Biblical Scholar on ‘Noah’ Script: ‘Anti-Human, Pro-Environmental Polemic’ (Guest Blog)

Biblical Scholar on 'Noah' Script: 'Anti-Human, Pro-Environmental Polemic' (Guest Blog)

Paramount Pictures

Professor of Old Testament Studies Daniel L. Smith-Christopher reads the script for TheWrap — and has more issues with its message than historical accuracy

Will “Noah” float with the faithful? That's the $130 million question for Paramount and New Regency.

TheWrap obtained a draft of the script by Darren Aronofsky and provided it to Dr. Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, professor of Old Testament studies at at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, who read it and shared his thoughts (below). His conclusion? The story is almost an “anti-human, pro-environmental polemic,” though it hardly violates what he understands to be a biblical moral story — and not necessarily a historical narrative to begin with.

Also read: Darren Aronofsky Knew Nothing About Paramount's Last-Minute ‘Noah’ Changes (Exclusive)

Christopher critiques the script for making Noah into a man of violence and an “Earth-First activist.” Instead of approaching the Biblical story with compassion toward humanity, he says, the script makes Noah, played by Russell Crowe, into a violent man himself.

The notion that God was angry over mankind's violence “is powerful political theology, and any telling of the Noah story that overlooks this is, I believe, deficient,” he wrote. As for veracity, he'll leave that to others: “Although I do believe that the Bible contains ideas that are inspired by people's understanding of God … I also believe that this story is not historical, and it is questionable whether it was ever understood to be so.”

Also read: Paramount Adds Explanatory Note to ‘Noah’ After Pressure by Religious Group

(It should be noted that this version of the script, by director Aronofsky and Ari Handel, may not be the final draft — and that Christopher has not seen the film.)

daniel.smith-christopherHere are Christopher's (pictured left) thoughts on a number of scenes:

We open with imagery from the Book of Genesis, including man's descent into chaos and warfare. A passage appears: “The Creator saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and it grieved His heart.”
Christopher: “Wickedness” omits the “violence” as a specific reason for God's disappointment. The script generally emphasizes the “angry vengeance” of the Creator, rather than the deep regret and disappointment! That is a rather different view — but the writers give in to stereotypes about the “angry God.”

Noah engages in brutal hand-to-hand combat to stop a gang of poachers attacking a bison herd. Described as a “master of military arts” and armed with mysterious exploding “packets,” Noah “carves through a half-dozen men without breaking a sweat.”
Christopher: I deeply resent Noah presented as a military fighter rather than as a man of peace. Come on! Here is a story where God regrets how violent humanity is, and they have to make Noah a martial-arts expert?

In the aftermath, Noah laments that the hunters kill the bison only for their horns — then tends to an injured juvenile bison.
Christopher: I do like the creative idea of Noah's concern for animals. But why does this have to be in the context of so much violence even from our “hero?” The notion that modern films need such violent “action sequences” is itself part of the problem, now, isn't it?

Noah tells an authority figure that the Creator mourns the “poisoned husk” that the Earth has become at the hands of men. “We must change,” he says, “we must treat the world with mercy.”
Christopher: Noah is made into an “Earth-First” activist here. I like the environmental message, but not turned into an anti-human message! It is the privilege of the well-to-do to regret so many people on the earth, and overlook how their own wealth and privilege created a great deal of the environmental crisis! Are the masses of poor on the earth, struggling to survive, really the problem? Or is it the greedy corporations and states whose notions of “economic development” led directly to our current crisis?

See video: ‘Noah’ Clip: Russell Crowe Ropes His Family Into Building a Boat ‘to Save the Innocent’

Noah meets “The Watchers,” 18-foot giants with skulls the size of “beach balls.” Text from Genesis appears onscreen, explaining that giants “walked the Earth in those days.”
Christopher: The writers are borrowing heavily from the Book of Enoch here. [Ed's note: The Book of Enoch is an ancient Jewish religious work ascribed to Noah's great-grandfather that is not part of biblical canon.] That is a creative decision, but it should probably have been indicated as such. The way (the giants) are portrayed here sounds a bit silly, but I like CGI as much as the next guy, so I will see how they are portrayed!

