March 31, 2014


UPDATE! What I--and many others in favor of this film--did was a Judaeo-Christian read of "Noah." And it almost totally works. I can explain (by doing a Judaeo-Christian read) many elements that people say are Gnosticism or Kabbalah. However, some pieces didn't seem to fit. Especially the snakeskin (a concrete relic of the Garden--so that they will always remember they are sinful beings and from what they have fallen, just like the angels fell? Creation started off not fallen?)

In addition to my review, PLEASE also read this review by a theologian because I think what he's saying could be convincing on some levels.

Chattaway's response to Mattson's accusation of Gnosticism (also includes more explanations by Aronofsky):

I still think there is much good to be gained from doing a Judaeo-Christian viewing/contemplating/discussing of this film, a biblical film like no other, served up in a way that people will take seriously for its cinematic quality. Fr. Robert Barron agrees:

Only Aronofsky knows what he actually intended throughout this movie (where he drew inspiration from at various moments). There are actually several different ways to read this (see "Comments" section below). On the "Colbert Report," he sounds like he's trying to be utterly faithful to the Jewish Bible (with added artistic license, of course). Perhaps even more explanation by Aronofsky will surface?

Sr. Helena recommends carefully reading the whole Noah story in the Bible before (or at least after seeing the film). It will clarify a lot!


Months ago, when I first heard that "Noah" was coming out, I, like the biblical Sarah, laughed to myself. "It'll be this big, ugly, off-the-mark extravaganza, just trying to make money off believers, and it'll flop." Like Sarah, I had to eat crow. Not literally! (Noah is a vegetarian in the film.)

"Noah," written and directed by atheist(?) Darren Aronofsky, is coming from a very good place. Aronofsky is Jewish, and his favorite Bible figure since he was little was Noah. He particularly set out to explore this momentous, but unplumbed Bible passage (Genesis 6:5-6) where God is sorry He made mankind (because of our wickedness) and decides to wipe mankind out. What is completely blowing my mind is that Aronofsky puts himself squarely in the place of a believer and enters so deeply into the psyche of Noah and those around him (as well as attempting to understand why a GOOD Creator would "feel" this way, and come to this conclusion).


Aronofsky lets God be God. God permeates the film. And He is not an ogre or a caricature. He is personal but ineffable. He is mercy and justice. "We are made in His image" is repeated over and over. I never really gave Noah much thought at all till now. Wow.  Everything refers back to the Garden of Eden. Aronofsky is careful that we don't just start in the middle--he wants to hold the whole story together.

"Noah" is the best Bible movie ever made. Yes, I just said that. It marries what was orthodox and more verbatim from the Scriptures in older films like "The Ten Commandments" with Charlton Heston--and combines it with today's sensibilities and filmmaking genius (in all ways). But when I say "today's sensibilities" I don't mean politically correct and anachronistic. In "Noah," men are men, women are women, fertility is everything. Family is everything. Fidelity to God is everything. The tension between fatherlove and motherlove is palpable, and we see why we desperately need both to be in balance! Oh, and women kind of save the day as well--in their womanly way. That's all I'm going to say.

A little study of WOMEN IN "NOAH" (and in other of Aronofsky's films, and perhaps life) would be very interesting!


The only thing that smacks of any kind of agenda might be the heavy stress on treating Creation well, especially animals (which I have absolutely no problem with and cheer heartily). The script even goes so far as to say (at one point) that the reason God is wiping out mankind is for the way we treated Creation. If this was ALL the script offered as explanation, I would have to give "Noah" big, big demerits. But in several other places, it tells/shows that we were corrupt in every way, in our dealings with each other (and treatment of women!), killings, wars, etc.

I applaud ANY film that tell us that, no, it's not OK to trash God's Creation. Dominion is not domination. Creation is sacred and it's God's and we are called to be good stewards and treat it with integrity.

Animal lovers (of which I am one) gonna looooove "Noah."

I think this means ALL the animals were CGI which I actually wouldn't have guessed.
I thought a few were real at least.

"Noah" is how you make a Bible movie. "Noah" is how you take the Word of God and seriously and humbly explore it in all its depth, complexity, nuance, raw human and divine drama without preconceived judgments on it, employing the best actors, composers, visual effects. This film breathes and sends you into deep contemplation/meditation. I didn't think it was possible to do that with the Bible in film.


What of the "artistic license" taken? Filmmakers had better take artistic license or they are not making films. Even if it's the Bible. Aronofsky uses "moral imagination" to the utmost. He is 95% faithful to the Bible in all that is essential, the heart of the story, and 5% is fanciful, but still informed by the text itself. For example, the most outrageous liberty taken is "The Watchers," giant stone creatures way-too-similar to Transformers who try to help blundering mankind. But these creatures are inspired by the enigmatic Genesis 6:5-6.

