Movie Review: Noah's Ark

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On Sunday, March 23, the UP network aired Noah’s Ark, the latest attempt to bring the biblical epic to film. Starring David Threlfall, best known for his role in the British comedy Shameless, and Joanne Whalley (Willow), this made-for-television drama was, for the most part, a refreshing change from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.

Any director who desires to make a movie based on the Bible must use artistic license, and this film was no different in using that license to portray Noah, his family, and the culture in which they lived. The key in using artistic license is to make sure that one’s story does not end up contradicting God’s Word. Sadly, despite its strengths, Noah’s Ark featured some glaring errors. Before discussing these problems, let’s take a look at what this new film did well.

Positives

The storyline was rather straightforward. Noah is a family man who must build the Ark to save his family and the land animals from the coming Flood. Likely due to budget restraints, the vast majority of the film focused on Noah’s time in the pre-Flood world. The Flood and a brief after-Flood scene were crammed into the final minutes of the movie. This decision likely disappointed many viewers who were hoping to see some great CGI effects of the Flood. Nevertheless, the extremely brief Flood sequence did show it as a global catastrophe.

By focusing on Noah’s life prior to the Flood, the film was able to develop the main character, highlighting his righteous character and faith in God (Hebrews 11:7). Contrary to Aronofsky’s portrayal of Noah as a maniac bent on wiping out humanity, Noah’s Ark let us see Noah in a positive light. He gives food to the needy, leads his family in prayer, jokes with his wife, plays with his sons, and sternly warns them about the dangers in their evil society.

The Bible mentions that Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The film added drama by giving Noah an adopted son named Canaan. By taking Canaan into the city for the first time, Noah hopes his adopted son will be disgusted by the wicked ways of the civilization, an effort that backfires as Canaan becomes enticed by the pagan daughter of Noah’s unbelieving friend. The wickedness is not graphically illustrated and was rather tame compared to many PG movies, so younger children should not be disturbed by scenes depicting this vile society.

As Noah and Canaan walk through the city’s streets, Noah even offers a critique of atheism.1

Canaan: “You teach us to make up our own minds about things, so it can’t be wrong for someone to make up their mind that God doesn’t exist.”

Noah: “No, it just makes them foolish.”

Canaan: “Why?”

Noah: “Look, he can say ‘I don’t know.’ At least that’s honest. Not everyone has faith. But only an idiot would say, ‘There is no God.’ Because to say that, you must first surely understand everything, and only an idiot would think that he did. But the simple truth is that man would rather live in a world of his own design. And this is what it looks like.”2

A little later Noah converses with his pagan friend who tells Noah that he’s silly for believing in God because, “We have science.” The friend confidently proclaims that he knows a scientist who has said that the universe made itself, and that we don’t need God anymore because we are gods. Noah responds by holding up a flower and saying, “Then make me one of these.”

Canaan also faced skeptical challenges to the faith he had been taught from his youth. After stealing into town to meet with the young lady he had fallen for, a companion asked him, “Who designed the Designer?”

These apologetic discussions seemed out of place in some ways. It is unlikely that Noah faced the same questions Christians are challenged with today. While Christians may disagree with Noah’s approach in these situations, at least the film depicted Noah as a strong believer who was not afraid to share and defend his faith.

One element I appreciated is that Noah was shown as having some expertise in building boats. The reason for the aforementioned trip into town was so that Noah could deliver a fishing boat he had built. Many people often assume that Noah was an amateur when he built the Ark, but the Bible does not tell us this. While it is silent on his profession prior to the Flood, the idea of Noah being a shipbuilder makes great sense, and it is part of the backstory we have written for the Ark Encounter. We know that God equips people to do His work. Since the Lord called Noah to build an Ark, we can be certain that Noah was fully capable of completing the task.

Negatives

Despite its somewhat fresh look at Noah, the movie perpetuated some stereotypes about the man and his work. For example, Noah builds the Ark “on the edge of a desert” after it had not rained for more than a year. These details are not found in Scripture, but they are quite common in popular retellings of the Flood account.