The Watchers and Noah witness a miracle — a forest sprouting from the Earth. One of the giants says: “Maybe God will forgive us … “
Christopher: But for what? In Enoch, the (giants) who “fell” taught humans how to make the weapons of war! Once again — the writers omit an opportunity to highlight the ancient texts’ own criticism of human violence, and replacing it with … naturally … MORE violence!

Noah wonders out loud whether “a world without men would be a better world,” suggesting that they may not be meant to survive.
Christopher: This is another example of extremist environmentalism at the cost of humanity.

The rains begin, and as Noah prepares to seal the Ark, the horde panics: “Mayhem reigns … 10,000 souls rushing for the safety of the ship.”
Christopher: Isn't it interesting that the biblical version of the story does not mention other humans trying to get in? It does not dwell on violence and suffering. But the script writers seem to insist on making this a major aspect of the story.

Safely aboard the floating sanctuary after a terrible battle, Noah tells his frightened family the story of creation, including a fleeting reference to Adam and Eve.
Christopher: Nothing about the creation in the Image of God, indicating something important about humanity? No, I don't suppose this would fit the anti-human, pro-environmental polemic being constructed here. In other words — this “Earth-first” version of the Noah story conveniently omits God's compassion and care for humanity is something special. Humans are a disappointment because they failed their responsibilities, which were significant, not because they simply exist!

Also read: Box Office: Can the ‘Son of God’ Flock Be Born Again With ‘Noah'?

Noah reveals to his family that the plan isn't to procreate once the waters subside — it's to make sure man does not carry on in the new world.
Christopher: The entire sub-story, with Noah wanting to kill the last female to make sure all of humanity is wiped out, is contrary to the pro-human narrative of having humans survive in the first place! If the animals were to survive — so, too, were the humans! Also, it is interesting that the writers seem to be carrying on an implicit dialogue with Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac … where they wish Abraham would have said, “I can't do it,” they seem to be pleased to present Noah, in the end, with having to say, “I can't do it.” The Abraham narrative, of course, is a matter of huge debate for literally hundreds of years, but the writer's dialogue with it is an interesting decision. But in the end … just which Bible story is being told here?

Conclusion:
Christopher: I believe that film and TV producers have the right to take creative decisions — even with the Bible. All “re-tellings,” whether in a film or in a sermon, are viewpoints — they are all “interpretations.” It would be silly to talk about “accuracy” in a film about Noah, because it is a short moral story with a powerful message, not a historical narrative and description.

However, I think we can take issue with implied messages and implications — and my main concern about the Noah film is its ambiguity with regard to human violence when that seems to be a major element of the original narrative. Why can't Noah have been a peacemaker in direct contrast to human violence? Isn't that implied by saving him, when the rest of humanity grieved God because of its violence?

  • mike

    Professor of B.S. comments on a film based on some made up stories of yore. Accuracy? Crazy more like.

  • MoiraB

    I saw a sneak of this film, and pretty much agree with everything this professor says. Some of what he mentions is not in the version I saw, so maybe those things were deleted later (the attack on the bison herd, etc.). The creepy lava “giants” are still in, though, and they look like something out of Lord of the Rings. But the strangest thing is the extremely morose Noah, who is not an admirable figure in this movie. The prof is right: this Noah is anti-human, seething with anger, and spends the entire second half of the movie raving about wanting to end humanity (I won't give away how, but you can pretty much guess, and it involves an uber-patriarchal action…). I'm not religious per se (open-minded seeker…), so I am not at all approaching this with any kind of fundamentalist Biblical prejudice — I don't care if it's “true to the Bible” or not, because, as the professor says, the Noah tale in the Old Testament is widely understood by scholars to be a parable, not to be taken literally. I DO care about seeing a good story on film, though, and I thought the second half was about as dark and depressing and anti-human as you can get. I usually like Russell Crowe, but he is not given much to do except glower and explode in anger and loom menacingly and morph into a raving Old Testament patriarch.

