7 Aspects Of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah That Are Surprisingly Biblical

noah russell crowe 7 600x445 7 Aspects Of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah That Are Surprisingly Biblical

Having been raised in a Christian household, and a relatively devout one, the stories of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament were ingrained in me from a very young age. Or so I thought. I later learned that the stories I thought I knew from childhood were merely family-friendly versions of some rather grim mythological material—the Disney versions of scripture, if you will. In some instances, there were disturbing details I was aware of but didn’t fully grasp, such as Abraham being manipulated into sacrificing his only child and then having the rug pulled out from beneath him; in others, there were particulars completely omitted because they’re not at all suitable for children, such as Abraham’s nephew Lot being date raped by his two daughters.

That’s why I was relieved when I learned that Noah, Darren Aronosfky’s audacious interpretation of the classic flood narrative, decided not to shy away from some of the more troubling aspects of the original story. This is not a simplified version of the Noah myth, but one that reaps the source material of all its complexity and even adds several new layers to wring out every available drop of emotional and moral precipitation. Aesthetically, it seems that no one is denying Aronofsky’s vision, which exploits the landscape of Iceland to create his antediluvian (let’s just say “pre-flood,” shall we?) world, and the performances are top-rate across the board. However, there remains some contention about perceived departures from the traditional narrative, which I initially thought he (and co-writer Ari Handel) had dreamed up, but are, in fact, found in the Bible.

Here are 7 such examples of things in Noah that you may be surprised to learn are actually taken from the Genesis story.

Be warned, the following pages discuss several major plot details of the movie, i.e. possible spoilers

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1) Ray Winstone’s character, Tubal-cain

Noah 7 Aspects Of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah That Are Surprisingly Biblical

Count me among those who had no idea where this Tubal-cain guy came from as a character in Noah. It turns out he comes from Genesis, is developed in other stories, and is finally brought to ferocious life for us by the fabulous Ray Winstone. Tubal-cain can be found in Genesis as one of the descendants of Cain, hence the name Tubal-cain, which is apparently meant to distinguish him from the Tubal descended from Seth. All that’s mentioned of Tubal-cain there is that he was a maker of bronze and iron tools, a smith, which is how Aronofsky depicts him.

He’s also featured in the 1928 silent film Noah’s Ark, in which he attempts to stow away on the ark. So Aronofsky expands on that conception as well. Mainly, the Winstone character serves a few functions in the story of Noah: he is a consolidation of all the wickedness of men, a stark, easy to identify designator of the distinction between the descendants of Cain (which the movie refers to simply as “men”) and the proper heirs to Adam and Eve. He also factors into the circular nature of the story in a way Rust Cohle would appreciate: he plays tempter to Ham, who eventually ends up banned and cursed from his family, just as Cain was before him. Despite “man” being wiped off the face of the earth, they have a new heir thanks to Tubal-cain and Ham, although who he’ll create offspring with remains a mystery.

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2) The design of the ark

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Of all the interpretations of the scriptural text, this one should seem the most obviously faithful, and one that’s visible from some of the film’s promotional material. Noah’s ark often is attributed with a fairly specific imaging that depicts it almost as a cruise ship, but when Noah’s ark is revealed, it’s kind of like “Oh. But, of course.” This is a structure that is appropriately crudely made, but also massive enough in scale to make the housing of the necessary volume of life on earth as believable as it needs to be in visual mythology.

More importantly, it apparently follows the relatively specific biblical description laid out to Noah in building the ark far more closely than these other depictions. The ark of the Bible is prescribed, according to the suggestions of scholars, as a kind of rectangular prism, and an enormous one. Aronofsky has said that the structure that they built for the movie followed these exact specifications, and this was the result. Now, there are the additional questions of how one man and his family were able to build such a structure themselves, but as the movie rather ingeniously demonstrates, they had some extra help.

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3) Those Iron Giant/Ent things

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Before seeing the film, but having seen some of the promos, I assumed there were some fantastical liberties taken with the story, chief among these being these giant creatures that look and sound very much like a cross between Brad Bird’s Iron Giant figure and the Ents from Lord of the Rings. Once again, Aronofsky not only picked up on a passing line from Genesis, but expanded it into this really beautiful narrative detail that not only provides a fascinating mythological backstory but also some crucial plot necessities, such as using their massive size and strength to build a project as large as the ark.