The editing is superb, superb, superb. The story never, ever lags. Nothing is drawn out, belabored and taxing as in most Bible and other epic films. Totally engrossing. I don't want to spoil here, so I won't, but Noah struggles with what God is asking of him, even in the clarity of it. Aronofsky imagines: what if Noah misunderstood a key piece of his mission--at first?

The nature of good and evil is dissected at length. Tubalcain represents how evil reasons, an alternative way to see oneself "in the image of God." Tubalcain believes that simply "taking" what one wants, harshly dominating the earth, and killing is what makes us like God. In contrast to Tubalcain, God's providence explicitly overarches Noah and his family's life. They trust in God, they wait on God. They imitate God's compassion and gentleness.


Probably my biggest criticism of this film is that God seems to get lost at the very end. It seemed to all shift to Noah (I didn't even see the rainbow that is there), and I don't remember any mention of the covenant. Noah seems to be the one in charge now: "I tell you go forth and multiply, etc." Perhaps, as throughout the rest of the movie, WE don't see or hear God, and so we are meant to understand that Noah is acting on God's word to him here. But it's REAL weak.


"Noah" shows how much is really up to us. We are to choose either darkness or light. We are to choose to love and obey God or not. There are real consequences, outcomes, repercussions and costs to our choices. Lectio divina,the centuries-old practice of prayerfully reading and contemplating a small portion of God's Word, alone or with others can also be transferred to the screen as "cinema divina." "Noah" is the ultimate example of "cinema divina" in my book.


--One of the many amazing features of "Noah" is that when Noah has to make his Abrahamic /Solomonic choice, it is NOT even solved "Deus ex machina" as it would have every right to in THIS movie if any! It is solved by a human choice. Then confirmed by God. Perfect.

--Sadly, it seems Catholics don't know their Bible well enough to critique this film. Other Christians only want word-for-word, super-simplistic, one-dimensional, literal portrayals. :(

--How desperately we need good men to lead.

--For those who are saying "Noah" is a "mockery" or doesn't mention God,  they either:
a) didn't see "Noah"
b) didn't see the "Noah" I did
c) had 3D glasses on (it's not 3D) and earplugs in during film

--I could go on and on about this film. After reading a few reviews, I knew it would be good, but I didn't know HOW good. I literally could write for days....

--It always makes me sad when Jews are atheists. It just seems so wrong. As the Christian Liturgy prays during Holy Week: the Jews, God's Chosen People, were "the first to hear the Word of God." But Jews have also always wrangled/wrestled/negotiated with God and His Word. Perhaps "Noah" is a new way of doing this. The "Via Negativa."

--Russell Crowe is back (after some lackluster performances of late).

--Noah wanted to shield his kids from seeing evil and violence.

--Darren Aronofsky has rescued Noah from Fisher-Price arks & nursery murals! Yay!

--A note on vegetarianism. We are allowed to eat animals (after the Flood) (Genesis 9:3), but they must have a good life, be treated humanely and with integrity, and be dispatched the same way. I have tried twice to go veggie for health and ethical reasons, but (even though I really don't enjoy meat), it's not good for my health. I have a B12 defiency and my body needs just a little bit of animal protein several times a week. I am always aware when I eat meat that an animal gave its life for me, and it's not the same thing as eating a donut.

--@DecentFilms calls "Noah" a "rare gift"! Right on, righteous reviewer! Here's Steven D. Greydanus' 60 sec take:

--Can an Atheist Make a Good Bible Movie?

--Why Noah Is the Biblical Epic Christians Deserve

--The Ark featurette (see disclaimer at end about how filmmakers really want film to reflect Bible account, even WITH the "artistic license")

--Colbert Report: Writer/Director of "Noah": Darren Aronofsky

--Excellent Review from Toronto Star that made me want to see "Noah" (I agree that it's about free will, but not predestination):

--Noah fun facts:

--Here's the great Noah debate on Relevant Radio: me, Jason Jones, Elizabeth Scalia, Brian Godawa. What I didn't get to finish saying is that it's not that God left everything completely up to Noah, but that God wants human beings cooperating with Him to carry out His plans (He COULD just do it all Himself), and it's not easy for those humans! I'm sure the patriarchs, prophets and saints struggled mightily to "get it right"! Also, it's not just Kabbalah--most likely--that Aronofsky drew from, but also Jewish rabbinical writings and stories.