    • jhs39

      Isn't God the one who decided to destroy all of humanity (according to the bible, of course)? How can you blame a filmmaker for making a movie about God's destruction of mankind and complain that it's anti-human? Is it even possible that you don't understand the utter ridiculousness of this complaint?

      • MoiraB

        Address that to the professor of Old Testament studies, who seems to be the expert here.

        • Nonesuch

          It's a point the professor seems to rather neatly avoid. There's hardly anything more anti-human than God's choice to destroy 99.9% of mankind, presumably including blameless infants and children. I personally think it's perfectly understandable that Noah would be traumatised and even nihilistic considering what he was tasked to do and what he witnesses of the flood – he witnesses man's violence onto each other and he witnesses their horrible deaths at the hands of the Creator. I'd be more concerned if he remained completely stable and confident in his own righteousness, which would come across as frankly bizarre (not to mention boring and pandering) in a modern feature film. I can understand why it would make Noah an unappealing and difficult character, but I can't understand why anyone would think it contravenes or goes against the material in the Biblical text. Noah's state-of-mind isn't mentioned in the Biblical text since the Bible has virtually no interest in human psychology, but it's not an unreasonable characterisation to grow out of the Biblical text. And as for Noah's skills as a fighter, at least he is shown to fight for justifiable reasons – since the entire world is violent it makes sense that he too has to be violent. How else if he meant to have kept himself alive? And he clearly has more respect for animals than humans because of how he has seen humans behave. I personally think the film's depiction of Noah sounds fascinating but hard to connect with or root for, which is why I believe the film might struggle.

    • IngeC

      Thank you! I appreciate your honest assessment and opinion!
      I am a Christian and, do take the Bible Teachings serious enough to attempt every day to live like Jesus instructed.
      I have no problem of movies being made and, somewhat based on the Bible.
      However – what I do mind is a intentional deception which this movie seems to be to me.
      Noah was a very shy and quiet man; a loyal servant of God. He received his instructions to build the ark directly from God including the specific measurements and, materials to use. Noah was also instructed to bring his family, his sons and, their wives.
      The story in Genesis regarding Noah was meant to teach about a loving God, having us all created in his image. It also describes a sad God, disappointed because of his creation turning bad. It had nothing to do with Noah being portrayed violent, or thinking of himself to be a decider of whether humanity should continue. That was never Noah's place nor thoughts.
      I am not sure why they feel they have to completely turn the book of Genesis on it's head – portraying and understanding something contrary to everything contained in Genesis.
      What a shame!

  • Mike

    Spoilers!!! Spoilers!!! Spoilers!!!

    These Religious Nuts are out of their minds. Hey THEWRAP, write YOUR OWN ARTICLES!

    Stop letting these BIAS A$$HOLES RUN CRAZY STORIES!!!

  • Mike

    So, we're giving away movies in titles now. OK then.

  • Larry Weisberg

    Wow… critiquing whether this version of the fairy tale will upset other people's versions of the fairy tale. I guess it's the same as whether Lone Ranger TV lovers will embrace Johnny Depp as Tonto. If Tonto fans don't come out in droves, they were going to be in trouble. My Noah is better than your Noah! Christopher Reeve still better than Henry Cavill. And Batman will always be Adam West.

  • David

    The Wrap found a Quaker to critique a violent movie? Can't deny the irony…

  • mheister

    As he's pronouncing judgement on the script, and not the final product, his analysis needs to be taken with a grain of salt. As well, there are more than 10,000 different Christian denominations, with varying views on how literally to take this text to begin with. The diversity of interpretations certainly allows the filmmakers to approach the material in whatever manner they choose.

    Personally, I'm with the Muslims on this movie, the Passion of the Christ, Godspell, the Ten Commandments…. I don't think it's particularly respectful to portray a Prophet on-screen. I'll probably skip this movie.

  • Janet Walker

    Judge not lest ye be judged. Clearly Hollywood has taken some creative license with the story of Noah. No person expects it to be an accurate depiction of biblical events. The scriptwriters did however leave out what is considered factual: that building the ark, which translates in ancient greek to “coffin,” the fact that Noah was mocked for the 100 years it took to construct the coffin that would carry his family to safety by the townspeople who labeled him crazy.