These are the Watchers, or perhaps the Nephilim, or some combination of the two mythical creations. In the Hebrew Bible, the Nephilim are mentioned twice, and one mention comes right at the start of the Noah story, which makes their inclusion in the film a masterstroke. They are described as giants, and so fit nicely with the story of the Watchers found in the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical ancient Hebrew text. I found their inclusion to be a welcome reminder that this story is not meant to be taken as a literal account, and also an added layer to this mythical world where angels fall to earth because they are more merciful and sympathetic to humans than the Creator, whose crankiness is often overlooked in present day religiosity.

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4) Cranky God

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The God of the Old Testament is a character in a story more than our modern conception of the Almighty. He often resembles the gods of Greek myth, exhibiting blatantly human emotions like jealousy and vengefulness. He even gets described as a physical being in Genesis when Eve sees him walking through the Garden of Eden. Just the Heavenly Father going for an afternoon stroll.

Noah, like with most other unsavory aspects of these traditional stories, does not shy away from the Lord’s contempt and fickleness. After all, he is the guy sending a flood to kill innocent children and animals, as well as some innocent adults, surely. He is understood, both in Genesis and in the movie, as a powerful being, a kind of tyrant whose kingdom starts to slip away from him a little bit. He creates the world, and does a bang-up job, but somehow doesn’t foresee humans desiring knowledge and succumbing to evil temptations (how knowledge is evil is one of the Lord’s odd philosophies) or legions of angels turning their backs on him for being a hardass. I mean, how could he have seen all this coming—it’s not like he’s omniscient or anything.

This is a deity who generations later would bring another patriarch in Abraham to the point of sacrificing his most prized possession to prove his loyalty, a rather sick proposition that seems to come from a deeply insecure supreme being. Noah cleverly alludes to this characterization of God in a late and daring plot development, and the story is richer as a result.

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5) Cranky Noah

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You could say that the Hebrew protagonists take after their Lord. Old Testament heroes, the patriarchs, judges and prophets, are rarely all that virtuous. Particularly the early figures like Abraham and Moses are famous for arguing with God, making their case, and sometimes outright refusing to follow his orders. Noah isn’t exactly developed in the Bible; in fact, he has no lines at all. There’s nothing to really tell us what he’s supposed to be like, so Noah models him after his prophetic brethren, gives us reason to believe those who knew him would find him scornful or crazy, and makes him faithful to a fault. We’re meant to question whether faithfulness to an unmerciful God is admirable, because Noah’s loyalty is almost entirely unwavering.

It ought to also be said that this character and Russell Crowe were made for each other. After years of being cast in unsuitable roles, finally Crowe’s defiantly understated acting style gets to be employed in a character who is appropriately exhausted at all times. He looks like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, in his face and his posture, the way he moves, and the way he speaks. Every speech he gives could be prefaced by a long sigh. He is duty-bound, even if he doesn’t agree with the task he believes he’s being asked to carry out. That, understandably, takes a toll, and his disposition reflects that. It’s hard out here for a prophet.

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6) The voice/non-voice of the Creator

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My favorite formal choice Aronofsky makes is depicting the voice of the Creator not as a discernable human voice that speaks in plain language to his chosen people (portraying him as Morgan Freeman, to paraphrase several critics) but rather as an idea that asserts itself into people’s minds through dreams and visions. God was the original Inceptor. Sometimes this is brought about through holy hallucinogens—a delightful touch from the artist who gave us Requiem for a Dream—and sometimes simply through interpretation of nightly dreams, which is a common Hebrew Bible communication device, most famously in the story of Joseph. Others have also pointed out that the Hebrew word used in the text when God is described as speaking to Noah is more accurately defined in this vision-illuminating way, as there’s a more specific word for spoken instruction that could have been used and is not.

This unique voice of God is also beautifully employed as the voice of the movie itself, which opens with an introduction to the rather short history of humanity, which is around ten generations old at the time of Noah. The famous announcement by the Hebrew God in later stories as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” becomes more suited for the time—visually, God’s voice is identified as the God of the Garden, of the Tree of Knowledge, of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel. The images of snake, fruit and weapon in succession becomes more than a leitmotif but a specific language indicating the voice of the divine. This seems far more dramatically effective than listening to George Burns.

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7) Noah gets drunk

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The strangest detail of the Genesis story of Noah is its ending, in which Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk on wine and passes out by himself completely naked. It’s one of those plot points that gets conveniently left out of the picture books for obvious reasons, but probably also because it raises some deep and troubling questions. Why would Noah, a righteous man, be getting unconsciously drunk, alone? Why is this part included in the original story? In many ways, the entire character and story of Noah is centered upon this very question. As a result, we’re presented with a portrait of a character who is called upon to do what he believes is the right thing, but as a result is left riddled with guilt and depression over his choices, which he ultimately determines was against God’s will.

