an otherwise good movie.

Most of the way through, I was enjoying this movie, problems notwithstanding. My hopes reached their highest about midway, when Noah ventures into a camp where Tubal-Cain, the villain, is building an army, hoping to find wives for Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo Carroll). There he sees the extent of human depravity, witnessing infanticide, cannibalism, rape, child slavery, and *gasp!* meat-eating.  Aronofsky and Handel had opened the movie with a visual retelling of man’s fall into sin, and were even brave enough to use the word “sin” as the explanation of what’s wrong with our world. I was impressed. Now I saw this graphic depiction of sin’s effects (It’s amazing this movie didn’t get an R rating). Noah is watching a man commit a sin, and suddenly, the man’s face becomes his own. This is immediately followed by a vision of the snake in the garden. “Wow,” I thought. “Are they really going to go there? Are they really going to point to the Gospel with this movie?”

Noah snakes

Indiana Jones would not have lasted on the ark. Those aren’t tree trunks.

After all, the flood narrative is one of the four pivotal stories in the Bible, the first being the story of how man disobeyed God and brought suffering into a perfect world. The second is the flood story, in which God destroyed all of humanity except one righteous family in order to start the world over. And it worked, for awhile. But as we saw in the above scene, sin is inborn in every human being, and it soon resurfaced. This lead to the third pivotal story, in which God selected a nation, Israel, for himself, and gave them the Law, instructing them on how to live like righteous people. And it worked, for awhile. But the Law is powerless to bring life or renewal; it can only bring death. Sinful Man cannot keep it. Thus, there was a need for the fourth pivotal story, the Gospel. Because we could not keep the law, it was necessary for God to become a man two thousand years ago, and to live a perfect life, keeping the Law for us, pay the penalty we could not pay, dying a death more horrible that you or I can really imagine, and conquer death, rising from the grave. It is by this that “a multitude no one can count” (Rev. 7:9, 10) will be restored to their pre-fall glory, and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

But that’s all pretty heavy for a Hollywood movie.

Noah returns to his family, still working on the ark, and callously reports “There will be no wives!” and orders his family to get back to work. Noah tells Naameh, his wife (Jennifer Connelly) that evil is present in all of them, sympathetic and unsympathetic characters alike. As proof of this, he asks her “is there anything you would not do for your sons, good or bad? We would both choose to kill for our sons.” Of course, Noah has previously thought little of killing men for less than his sons, so I’m not sure why it’s such a shocking revelation to him now. We eventually learn that Noah has concluded humanity must be snuffed out so that the animals will be left in peace, but we’ll get to that later.


Anthony Hopkins does well as tender patriarch Methusela, but there’s still something creepy about hearing Hannibal Lecter’s voice say to children “come closer.”

Ham, who looks to be about 14, cannot except this and runs toward the camp to find himself a wife. He eventually stumbles into a ditch full of bodies, where he finds a girl about his age named Na’el (Madison Davenport), who is terrified of him and swings a rock at him to drive him off. Given Ham’s age, and the urgency of the situation, I half expected to see him physically overpower her, then drag her by her hair back to the ark. However, we are treated to a couple of surprisingly moving scenes, in which Ham feeds Na’el and comforts her in the ditch, as she refuses to leave her dead family. Only when the rain begins to fall does he insist she come with him. The two of them run through the woods to the ark, not far ahead of Tubal-Cain’s advancing army. Na’el becomes caught in a leg trap set for an animal. Ham can’t pry it open, but he refuses to leave her. Until Noah shows up. Our hero pries the two screaming children apart and drags Ham away. We then get a cringe-inducing shot of Na’el reaching after them, before she is trampled to death by the army.

Watching this movie is a bit like watching The Passion of the Christ, or a Michael Bay movie, in that you get the sense that you are being punished for something, but you don’t know what. It’s like every moment is calculated to stick a knife in you and twist it, and the bombardment of violence, misery and heartbreak begins to feel like clubs hitting your head from all directions, and you want to shout “Make it stop! Whatever I did, I’m sorry!”

Noah and Ham reach the ark, and there is a pretty awesome battle scene between Tubal-Cain’s army and the rock giants, after which, the world gets swamped and Noah’s family hunkers in the ark. This is the point where the movie plunges irretrievably downhill. Noah, still believing Ila to be sterile, explains to everyone that they will be the last people to live on the earth; there will be no reproduction. That way humans will not “ruin the garden” again. A few days later, Ila becomes pregnant. For some reason, she, Shem and Naameh are stupid enough not only to tell Noah, but tell him immediately, when he’s obviously working through some issues. Noah throws a tantrum, pleads with God (it’s unclear if he gets a response) and finally announces that if Ila’s baby is a girl (who could mature into a mother), she will be cut down at the moment of her birth. The last act of this film is absolute agony to sit through, as it follows nine months of screaming and yelling about this in the confines of the ark. I will say one thing for this movie, the cast does a fantastic job with what they have to work with. You have to wonder what they must have been thinking, belting out the lines of such a contrived and sadistic script. There are no words to describe how bad it all is. I spent the last act asking “Why, Aronofsky, why this?” First, there’s no support for it in Scripture. God expressly told Noah to build the ark to insure that earth would be repopulated with men as well as animals, and after the flood, explicitly gave men permission to eat animals (if he hadn’t already). (Gen. 9:1-3)


Darren Aronofsky is coming! All who wish to avoid embarrassment, into the ark!

