The Lessons of Noah
Darren Aronofsky dared to make his Noah care about the animals placed in his charge.



I have still not seen the new movie Noah, although I have a feeling I’m going to like it after reading about the screening party last month, an affair not quite up to the standards of the New York Post’s entertainment writer. “The buffet tables,” he reports, “were loaded with various forms of edible vegetable matter, but there was no meat . . . because director Darren Aronofsky is vegan, as was the hero of his biblical epic, as played by Russell Crowe. . . . Meat = evil. Got it. . . . I wondered, why did Noah go to all that trouble to save the animals, if not to eat at least some of them?”

The Post’s reporter is used to better free food than that. Imagine the gall of Aronofsky, subjecting guests of Paramount to such privation — a whole evening without a pork loin or a bit of lamb. Usually when Hollywood figures catch grief about their causes, it’s for some glaring inconsistency with the moral ideals they urge upon others. In this case, moral consistency is the offense. The verdict on Page Six: bad manners and a boring buffet table.

A few of the more pious-sounding reviewers of Noah have likewise derided the movie as so much vegan and environmentalist propaganda, in the same exasperated tone of people not getting their accustomed fare. Russell Crowe’s Noah, writes a Washington Post columnist, is “a brooding, misanthropic vegan.” With its “anti-human-exceptionalism” themes, complains NRO’s Wesley Smith, the film could appeal only to “a small group of progressive elites and misanthropic neo-earth religionists.” So twisted is the story that “the vile villain believes it is man’s job ‘to subdue the earth’ — as he eats an animal alive with gluttonous gusto.” Meanwhile, “the ‘good guy,’ Noah, teaches that it is man’s job to ‘serve the innocent.’”

You would think that a man quoting the phrase “serve the innocent” with a sneer would pause for just a moment before going on. He might ask himself, among other questions, why animals in Scripture so often serve as the very symbols of guiltless suffering. The story of how ruin was brought upon the earth by human arrogance and depravity, moreover, is not exactly ripe material for the morally self-congratulatory themes that Aronofsky’s critics expected him to wring from it. And even at the end of the story, when we get our fresh start with the Second Covenant, that covenant is not for man alone. Some misanthropic influence decided to make it “between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”

I’ll leave the movie reviewing to others, but just from the standpoint of elementary morality it’s curious how Noah’s detractors keep going back to the film’s emphasis on cruelty to animals, as if it had never even occurred to them that the Lord might pay attention to such things. “The Noah movie is ugly,” warns a conservative screenwriter in The Christian Post. “It’s anti-human-exceptionalism. It’s enviro-agitprop. . . . Christians, you are tools being played if you think that this movie is anything BUT a subversion of the Biblical God and an exaltation of environmentalism and animal rights against humans.”

The same fellow gave us a “Bible-based” analysis of the script at, describing the Noah character as a “vegan hippie-like gatherer of herbs.” He’s even “a bit psychotic, like an environmentalist or animal rights activist who concludes that people do not deserve to survive because of what they’ve done to the environment and to animals.” And get this: Psychotic Noah even “maintains an animal hospital to take care of wounded creatures or those who survive the evil ‘poachers’ of the land. . . . Noah is the Mother Teresa of animals.”

This shallow caviling comes at a time when, to take just one example, the elephants of the world are being butchered into oblivion by real-life evil poachers and hunters, who perhaps inspired the ones in the movie. It is a horror unfolding right now, an epic and irreversible crime against noble creatures who do not deserve such a fate. In this context, along comes Noah, the story of Creation’s second chance, showing us the hardness of heart that causes such suffering and the human compassion that alone can stop it. When did appeals for mercy to a fellow creature become “enviro-agitprop”?

We could add that in Christianity the people remembered for their kindness to animals are not considered “psychotic.” Sometimes they’re considered saints, and Francis is only the best remembered. Moses, likewise, was chosen because of his compassion for a stray lamb, and the Old Testament is filled with lovely expressions of divine solicitude for animals — who indeed, in Genesis, are “blessed” by their Maker before we even hit the scene. Far from having completely “depersonalized nature,” as that conservative screenwriter puts it on, the God of Israel knows and cares about each creature He has made, and all are dear to Him for their own sakes.