I’m finding it difficult to find a more faithful adaptation of biblical material than Noah. It’s possible that I’m biased—Darren Aronofsky is both a namesake and a figure of fairly significant inspiration for me—but there’s something about this film that seems to satisfy every aspect of the Genesis story while building upon and complicating its themes for a richer and more modern experience. The purported weaknesses seem to stem from viewers unable to latch on to its sometimes bizarre style that shifts between intimate human drama and LOTR-ish epic, sprinkled with the experimental pure cinema of the evolution sequence. For me, it took about a third of the movie before I was eating out of Aronofsky’s hand. Along with A Serious Man’s take on the Book of Job, Noah deserves to be considered among the best biblical adaptations put to screen yet. My hope is that it achieves the kind of success so that it won’t be the end of ambitious interpretations of ancient texts, but a new beginning.


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  • Mrteapot

    Cool story brah

    • Darren Ruecker

      Thank you Mr. Teapot that means a lot coming from you!

  • jlen gete

    God ain’t cranky He was very disappointed with His creation. The flood is a saving ACT and it accomplished two things, saved the human DNA from the corruption made by the nephelim and also rid the earth of evil. Pure human DNA is necessary for the messiah come, He is descendant from that line or family. He’s role is to redeem the world and bring creation back to it’s perfect state. This was the promised in the garden of Eden after Adam sinned, One should also realize that the flood itself is a cleansing by which the future of human existence is dependent upon. If it did not occur none of the things you love and cherished today your friends family etc, wouldn’t even exist, given the already gravity of evil and the manipulation of human DNA with other non humans would be a catastrophe, everyone would be a crossbreed of something hideous. Remember that humans are subordinates to the Nephilim, thus no human will ever rule but would be a slave. Only Noah and his family did God see any favor, all the rest failed and God knows that, as He said so in Genesis. If you think the flood is something He ain’t angry yet, wait until He pours out His anger in the near future (Revelation). Even the universe will shake!

    • Darren Ruecker

      That makes perfect sense! Just like how every time I’m disappointed in something I write, I set my computer on fire.

      • MarvellousMarv

        Perhaps our society is beyond understanding this, but being a University graduate at a time when computers were just coming around, I did a lot of writing on paper. When I didn’t like something, I crumpled it up and started over.

        We (the creation) are judging God by standards and parameters we are comfortable with.

        What is death to God? What is it to us? What is it SUPPOSED to be to us?

        As a devout and practicing Christian, I’m not really sure what we are supposed to take out of the story of Noah….save that God intends for us to live a better life than was predominantly the case at the time of the flood. You say he killed innocents, but I think it is naive to think that corruption does not seep into the lives of the innocents living alongside the corrupt.

      • Mrteapot

        Haha!

    • Mrteapot

      So your telling me that ancient humans got it on with angels?! I didn’t recall the Bible describing angels being created with sexual appendages, what if aliens got it on with monkeys and we are the creation!? I just blew my mind…

  • chewie402

    It wasn’t that man sought knowledge that caused them to be expelled from Eden…as the fruit of the tree didn’t grant “knowledge”, it granted knowledge of good and evil. Before that, man was good, with no knowledge that sin was even a “thing”, it was only after they ate that they became aware of sin, and God knew it would be the nature of man to seek out sin because, as the pastor of my church has said on multiple occasions….let’s be completely honest, sin is fun lol.

    • Darren Ruecker

      Ohh I see, so this tree granted knowledge, not “knowledge.” Thanks for the correction!

      • chewie402

        Well two things are obvious: 1) Judging from you’ve responded to everyone’s posts…you’re simply trolling. 2) You didn’t read what I wrote…you’re simply trolling.

    • MarvellousMarv

      The Tree of Knowledge is not about ‘knowledge’. It is about choice. It is about being told by God one thing, deemed good, and choosing another, deemed evil. He could have stopped them, but clearly it was incredibly important that God respect the human capacity for choice.

      To this day, people struggle with that the most. How many times do you hear ‘If God is so great, why doesn’t he….’

  • Alan Parker

    The Bible is 98% lies and has caused more deaths than anything in history because of those lies, So unless this movie has genocide, murder and general oppression then it’s nothing like the Bible.

    • Darren Ruecker

      You’re in for a treat–Noah has both genocide AND murder! Super oppressive!