"The notion that the human will, when united with the divine will, can play a part in Christ's work of redeeming all mankind is overpowering. The wonder of God's grace transforming worthless human actions into efficient means for spreading the kingdom of God here on earth astounds the mind and humbles it to the utmost, yet brings a peace and joy unknown to whose who have never experienced it, unexplainable to those who will not believe."
~Fr. Walter Ciszek, "He Leadeth Me," pg. 117 (Ignatius Press)


  1. I liked the interview he gave Raymond Arroyo as well and the way Aronofsky was able to explain "the Watchers." Sadly, I am in the category of Catholics who don't know their Bible well enough to critique the film. I've not seen it, but after your review and watching the clip of the interview on EWTN, I am excited to see it and dive more deeply into the story and how it fits into the the whole story of creation!

  2. Didn't mean to be insulting! Just read the Noah story in Genesis and you'll see how much of it REALLY is in the film. (Even the water bubbling up from the ground.) :)

  3. Rachel12:59 AM

    Sister, I read your blog before seeing Noah and it gave me lots to think about!! Isn't it neat how they snuck in the possibility of evolution & God (at least for animals)!? When Noah retells the "creation" story it begins with rapidly changing pics starting with the "primordial soup" evolving into different water creatures, then to land creatures, stopping at the monkey. It would also have been neat if the monkey evolved into Adam whom God would give a soul to. I was actually disappointed over how they represented Adam and Eve (like souls without a body- I guess this is the TOB lover in me) and wonder why they were represented that way. I was also struck with the amount of free will and co-creation between God and Noah! It's not every day we are offered the chance to contemplate this Biblical story (much less in the form of a movie where God is so obviously present!!) and there is so much to take from it. I felt fed by it, and yes, it also kicked my soul's posterior. :)

    1. Rachel! Please read the link added at the top of this review! Thanks. (When I saw Adam & Eve as luminous beings, I thought they were just being artistically represented as having chosen "the light" rather than darkness, but read the link! :O

    2. WOA THE MOVIE MAKES SENSE NOW. Yo, that was shocking. Really eye-opening. Context is crucial. WOA. Definitely agree with you in maintaining that we can still approach the movie with a (discerning) Judaeo-Christian lens (and get something GOOD from it). I honestly just brushed off the deviations from the Biblical Noah (like the Watchers) as creative additions and didn't give it a whole lot of thought. I admit that viewing the story from it's proper Gnostic/Kabbalah lens makes the movie all the more fascinating to me. I still really like this movie! Thanks for referring me to that article!!

  4. Did you see my review on fb? I love yours Sister!!!

  5. Anonymous7:12 PM

    Did you read the link you posted at the top of your page, because it seems as though you are endorsing this movie for something that it is not.

    1. I think the movie can be read at least two different ways. (Christian and non.) Only Aronofsky knows what he really intended.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. consider this rebuttal to Mattson's piece:

  8. Anonymous7:35 PM

    Dr. Brian Mattson ends his review of the Noah film with this:
    "Some readers may think I'm being hard on people for not noticing the Gnosticism at the heart of this film. I am not expecting rank-and-file viewers to notice these things. I would expect exactly what we've seen: head-scratching confusion. I've got a whole different standard for Christian leaders: college and seminary professors, pastors, and Ph.Ds. If a serpent skin wrapped around the arm of a godly Bible character doesn't set off any alarms... I don't know what to say."

  9. Dear Sister Burns, please understand that Brian Mattson's interpretation is quite an exercise in conspiratorial theory... The snakeskin--at least to my eyes--can *easily* be representing a biblically syncretic symbol of human mastery *over* the snake, just as Moses did with the bronze snake in the wilderness (Numbers 21) and the ancient Jewish observance of the Tefillin which is described in Deuteronomy 6:5-9. I recommend you look at a picture or video of a Tefillin in contemporary Jewish practice, and you'll easily connect the dots concerning Aronofsky's inspiration.

    1. Thanks! Isn't this fascinating? This film can be read so many ways! And I don't know why we should immediately ascribe to Aronofsky that he's trying to dupe us. Only Aronofsky knows what he really intended....

  10. Anonymous5:19 AM

    Spoiler alert: Did I miss something or can't I read straight anymore? Mattson says Noah retrieved the snakeskin before he went to kill the girls, yet I thought Ham threw it on the ground at the end.
    Anyway, thoughtful, insightful reviews, Sister. I will recommend them to my friends who aren't sure whether to see Noah. I thought it was brilliant. I never expected a retelling of the Noah tale straight from the Bible, so Aronofsky's interpretation of the story worked for me on many levels. I remain puzzled by the snakeskin, but was pleased to see acknowledgement of a Creator with whom Noah has a personal relationship. The animals were worth the price of admission. (I must confess to a predisposition for the film, as one of the hundreds who toiled as a background player on the shores of Oyster Bay, Long Island.)

