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Noah: A rabbi’s review

March 29, 2014

I went to see Noah – by Darren Arnofsky and Ari Handel – last night – took the kids, got a headache from the improved and marvellous dolby sound system, truly painful. Okay, what’s not to like besides the unremitting racket? The women were too submissive, really horrible to watch. It was all about “be a man,” “act like a man”  and “what would a man do?”  Not much that is good. I was somewhat more interested in what the women would do and they did do something but was it enough? Unfortunately it required a somewhat deus ex machina ending. Russell Crowe, aka, Noah, kept having man tantrums, ruining any sympathy I might have had for his character. Only Ham and Ila were interesting as characters. Noah was a vegetarian warrior against strip-mining, etc.The clothing fashions were from last year, few animal hides, lots of great knitted outfits, and funky woven jackets, on top of blue jeans? When did Noah’s wife have time for spinning, weaving and sewing? Not shown. The watchers, the nephilim, were essentially transformers which would appeal to the imagination of 10 year old boys. Too many people, too much modern industrial wasteland, war and shades of Mad Max, rocket launchers, destroyed landscape etc. only this time in Iceland.

What I did like. The watchers were portrayed as angels of light encased in golem like bodies, so even though reminiscent of transformers, they also followed some Jewish legends about golem. They were essentially jinni, encased in outer bodies of mud. Tubal Cain was developed as a secondary character, as someone to challenge Noah’s views, and argue against him, and present a different view of God and humanity. This produced the only dialogue worth listening to. There was a certain suspense developed around the problem of how to find wives for Noah’s three sons. The Bible says that there were 8 humans in the Ark. How would that play out? This was the main tension in the movie. Would the human race survive to reproduce? A clever denouement. They other plot line  involved the wrapping of tefillin and passing on the birth right – but why a snakeskin tefillin, that eluded me. And then there was a least a modern feminist three seconds towards the end of the movie. That pulled it out of the hole.

I think the movie is highly irritating, but I did enjoy interpreting the different plot lines and themes. The overall impression was unremitting racket and silly nonsense. Here is a rabbi’s assessment, poor on entertainment, but high on discussable religious points,

To recap: The value of the movie isn’t the entertainment — which I think is not great — nor in its faithfulness to the Bible — which it doesn’t have much of — but it doesn’t have to have. But, this movie discusses an issue that is both ancient and modern. It asks one of the biggest questions of all: What is religion’s purpose?

‘It asks one of the biggest questions of all: What is religion’s purpose?’

Is the purpose of religion to be the sword of God? The blade of morality which condemns the wicked and the unrighteous?

I have written two books about why innocent people suffer. And what I say is this: there are people who believe that the explanation for human suffering is straightforward. You see it in the Flood, in Sodom and Gommorah and with Moses and the Golden Calf. And yet, the principal distinction between Noah on one hand and Moses and Abraham on the other is that Noah accepts God’s judgement.

The film does a good job of showing this. Noah is not a hero in Jewish lore. The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.”

This is a traditional explanation of why Noah is not the father of the Jewish people.

So he was a facilitator, not a leader.

No, he failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. Noah is a fundamentalist. He’s a religious extremist. God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

‘God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity’

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience.

The word “Islam” means “obedience before God” or “submission before God.” Soren Kierkegaard the great Danish theologian sums up Christianity as being a “leap of faith.”

Judaism has no leap of faith. “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God.” You see none of that in Noah. Neither in the Torah or in this film, so in that regard, this movie portrays this very well. No other religion does this, they would see this as heresy. It’s amazing, it’s breathtaking!

‘A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience’

I’m not going so far as to say the Bible portrays Noah as a right-wing nut-job who captures his humanity only at the end — to the extent of the film – but I will say the Bible dismisses him. Noah is a father to mankind, but a footnote in the Bible. Never discussed again, because he’s a failure.

I would have loved to see, in this film, the family challenging Noah more – challenging him to fight with God.

