No, it’s not an exact replica of the Biblical account. (That would be difficult to do, anyway, because there appears to be a couple of different versions conflated even in the scriptural narrative, such as, in Genesis 6:19, Noah’s supposed to bring two of every kind of animal, but in the next paragraph, in Genesis 7:2, it’s seven pairs of each.) So, at one level, you just decide how you’re going to tell the story, and go for it.
It’s a curious story, anyway. Despite the many sweet children’s Sunday School lessons about Noah saving the animals (and yes, I still gleefully sing “Arky Arky” on my guitar with my own Sunday School children’s class), and the colorful rainbow afterwards with God’s promise (kids can use every crayon in the box!), there’s a distinct negativity brooding over this whole disaster epic. Yes, the “real” Bible scholars will tell you about the Gilgamesh epic, and how there are flood stories in other ancient cultures. They’ll also tell you that this epic, like the “ Tower of Babel ” narrative, and indeed all of Genesis 1-11, has a “legendary” kind of feel to it, whereas, the Abraham cycle, beginning in Genesis 12, appears to signal the beginning of the “historical” narrative. I will leave that debate to those who read Hebrew better than I, but that knowledge also means that as a practicing Christian, I don’t have to insist on a literal rendering of the Flood, anyway, even though I still maintain a high view of scriptural authority. Apparently, this movie has already been banned in certain Muslim countries because of an allegedly irreverent treatment of one of their prophets---Noah is also named in the Koran. But of course, Hollywood secretly loves this, because you can’t pay for that kind of publicity.
But it is true that this movie creates a Noah character that’s not exactly saintly.
Russell Crowe is a veteran, talented, A-list Hollywood actor, and his strong, brooding, he-man, aggressive, patriarchal kind of portrayal of Noah itself makes for interesting conversation about what kind of man Noah actually might have been. Here he develops his urgency about building an Ark from his deeply disturbing dreams. He lives in a context where the culture surrounding him really is dark and evil, and given over to utter violence and disrespect for human life, not to mention the rights of women, kind of like we think of certain parts of the world ruled by rival, warring gangs or tribes: cruelty is rampant, life is cheap, and there is nothing resembling kindness, compassion, civility, or religion.
Noah, by contrast, regularly speaks of “The Creator,” and raises his family---his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, to respect The Creator, and to care for the creation, like good stewards. But this little peace-loving family is decidedly in the minority, and we wonder if they’re just going to be overwhelmed and overtaken by the seemingly unstoppable chaos and violence all around them. Maybe even before Noah can get the big boat built.
Here’s where the writers (Ari Handel and Darren Aronofsky, who also Directed) get really creative. They parlay the brief mysterious mention the of Nephilim (Genesis 6:4) into a set of giant fallen angels, seemingly made of rocks, but still able to roughly communicate, and they, as a sort of penance for their rebellion, are charged with providing security for Noah and his little family, protecting them from the pagan mobs. Hmm. I suppose it’s possible; it’s just that the Bible doesn’t say.
Nor does the Bible say that Noah took in a female refugee (Emma Watson), who later married one of his sons (the Bible actually says that all the sons already had wives, and they all went in the ark together: Genesis 7:7). But that’s a minor quibble. Overall, this movie credibly uses the great CGI technology now available to realistically depict both the animals’ migration to the ark and the Flood itself. True, they show Noah wrestling with his own demons, which is at least hinted at in scripture (Genesis 9: 20-29).
But overall, this is a whiz-bang Hollywood movie that’s great fodder for Sunday School class discussion.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas