In my early drafts of Lost in the Flood, I included an Appendix in which I addressed many of the major questions people had raised regarding Darren Aronofsky's film NOAH. The film was released earlier this year and was met with mixed reviews. Many of the film's harshest critics claimed that Aronofsky had not been faithful to the biblical source material. Lots of people wanted to talk about the movie and various themes and elements found within it. I had originally planned to make this part of my book, but it simply didn't fit the book's tone and structure, so it had to go. However, I still feel like there are lots of things to discuss about the movie. So I wanted to make this available to anyone who was interested. It's pretty lengthy, so I'll break it up into two parts to make it easier to navigate. This is Part 1. You can also download the entire document here.
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Lots of people are frustrated by this movie because it does not line up with the Bible’s narrative and even sometimes directly contradicts what the Bible says. How are we supposed to respond to a movie that does not take the Bible seriously?
I don’t know that I agree that the film and its makers aren’t taking the Bible seriously. They have certainly taken some creative liberties with specific details in the story, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking the source material seriously. Like any film based on a previously existing work, this movie is an adaptation, not a beat-for-beat re-creation of Genesis 6-9. And, as far as adaptations go, this is actually a pretty good one.
In an adaptation, some things need to be changed to serve the new medium. For example, I mentioned in chapter 5 chapter that—outside of the final scene—Genesis doesn’t give Noah any dialogue. So the very minute a screenwriter puts any words in Noah’s mouth it becomes a little bit less rooted in the source material. They also took a bit of license in casting Russell Crowe to play the title character. At the time of filming, Crowe was in his late forties. He’s a fairly versatile actor, but it would have been far more biblically accurate to hire an actor who was at least 580 years old, since the Bible claims that Noah was 600 when the floods came. And let’s not even mention the fact that the movie is spoken in English, which did not exist as a language until at least the 5th Century AD, thousands of years after the biblical account of Noah first appeared.
See what I mean? Every choice made by every filmmaker when working with a previously existing story is an act of creative license. I mean, Mel Gibson had a scene in The Passion of the Christ where Jesus invents the table, and nobody cried foul over that. I’m no archaeologist, but I think it’s very possible that did not really happen.
So as we move forward in our conversation, it will be helpful to remember that we are dealing with an adaptation—someone’s interpretive retelling of the story for cinematic purposes. Film critic Alissa Wilkinson writes this in her Christianity Today review of the film:
[Noah] does what good art should do: it forces us to "re-see" a story anew, to once again sit on the edge of our seats and wonder what will happen next. That's hard to do with such a familiar story, and this is done well, while still respecting and hewing to its source material, as well as it can.
In order to help us “re-see a story anew,” a filmmaker needs to tell the story in a new way, which requires some form of creativity and adaptation.
Fair enough. I understand that the filmmakers needed to take certain liberties with the story in order to tell it to their audience. Obviously Noah couldn’t actually be cast as a 600 year-old man, and it would have been pretty challenging to recreate the entire film in Hebrew as it is written in Genesis, so I’ll give you those points. But what about where the film seems to intentionally deviate from the biblical account? It seems like Aronofsky went out of his way to change parts of the story. What’s up with that?
I can’t disagree that there are places in the movie that pose direct contradictions to the book of Genesis. The lack of wives for two of Noah’s three sons in particular struck me as odd, especially since Ham’s lack of a wife became such a major plot point in the film. That’s just one example. I suppose we’d have to confront each issue specifically in order to really figure out what’s going on here. Where do you want to start?
Let’s start by talking about The Watchers. You know, the giant rock monsters that help Noah build the ark? That was pretty weird.
This always seems to be one of the first things people want to talk about, probably because it is so striking and memorable. You bought a ticket to a movie about a Bible story you’ve heard a hundred times, and within thirty minutes of the movie’s opening shot, you have these giant, boulder-like creatures that look like prehistoric Hasbro Transformers. All over the world, people were leaving movie theaters and asking each other, “Where did those rock monsters come from?”
This may surprise you, but the presence of The Watchers in the film actually shows how much research Aronofsky and his team did while preparing to make this movie. First of all, there is that portion in Genesis 6 that talks about the Nephilim, which (as previously discussed in chapter 2) nobody really knows what that might have looked like. The film describes these creatures as fallen angels, which means their presence in this story is completely consistent with the Bible. Of course, the book of Genesis does not describe the creatures as rock-like or have them helping Noah build the ark. However, it’s much more complicated than the question of whether or not the filmmakers simply made this part up.
In the Bible, there actually is mention of creatures called “the Watchers.” It shows up in the book of Daniel. Take a look-
In the vision of my mind in bed, I looked and saw a holy Watcher coming down from heaven.
And then a few verses later-
This sentence is decreed by the Watchers; This verdict is commanded by the Holy Ones…
In the footnotes of the JPS Jewish Study Bible, the interpreters explore this phrase-
Watcher, an angelic figure, common in Jewish apocalyptic literature, who executes God’s justice. In some texts watchers are fallen angels.
The filmmakers were not going way off the rails by calling these creatures “Watchers” instead of Nephilim, since there is already a biblical precedent for exactly this language. However, Darren Aronofsky later admitted that he wishes he would have called them the Nephilim.