Second, even if you ignore Scripture, it makes no sense. Why would Noah leap so quickly to such an extreme conclusion? There’s nothing in the film to suggest God has told him man must die out. And even if he does kill Ila’s baby, what’s to stop Ila and Shem from running away after the flood and having more babies? They’ve got the whole globe to choose from. And if Naameh wants her other sons to have children badly enough (and she clearly does), she may well copulate with them herself. Don’t look at me like that, it’s been done. Desperate times call for creepy measures. To accomplish his ends, Noah would have to kill everybody.

Third, it’s not as if this movie doesn’t shove enough horror and suffering in our faces (as it must). There is another side to the flood story. And it was taking shape in the first act. Noah’s relationship with his sons. Methusela’s tenderness with his great-grandchildren. Naameh’s adoptive care of Ila. Amid the wickedness of the world, this movie started with a beautiful depiction of familial and adoptive love. And that was exactly what God was trying to save when he told Noah to build the ark. (Gen. 7:1) God knew better than Noah that Man was inherently sinful. (Gen. 8:21) He was still giving Man a chance to start over.

But the touching story from the first act is out the window now. Ila gives birth to twin baby girls. Naameh comments that “He (God) sent us what we needed.” So … Ham and Japheth are supposed to marry their nieces? And very young nieces at that? I know I said desperate times, creepy measures, but why do we need this in the story? Considering the fact that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the flood (Gen. 7:6), (Shem was 98) his sons were most likely grown men, with grown women already at their sides. Why, Aronofsky, why? This leads up to what is supposed to be the climactic moment, when Noah has his dagger raised over Ila’s twin daughters, and — big surprise – he can’t bring himself to do it. The ark runs aground, the waters go down, and they start to rebuild. There is a scene where, for no clear reason, Ham packs up and walks away from the rest, implicitly never to return — so what was even the point of the twin baby girls?

But what about that bold and visceral depiction of the sinfulness of man? Noah is, after all, correct that evil is just as present in him and in his family as in Tubal-Cain, and that killing 99% of humanity will not end sin. Is this film going to at least hint at the coming of Christ? Noah and Ila sit on a beach. Ila says “The choice (of whether to kill her children) was put in your hands for a reason. He showed you the wickedness of Man and knew you would not look away. But as you looked, you also saw goodness.” So, no such luck on the Gospel. We went through all that agony just to hear one more canned Hollywood speech about faith in … goodness, I guess. Whatever that is. We then see Noah giving his blessing to his wife, two sons, daughter in law and two granddaughters, telling them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and we’re right back in creepy town, but at least the movie’s over.

I could have forgiven a movie that didn’t accurately depict the events in Scripture. I could have forgiven a movie that watered down the message in Scripture. I could have forgiven a movie that was just another piece of mindless Hollywood tripe. Hell, even a blasphemous movie would have been less painful to sit through than this. The worst part is, this was on track to be one of the greatest movies ever made. The talent was there. The creativity was there. The visuals were there. The source matter was certainly there. A full-budget rendering of the flood story was long overdue, and I was looking forward to a thorough exploration of the pre-flood world, and some awesome 2012-esque world destruction scenes. Instead of that, I had to sit through the manufactured misery of the most dysfunctional family on earth (literally). While Noah isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it may be the biggest disappointment of my film-watching life.

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Ten Commandments

So why do a review of a movie that turns 50 this year? Because every so often there is a movie so great that it transcends time; a classic. None the less, due to the shear volume of material put out by Hollywood, great films can be forgotten just because they didn’t come out in the last year or two, or because audiences get comfortable with different styles. To put it simply, greatness should not be allowed to die.

The Ten Commandments was directed by savy Hollywood operator and professing Christian Cecil B. Demille. The fact that some of Demille’s movies were based on parts of the Bible automatically drew some criticism. One contemporary accused Demille of making “small-minded movies on a huge scale.” The “huge scale” part definitely applies to The Ten Commandments. Demille had to employ a cast of thousands of extras to recreate Pharo’s army and the mass Exodus of Hebrew slaves. The story spans 85 years and takes 3:39 to unfold, and every scene – nay, every line of dialogue – drives the story. And of course, then-revolutionary techniques were used to make the Red Sea sit up and beg, making movie history.