Read the whole review here.  Well,yes, now that he mentions it, Noah really has distinct similarity to right wing nut jobs, but makes some feeble attempt to appear normal near the end.



13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2014 1:09 pm

    I really like this take on Noah and Abraham. I wish the Christian faith could embrace this kind of chutzpah. Unfortunately, I do not think that this is possible, at least on an institutional scale. It is certainly possible on an individual scale.

  2. Debbie permalink
    March 30, 2014 7:10 pm

    I love your take on Noah. You have ideas I’ve never encountered before. Basically, God wants us to love people enough to break the rules.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    March 30, 2014 7:23 pm

    I think “one who wrestles with God” is a pretty standard Jewish description of a believer in God. I have had others point this out to me in the past.

  4. Wendy Lublin Cooley permalink
    March 30, 2014 11:00 pm

    Interesting commentary! As a Jew raised in an Orthodox home, I always questioned, even as a child. I didn’t like that we were not allowed to have a Bat Mitzvah, not allowed to count as a Minyan, not allowed to read the Torah on the Bima. I rebelled in college and started thinking for my self, questioning G-d. I believe that we were given a brain to think and make our own decisions. That is one reason why I love my Jewish faith. We believe so much in learning and education.
    I wasn’t too keen on seeing “Noah” with my husband (he converted before we married) but we may go see it now.

  5. Ted permalink
    March 31, 2014 2:03 pm

    As a teacher in an Evangelical Christian University, I loved the Rabbi’s assessment and am completely in agreement with what he says. I believe that the deepest and best faith is formed in wrestling with God; and I believe that it was the way of Abraham and Moses lived (although I would like to know how you explain Abraham’s obedience in offering Isaac on the altar).

  6. rlhw permalink
    April 1, 2014 5:12 am

    I am new here and happy to find you. Thanks for sharing this info on Noah. Very interesting.

  7. April 1, 2014 10:44 am


    I sent you an email, but it’s the same one that I’ve had from years ago. If you didn’t get it, can you email me? UnderMuchGrace AT gmail DOT com

  8. Robert E Johnson permalink
    April 3, 2014 10:21 pm

    The part with the snakeskin tefillin was clearly a Gnostic appraisal of God. The snakeskin was clearly supposed to represent the “wisdom” of the serpent, as if the wisdom was actually good, and even the righteous people, the descendants of Seth, were accepting it. The director of the movie has had Gnostic symbolism in other movies, and the glowing magic snakeskin tefilllin on Antonio Banderas (who played Noah’s dad) was so blatant that I’m surprised the Jews are even more up-in-arms about this movie than the Christians. On a positive note, there’s only two “good” things I can say about the movie that might lead one BACK to God if one were a typical “snide” atheist: 1) the notion that you could put the animals to sleep or get them to hibernate; 2) the idea that instead of having to search the world to get the animals, that the animals might come to Noah, just as the animals “got it” just before the tsunami hit Thailand a few years ago. Both “insights” might be a logistical “save” for fundamentalists. All the rest of the movie with Noah as a sort of veggie Earth First! guy was just typical of what comes out of Hollywood these days. This Is The End, which was clearly INTENDED as satire, was more respectful of Judeo-Christian norms such as Christian End Times theology, than Noah.

  9. September 9, 2014 4:59 am

    why does the movie persistently show the snake skin? What is its relevance?

  10. Robert E Johnson permalink
    September 9, 2014 9:32 am

    Rizel, both Jews AND Christians (and for that matter Muslims, who consider Jews and Christians “people of the book” and have in most Muslim nations BANNED Noah) should look askance at a movie where the folks who made it clearly intended it as a New Age version of Noah, hence the skin of the snake (that tempted Adam and Eve?) as a persistent theme. Amongst believers, the snake in the Garden of Eden represented rebellion against G*d. Amongst New Agers, it’s seen as “knowledge” and thus a good thing. The movie had other New Age oddities such as the “meat is murder” theme, the ecological “we’re murdering the earth” theme, etc.


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