Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm a HUGE Russell Crowe fan, and that I'll pretty much run to the theaters to see anything he's in. And you also know I don't run, so that should explain how much I appreciate the work he does.
Russell's most recent movie is "NOAH," a majestic beast of a film based on, sort of, the Genesis account of Noah and the great flood. This film was highly anticipated and even protested a little by the uber religious groups who think it's cool to protest something before they've even seen it.
Well, I'm pretty uber religious myself, and I've taught the story of Noah for more than twenty years as a Sunday School teacher. I believe that makes me a pretty good person to critique this movie.
Let's get one thing straight: I was not expecting a frame by frame retelling of the Genesis account. If I had been, I would have also expected a fairly short movie because Genesis is really more of a thumbnail sketch of what probably happened. Let's also get something else straight: If you're going to make a Bible movie, you have some leeway because the Bible does leave room for a sort of "fill in the blanks" BUT where the Bible is specific, you'd best be specific as well.
Let's get started, shall we? Let's start with the negative and work up.
What they got wrong:
1) Who got on the ark.
Genesis is really, really clear about who got on the ark and who didn't. Noah, his wife, his 3 sons and their wives. So, if my math is correct, that's eight people. The movie is off by two wives. Now, the movie does spend quite a bit of time and where and how Ham and Japheth's wives wound up getting into the family...and the end result was not one that completely disappointed me. From a totally dramatic aspect, it was a great solution, full of drama and action. BUT, the Bible is pretty clear on this point and therefore I have to hold it against the movie.
2)Who did NOT get on the ark.
Again, the Bible is very clear: eight people. Not Noah's family and some extras just for funsies and dramatic good times. Again, a great plot twist from the movie's stand point, but if you're going to use the Bible as source material, then you've GOT to get the facts that are in the Bible right.
What they got right:
(Side note: I'm surprised at how short the "wrong" list is, too.)
1) Noah's wife.
For twenty years I've been teaching this story and for twenty years I've been saying this woman is really the hero of the whole Noah story and boy howdy, the movie got it right. Jennifer Connelly is OUTSTANDING as the woman who is nameless in the Bible. In the movie she's called Naameh. She winds up being the hero in every way, and she even gets a hero's speech. I wanted to stand up and cheer. Biblically speaking, this Bible woman doesn't get the credit she deserves for listening to her husband's astounding vision and then never questioning it. (I always ask: What would your reaction be if your husband came home one day and said you had to build a giant boat because the world was ending?)
2) Noah's family tree:
Color me surprised, but they got all the guys in there. Noah, son of Lamech, son of Methuselah (played by Anthony Hopkins.) Some eyebrows might lift at the notion of Methuselah in a movie about Noah, but let's remember a couple things: First, these Bible guys lived a wildly long time. (Noah was 600 when he entered the ark.) Second, they didn't just live a long time, produce the one kid important to Bible stories and then died, their lives overlapped each other. So having Methuselah alive at the time of the Flood would take some serious Bible math, but it is more than feasible.
3) Enemies at the gate.
Something else I point out when teaching this story is that Noah lived in a society and that society had a thing or two to say about the whole ark building idea. Genesis is pretty silent. After a long and detailed list of how Noah was to build the ark, and gather food and animals for the flood, Gen: 7:5 says And Noah did what the Lord commanded him.
Okay...and what about all those people watching this happen? Now the movie takes a very dark look at the human race at the time of Noah, and I think they got it right. Not so much as we Sunday School teachers might teach it. There's far more of a "people were evil because they destroyed The Creator's world and they eat meat." (My husband, the vegetarian, was actually cheering this plot point.) Tubal-Cain is the "king" in the movie (A descendant of Cain...his family tree meshes in Genesis 4 with a woman named Naamah, note the spelling difference between the Bible name and the character name of Noah's wife.) and he leads an army against Noah, first to destroy, then to try and save himself. There are some disturbing scenes of people trading their daughters for meat, but as I've always said to my Sunday School kids, "Daughters back then were treated little better than cattle.")
The battle scene is pretty awesome and not quite as graphic as other, more quiet scenes. The director, when he wants you to see something graphic, takes everything else away and says, "LOOK AT THIS."