After many months of rumors, reports of re-cuts, and a rising tide of anticipation (and some trepidation) among faith-based audiences, the feature film Noah debuts in theaters on March 28, with Russell Crowe starring as the famous biblical shipbuilder. Here’s a look.
Noah arrives in theaters amid renewed interest in religious films, following less than a month after Son of God and with Exodus, starring Christian Bale as Moses, opening later this year. Whether it connects with faith-based audiences depends on how far it strays from the biblical story and how director Darren Aronofsky navigates his adaptation.
The film also stars Jennifer Connell as Noah’s wife, Naameh.
Among the other notable cast members are Ray Winstone, who plays Tubal-cain, a rival of Noah who attempts to seize control of the ark. (Tubal-cain is mentioned in the Old Testament, and is a descendant of Cain.)
Emma Watson (from the Harry Potter films) plays Ila, the wife of Noah’s son Shem.
Anthony Hopkins appears as Noah’s grandfather Methusaleh.
ARTISTIC LICENSE: Darren Aronofsky is a favorite of film critics whose work includes Black Swan and the metaphysically-themed The Fountain. Noah is by far his largest film to date. He has said in interviews that he has wanted to make a film about Noah since he was a teenager.
When an early version of the script was leaked online in October 2012, commenters complained it portrayed Noah as an “environmental wacko,” feeding concerns over the film’s viewpoint.
Aronofsky, who is an avowed atheist, added to concerns when he called the film “the least biblical biblical film ever made” and described Noah as the “first environmentalist.” (Pictured, Aronofsky and Crowe on the set.)
Aronofsky later leavened his words, telling the Los Angeles Times: “We completely wanted to respect the text, and build a story out of what the text was saying.”
Aronofsky explained his approach further in an interview with National Catholic Register: “Noah and his family are [heirs] of the original sin, just like Cain and his line. But to make everything black and white would be flimsy entertainment that doesn’t capture anything about real people. … It makes it a myth, not something that’s real. And we wanted to try to understand this as something that really happened.”
Test screenings of the $150 million, special-effects laden film held last fall for religious audiences — a key demographic for the film — produced what The Hollywood Reporter called “troubling reactions,” leading to reports of re-cuts and tensions between Aronofsky and the studio over the film’s final version.
Paramount, the studio behind the film, has reached out to faith-based organizations such as the American Bible Society, and has also agreed to add a disclaimer to the film’s marketing materials to try and soften criticism that it strays too far from its biblical roots.
The disclaimer reads: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”
Crowe strongly defends the film, telling Good Morning America: “People are seeing the movie and they’re realizing how respectful it is and how potent it is.” He said criticism from those who had not seen the film was “bordering on absolute stupidity.”
Crowe made a personal appeal to Pope Francis to see the film for himself, tweeting: “Dear Holy Father @Pontifex, would you like to see @DarrenAronofsky film #NOAH? I am sure you would find it fascinating.” Crowe travelled to the Vatican to try and get an audience with Francis, but was politely turned away. (He stayed to watch the general audience.)
Should Christian moviegoers give Noah a chance? National Religious Broadcasters president Jerry Johnson says the film can inspire “healthy gospel discussions about some of the positives, and even the negatives” of Aronofsky’s approach, but stopped short of saying churches should buy up tickets for their congregations.
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, tells USA Today: “This is not Noah 101 from the book of Genesis. But it's a pro-faith movie, a pro-God movie, a pro-family movie. Without a doubt."
SUMMARY JUDGMENT: Here’s a look at what some reviews are saying about Noah.
Steven Greydanus, National Catholic Register: “[Noah is] a work of art and imagination that makes this most familiar of tales strange and new: at times illuminating the text, at times stretching it to the breaking point, at times inviting cross-examination and critique.”
Kathleen Parker, Washington Post: “Noah is  a movie. It is not a sermon or a call to prayer. … It does not presume to encourage religious conversion, disrespect a prophet or evangelize a snake, though it does glorify virtue in the highest.”
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “To be sure, this is not the genial, grandfatherly Noah charmingly evoked by John Huston … Crowe's Noah is a fighter, a survivalist and yet a tortured man dismayed by the ruin brought upon the land by the others of his species.”
Scott Foundas, Variety: “The world’s most famous shipwright becomes neither the Marvel-sized savior suggested by the posters nor the “environmentalist wacko” prophesied by some test-screening Cassandras, but rather a humble servant driven to the edge of madness in his effort to do the Lord’s bidding.”
Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “Noah is equal parts ridiculous and magnificent, a showman’s folly and a madman’s epic…. Crowe shoulders his character’s burden with an intensity that becomes more moving as it darkens: Noah’s a kind man driven to cruelty by the Voice that only he hears. Is he crazy? Is he being tested? Has he been abandoned?”
Glenn Beck, “If you are looking for a biblical movie, this is definitely not it … It’s not the story of Noah that I was hoping for. If you are going for that, you will be horribly disappointed.” Beck also warns: “It treats a prophet of God like a lunatic … there’s no redeeming value in Noah, none.”
Updated: Mar. 27, 2014