If you dig into the tradition a little deeper, it gets crazier. There is a book called 1 Enoch that is not accepted as canonical, but it has been preserved and has been part of some traditions for thousands of years. The book is named for Enoch, who was the great-grandfather of Noah, and it attempts to present a narrative from Enoch’s point-of-view. The first section in 1 Enoch is called “The Book of the Watchers.”
Clearly Aronofsky and his team spent some time reading 1 Enoch, because a lot of what the film shows of the Watchers seems to represent this text. In the book, the Watchers intercede for humans, reveal God’s secrets, and teach humans specific knowledge and skills. This is what we see in the film as the Watchers teach humans about God’s ways, help Noah and his family build the ark, and protect Noah from the violent hordes of people once the flood begins.
Aronofsky wasn’t simply making this stuff up; he simply reached deeper than Genesis 6:1-4, which is all we have about the Nephilim in the Bible, and—as I pointed out in chapter 2—there’s really not much to go on from those four verses. So in order to construct a fuller world for his characters, Aronofsky needed to find more source material representing the world surrounding this story.
But in the movie, the Watchers fell from God’s favor because they tried to help Adam and Eve after they left the Garden of Eden. However, in the Bible, the angels fell because they were attracted to human women and started having babies with them. Isn’t this a pretty big difference?
The more I think about this movie, the more I become convinced that every time it deviates from the biblical narrative, it does so for a specific reason that is connected to the film’s overall themes.
If you are bothered by the film’s depiction of angles that fell from God’s favor because they were too sympathetic toward humans—implying that God was less sympathetic than they were—I don’t blame you. It does change the nature of these creatures, and it arguably changes the nature of this God. However, it does raise important questions about the film’s themes.
The idea that someone feels the need to intervene between God and humanity is not outside of the biblical realm. Later on in the book of Genesis, Abraham haggles with God in an attempt to spare a doomed city, and there is a scene in the book of Exodus where Moses argues with God for the sake of the Israelite people. The only differences here are that the characters arguing on behalf of humanity are angels (not human) and that they are unsuccessful. In the backstory of the film, their dissent is seen as outright rebellion—or at least was the cause of future rebellion—and they are cast down to dwell on the Earth, removed from God’s presence.
What I find interesting is that, while both the Watchers and humanity were, at one point in the story, at odds with this God, they all seem to be united with a common purpose by the time the flood begins. So perhaps—in the world of the film—the problem with the Watchers’ initial rebellion is not that God was disinterested in helping humanity; perhaps it was that humanity was not ready to be helped, and the Watchers did not understand that. I think we can draw this conclusion because the rescue of Noah and the final restoration of the Watchers to their original glory imply that the God of the film—not unlike the God of the Bible—is ultimately guiding the story toward redemption.
So why do the Watchers look like rock giants?
Any visual representation of something like this is going to require a little bit of imagination. The filmmakers had a choice to make: Do we stick with ancient tradition (wings, halos, bright light, anthropomorphic, etc.) or do we create something that will symbolically make a point about these creatures? Personally, I’m glad that they chose the latter and created something interesting.
One rabbi, when commenting on this film, described the Watchers as “beams of light encumbered by a material shell that captures them…. A mix of the spirit and the physical, captured and trapped in a course, cumbersome physicality that makes even mobility a challenge.”
Seriously, how great is that for a description?
With the Watchers, we encounter these creatures that were meant for light and beauty but have become trapped in a terrestrial prison of their own making. They were never meant to be physical beings, and their choice to become physical has weighed them down.
I actually really like this rendering. I know this backstory changes the reason behind their choice to become physical, but I think the essence of it is still there. They became like Nicolas Cage in City of Angels—trapped within a world that was never meant to be theirs.
As far as Midrash goes, you have to admit that’s a pretty good one.
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 Alissa Wilkinson. “Noah.” Christianity Today. March 27, 2014. URL: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/noah.html?paging=off
 Daniel 4:10 (Jewish Publication Society). *I don’t know how to footnote this part, but in Christian translations of the Old Testament, the verses are numbered in different places, so if you were to look this up in a Christian translation such as the NIV, it would be in verse 13, not verse 10. However, since I am using the Jewish translation, I had to number it with the appropriate reference numbers. In most translations, this phrase is translated as “Watcher” or “Watchman.” However, the NIV translates it as “messenger,” presumably to make it seem more accessible to readers.
 Daniel 4:14 (v. 17 in Christian tradition). There is one more reference to the “holy Watcher” in verses 20 (verse 23 in Christian tradition).
 Berlin, Adele and Brettler, Marc Zvi (Editors). The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press: 2004. Footnote to verse 10 on page 1649. (emphasis mine)
 Chattaway, Peter T. Filmchat with Peter Chattaway. “The Jewish roots of – and responses to – Noah. March 31, 3014. URL: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/03/the-jewish-roots-of-and-responses-to-noah.html
 “Canonical” refers to books that were included in the Bible and are seen as sacred and necessary. Books that are not canonical are books that were not included in the final collection of biblical books. 1 Enoch is “non-canonical.”
 1 Enoch 15:2
 1 Enoch 60:11
 1 Enoch 7:1
 Genesis 18 (Sodom and Gomorrah)
 Exodus 32
 Jordan Hoffman. “Hollywood ‘Noah’ is kosher, says celebrity rabbi (interview with Shmuley Boteach).” The Times of Israel. www.timesofisrael.com.