4 The Ark
This was no speed boat, and I think the movie got it right. Loads of space for animals, lots of levels, and put together with wood and tar...yep, this looked about the way I imagine a boat 450 feet long looking.
5) Noah the Drunken guy.
Most Sunday School teachers end the story of Noah with the rainbow and the Covenant. Not me. The movie paints Noah in a very conflicted light all the way through. At the end, the movie flips forward to the end of Genesis 9 where Noah is a winemaker and winds up getting himself drunk. It's in there, kids, and three cheers to the movie for bringing out that part of the story because it's all part of the story. It ties nicely into the idea that Noah was a very conflicted Bible hero, and who wouldn't be, having listened to all of humanity dying outside your door?
What I'm really OK with
1) "The Watchers."
This is something that seems jarring and not at all right at first. The old women sitting on my left about had a tizzy when we first see The Watchers. These are stone like creatures, giants, who were sent out of Heaven for disobeying the Creator and they stand to protect man...but man turns on them. And then they decided to help Noah build the ark.
This might seem wildly outlandish. BUT, reading Genesis 6:4 and onward, there is mention of NEPHILIM, people of great size. The word, Nephilim, means, in Hebrew "fallen ones." According to my Bible notes, this term was given to men who, in the eyes men were great heroes, but in the eyes of God were sinners.
The history of The Watchers is spread out through the movie, but I'm okay with even this creative depiction for a couple reasons. First, if these are the fallen angels mentioned in Revelation 7, and they are cast down from heaven to earth, then it would make sense they might....MIGHT try to protect man from The Creator and then as man turned more evil, they might give up on man as well. It might be a stretch, but there's enough references to angels falling to earth in the New Testament especially to make this legitimate. Second, just looking at the idea of Noah having help and maybe the Nephilim helping him is not out of bounds at all. While there's no mention that Noah and his sons had help building the ark, there's no mention that they did not. Genesis is very quiet on the whole ark building process.
As a side note, this was one of two lively discussions Hubby and I had on the way home.
2) The time frame itself.
Those of us who teach this story tell the kids, "Noah took 120 years" to build the ark. We base that on Genesis 6: 3 where God pretty much says He's sick of man and man's sin and He's put a timetable on earth.
So...okay those kids of Noah's did not age much, did they? Well, Hubby and I had another lively discussion about that on the way home and I'm okay with the time frame and the actors not aging that much because, well, it's a movie. What the movie did seem to get right was the amount of time spent on the ark itself, which is something most people get wrong. It wasn't 40 days and 40 nights. And the movie does a nice job of showing passage of time. It's subtle.
Ham, the middle son, is in Genesis 9 cursed by his father. (read it, you'll understand why) This movie sort of gives a lot of clues into Ham's brain and really foreshadows Ham's ultimate fate. It might not be exactly as Genesis intended, BUT, there's nothing in Genesis to dispel the notion that Noah and his family were saints and perfectly well behaved.
Other things you should know.
Those who watch this movie will NOT be able to avoid the environmental message. Bible believers might feel a little slighted because Noah's story is supposed to be one of sin and punishment and the promise of a Savior, and we get a 2 hour and 18 minutes environmental film?
What, you thought Hollywood was going to somehow make this an actual film about religion? Noah's faith in The Creator is firm and there is no diminishing of The Creator. They even manage to get the story of Creation right...although it is hard to miss the subtle nod...maybe no so subtle...to evolutionist theory.
All in all, everything taken into consideration, this is a very worthy, very respectful effort. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And oh yes, it got me back into the full Biblical account of Noah, and if a movie gets people reading their Bibles and discussing their Bibles, what's wrong with that?
Those of you NOT of the Christian/Bible based faiths will also enjoy the film purely for it's high production values and wonderful performances. and they are solid performances. Returning as husband and wife (formerly in "A Beautiful Mind") Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe match well and are great anchor to a solid cast.
If you're going to bring the kids along, beware. This is no Sunday School lesson. Those under the age of 12 may not be able to handle some of the violence. It's a fast moving, intense film. Leave the wee ones at home.
I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. It's a very nearly perfect film in my mind. If I were simply reviewing a film, it might even get five stars. But I think I have to hold this one to a little bit of a higher standard and because of a couple small things they could have easily gotten right, I have to give it 4.5.