  11. interesting debates and observations going on over at the Arts & Faith forums:

  12. Anonymous12:58 PM

    Sister: Thanks for your review, I enjoyed it.

    The snakeskin has puzzled me too, but I think you're on to something when you say that it may be, "a concrete relic of the Garden--so that they will always remember they are sinful beings?"

    I think it's not just to remind Noah et al who they are, though--it's a relic of the unfallen world in the fullest sense. When we see the snake shed its skin, the snake's color changes from green to black, which mirrors the change of mankind from the luminosity of Adam and Eve to the postlapsarian human coloring.

    (As an aside, I'd say there's a straightforward connection to be made between the radiant quality of Adam and Eve's body and how Christ's resurrected body is understood.)

    Back to the snake shedding his skin, I think what we're seeing is the fall of the serpent, his choice to become evil. If that's right, then the skin he sheds would be from when he was still unfallen. As such, it would indeed be a relic of the garden, but not just in the sense that it would serve as a reminder of man's sinful past, but also in the sense of something possessing special powers of blessing. A true relic. That, along with how it's put on the arm like the teffilin are (as Tim Greely pointed out above) and used to bless, clearly show its holy qualities.

    1. Anonymous1:09 PM

      Oops, I should have read Peter Chattaway's posts before I put mine up--didn't mean to clutter up your blog with a theory it turns out you already pretty much linked to.

    2. No worries! Thanks for being part of the conversation (and liking "Noah" ha ha)

  13. Anonymous7:03 PM

    It's all fiction. How can anyone in this day and age take this stuff seriously.

    1. Anonymous3:45 PM

      Really, even if it's all fiction, you've got to admit that some people can tell a better story than others. And if you know the story behind the story (the 'mythos' you might call it) it enriches the story.

      I'm Catholic, I admit it. I will also admit that a lot of Catholic authors (think Tolkien) really took fairy stories and myths, fiction, seriously even though they knew it was make-believe. The stories still taught them something, and they saw the worth in that. There's nothing wrong with taking fiction and symbolism seriously- they tell us something about ourselves. So even if you don't believe Noah was real, if you think it's myth, it still may be worth it to you to know his story.

  14. Anonymous11:22 AM

    It may be sad that many Jews are atheists but can you blame them. Thousands of years praying and waiting for the messiah and the promised land and what do they get? Persecution, pogroms and the Holocaust. All the while "God" stands by and does nothing. Such a god wouldn't be worthy of worship.

  15. Thank you thank you for such an insightful and well informed review of Noah! I have not studied the bible at all and only know the nursery tale story of Noah and the flood - so thank you. I was however left feeling very confused. Who were the baby girls supposed to multiply with? Their father? Their uncles? Thoughts?

    1. Yes! I thought of that-and I'm sure the filmmakers did, too. It's the same question as: how did the earth get populated (if we only had one set of first parents). It's a rather long discussion that I can't do here. You might try for further info. In actuality, there was a flood in antiquity, but it was only a portion of the world (but of course, the Bible is saying ALL of humanity was wiped out). They also had longer lifespans back then--according to Bible 900 years old, etc., which may or may not be true/feasible. I enjoy following @HumanOrigins on Twitter (Smithsonian Institute) and the whole theological and scientific conversation about this.

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  17. The movie leaves out a few major Biblical facts recorded in scripture. God made a covenant with Noah, before the flood, Gen. 6:18. God started over, with Noah and his sons and their wives, yes, WIVES. (Gen. 6:18, Gen.8:18, 2 Peter 2:5 ). The Lord was starting over, with Noah as a new father of mankind, for was righteous. God told them to be fruitful and multiply, it was not Noah's last minute change of heart after lamenting that he failed to exterminate his family. The whole gloom and doom idea of Noah needing to kill his grandchildren before they all died reminded me of Jack Nicholson lurking around with a knife in The Shining. Get real. Their are good aspects to the film, the Watchers didn't bug me as Noah had some kind of help to complete the ark. I kept wishing Noah would say"Man needs Redemption". Well, Noah was the Redemption for mankind, Gods children, and the flood is a symbol of baptism. Gen.8:1-17. The Covenant ( never again shall water become a flood to destroy all flesh, with a rainbow as the sign that God remembers His Covenant with mankind and all creatures. Poorly executed in the film, with visuals absent of any lines from the script. Could have been a teachable moment. Overall, interesting film, but strays too far.