    • http://mysite.verizon.net/vzepr1xp/index.html unsean

      Not entirely sure anything about Noah’s Ark, which is a parable, can be considered factual.

      In fact, much of the Bible can be looked at in a similar light.

  • danbloom

    What everyone seems to missing here, amidst all the religious hullabaloo and brouhaha, pro and con, the holy scriptures of the Jews (the Noah story does not belong to Christianity at all, stop stealing from the Jews, pals!) is that NOAH is the first CLI FI movie to come out of Hollywood in a long time, with more to come, as the Earth warms year by year and climate change becomes more pronounced. CLI FI is a rising new genre of cinema that stands for CLImate FIction, a la sci fi. and both the New York Times and TIME magazine are poised to report the cli fi news this month and next. This is not about the gods or the god of the Hebrews, and certainly not about Joshua Ben Joseph the son of Miriam, this is about cli fi and the coming climapocalypse. Prepare, and yes, pray.

  • danbloom

    John Horn, writing in the LA Times, from premiere of Noah in Mexico City, notes:
    ”The Pepsi Centre, a cavernous arena that's typically hosting concerts and sports events, might not be the obvious pick for the world premiere of “Noah,” Darren Aronofsky's dramatization of the biblical flood story.

    But if “Noah” can't play in Latin America, home to legions of Roman Catholics, than it can't play anywhere.

    “Noah” marks Hollywood's return to the Old Testament, a long-forgotten genre that once yielded movies such as John Huston's “The Bible” in 1966 and “The Ten Commandments” in 1956. New Testament-inspired productions, including the recent “Son of God” and Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ,” have performed strongly at the box office.

    Paramount packed about 1,400 fans into the Pepsi Centre for Monday night's screening of “Noah,” which opens in Mexico before the film's U.S. premiere on March 28. Aronofsky, who directed and co-wrote the film with longtime collaborator Ari Handel, was joined by actors Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Jennifer Connelly. (Russell Crowe, who plays Noah, uh, er, conveniently not there and was in Australia.)

    “It's a very, very different movie,” Aronofsky, who made “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler,” said in introducing the film. “Anything you're expecting, you're effing wrong,” he said, punctuating his remarks with the f BOMB.

    While the movie follows the biblical account very closely, it adds a backstory about the plight of the EARTH, created a villain in Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and dramatizes how Noah and his family wrestle with the god's instructions to spare no one — save the animals.

    After the screening, whose red carpet was designed to look like an ark, the filmmaker noted that Noah's story in the Bible is fleeting and that he doesn't even speak until after the flood is over. Consequently, he and Handel had to invent plot, dialogue and characters.

    “Everything in the film is there for a reason. And we can explain the inspiration and where the theology comes from,” Aronofsky said. “And there are many things that are not in the Bible that people think are in the Bible.”

  • bradly

    Looking forward to the movie. Somewhat concerned with the portrayal of Noah and the whole “man of violence” vs. a preacher, man of peace and a man's after God's own heart. I don't have an issue with Noah being “environmental” but not putting the environment over humanity. Humanity was God's crowing achievement. As a literalist, I am somewhat dismayed by those that instruct in the word as not seeing how this “moral” story is a complete or partial fabrication. I have spent much time researching the story of Genesis and quite frankly it dovetails nicely with the rest of the O.Testament and projects a great picture of the coming Messiah. The entire crux of the Bible both New and Old stands or collapses on the Book of Genesis. If these are fables or good moral stories then I suppose the rest of the word could be too. Abraham was just a good story, the exodus out of Egypt was a good story. David's victory of Goliath was a great story. Jesus and his miracles and the whole crucifixion was a great story. It either happened or it didn't and quite frankly if one cannot accept Genesis literally, one cannot accept the whole idea of the fall of man, the introduction of sin and death and the need for an eternal blood sacrifice. It comes down to the willingness to accept or deny the totality of one or quite possibly two great religions of the earth.