One of the temptations that Moses brushes off like dandruf. Heston must have taken a lot of cold showers.

But small minded? No one can take an honest look at this film and seriously hold that belief. This is one of the most compelling and thoughtful pictures ever made. The early story happens during a politically volatile period in the (speculative) history of ancient Egypt. Pharo Sethi I is nearing the end of his life and his throne must naturally pass to his biological heir, the ambitious Rameses II. Yul Brynner is absolutely brilliant in this role. You don’t like him and yet you’re compelled to respect him. Driven by his desire for the crown and for the beautiful Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), he puts force that few actors can into every scene he appears in. Sethi has nearly equal force, however, and superior power. Like most old men who’ve spent their lives being waited on, he has begun to worry about his legacy. He prefers his sister’s adopted son, Moses, who never stops building tributes to him, as a successor. Rameses begins hatching plots to undo this adopted brother.

Nefretiri, a hormonal adolescent girl with the power of a princess, plays her own game. Madly in love with Moses, she can’t bear the thought of being wed to Rameses. She constantly praises Moses and sweet talks Sethi. One scene between her and Rameses is one of Hollywood’s more memorable scenes. It’s a reminder that movies were much more powerful when the sexual tension was kept below the surface. Nefretiri is not passive, however, her passion drives her to extreme lengths, including murder. There are an assortment of other wily characters with their own motivations to add interest.

All of this is superbly done, and plenty for four stars. But so far, all this political maneuvering and forbidden romance could be in The Godfather, The Good Shepherd, or any number of intrigue movies. What makes The Ten Commandments different? The protagonist. Moses never criticizes the other characters; he simply passes through the politics and back-stabbing as if he doesn’t notice it.

Prophet, priests, and king.

Differences between Moses and the others begin to show right after Nefretiri has killed her hand maiden. Moses is knocking at her door. After a minute of romance, Moses learns that she has killed Memnet. He insists on knowing why, and drags it out of her that Memnet told her about his Hebrew heritage (unknown to him). She spouts typical Hollywood rhetoric, e.g., “I love you, that’s the only truth I know.” His reply is “love cannot drown truth.” Moses is favored above everyone else in Egypt, and its throne has now been promised to him. He has every comfort he could want and a beautiful woman madly in love with him. However, the revelation drives him to uncover his past, and he actually leaves the palace to work in the brick pits. His mother and Nefretiri urge him to stay, telling him that justice and truth are better served from a throne. This is just one age-old struggle the movie addresses; shouldn’t righteous men seek out power for the benefit of all? – and yet power so often rules the one who has it and makes him more wicked than any tyrant he replaced.

After Moses is arrested, Sethi asks him “Why are you forcing me to destroy you?” Moses replies “The evil that men should turn their brothers into beasts of burden … if there is a god, he did not mean this to be so.” Moses bears the fall from next pharo to condemned prisoner with remarkable grace, out of nothing more than an un-named conviction of what is right. How many of us have that kind of strength?

We are, of course, eventually directed to the “Power that has shaped Moses’ way,” as he puts it. The Ten Commandments does a number of things that contemporary audiences will be uncomfortable with, including overt references to Yaweh, the God of Abraham, as opposed to vague references to “God.” It’s unlikely DeMille would have taken the same criticism if the film wasn’t such an uncompromising statement of Biblical truth.

Still looks real.

If you haven’t seen The Ten Commandments for a few years, you owe it to yourself to at least rent a copy. If you’ve only watched it on TV, there is a part that is usually cut. No matter how many times I watch The Ten Commandments (don’t worry, I try to stay busy while I watch it), I can never bring myself to skip past it. In an unusual (possibly unique) move, DeMille addresses the audience face to face before the film starts. DeMille’s passion is infectious, and he brings the whole purpose of the movie into focus. The theme of The Ten Commandments, DeMille emphatically states, is “whether men are to be ruled by God’s Law, or by the whim of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today.” How true. We need only look at the history of the United States to see that, as our government and culture have progressively rejected the Law of God, we have seen not freedom, but an explosion of government invasion of everyone’s lives.

Everyone remembers the Red Sea scene from this film, but few remember the true climax of the story, after Moses has received the Commandments from Yahweh. He goes back down the mountain to find the people worshiping the Calf and reveling in depravity. Dathan (Edward G. Robinson), a rabble-rouser, declares “We’re gathered against you Moses. We’re free!” Moses shouts “There is no freedom without the law!” What more is there to say? I guess there’s still the Gospel. But DeMille tried to force that into the 1920s version of The Ten Commandments, and it ruined it. One movie can only do so much. But this one does all that one can – and then some. The Book isn’t bad either.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (9 votes cast)