Shem and his wife hold a brief discussion about sex, and she tells him that they will have to wait until they have a house of their own—the whole family lived under Noah’s roof. Shortly after that Shem is teased by his brothers related to this issue. These conversations were used to drive a minor plot point, but they could have been avoided altogether and Shem could have easily explained to his mother his reasons for wanting to build his own home.

Although the very brief Flood sequence was shown to be a global event, it didn’t seem to have any impact on the earth itself. The landscape following the Flood looked just like the landscape prior to it. This concept fits the false notion that the biblical Flood was just a tranquil event rather than a cataclysm that caused the pre-Flood world to perish (2 Peter 3:6) and broke the original land mass into several continents.

The notion of Noah having a fourth son may concern some viewers since the Bible only mentions three sons and states that Noah built the Ark for the saving of his household. The film gets around this by making Canaan an adopted son who left home prior to the Flood.3

In Scripture we are told that God is the one who spoke to Noah and gave him the instructions to build the Ark (Genesis 6:13–21). In the movie God sent an angel to deliver this information to Noah. At least the angel clearly spelled out the proper details. It is understandable why a director may not want to attempt to depict the Lord in a film, but by glossing over this detail and putting an angel in God’s place, the film inaccurately handles the text.

Furthermore, the Bible informs us—as does the movie—that God would bring the animals to Noah. But in the Bible, God instructs Noah to board the Ark with the animals and his family (Genesis 7:1), telling him that “after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth . . .” (Genesis 7:4). In the Bible, Noah obeys. But in the movie, Noah and all those who are planning to board the Ark camp around it, waiting for the storm to start before they climb in and wondering in frustration if the promised deluge will come at all. Also in the movie—perhaps to keep production costs low—the animals only show up once the storms begin. We see them in the distance approaching the people now hastening to get aboard.

It is a pity that the moviemakers chose to ignore this opportunity to expand on the theme of Noah’s faithful obedience to God.

A prominent theme in the movie was Noah’s faith, and surely in the biblical account Noah’s obedience to the command to board the Ark with all the animals was an act of faith. It is a pity that the moviemakers chose to ignore this opportunity to expand on the theme of Noah’s faithful obedience to God.

Perhaps the most glaring error in the film came near the end. Once the Ark was completed, a small group of people arrives at Noah’s house explaining that they had heard him preach in the city and wanted to join him on the Ark. When the storm begins, Noah’s family and all of the people waiting with him for the promised Flood go into the Ark. After Noah enters the Ark, several men struggle to shut and secure the Ark’s door, whereas the Bible states that God shut them in (Genesis 7:16). Following the Flood, Noah looks across the horizon and sees this group of people who had shared the Ark of safety leaving the area. In other words, the movie flatly contradicts the Bible by having about two dozen or so people on the Ark to survive the Flood.

The Bible does tell us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), but it does not record that anyone responded to his presumed preaching (and even building the Ark was “preaching”) and repented or asked to join him on the Ark. What would have happened if they had? We cannot know for certain. Consider that a person who is saved from their sins is not guaranteed physical safety. In fact, genuine believers are often persecuted and killed for their faith. Yet at other times, God does spare the righteous from physical destruction (2 Peter 2:6–8).

The Bible tells us that though He is just and holy the Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but wishes all to repent and live for eternity with Him (Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9). However, the Bible also tells us that, before God sent the Flood, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Our all-knowing Lord, surely knowing that no one else would be on the Ark, told Noah to build an Ark into which he would take his wife, their sons, and their sons’ wives (Genesis 6:18). Only eight people were on the Ark, which is confirmed in 1 Peter 3:20 and 2 Peter 2:5.

What If? And What About You?

But again, what would have happened if any had repented and asked to be saved, as depicted—erroneously—in the movie? The biblical clues to help us answer that question also help us to understand the love and grace offered to people today by our holy and just Creator God. Noah, like every person in his world and every person today, was a sinner (Romans 3:23). But Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). Would the same mercy have been available to a group of repentant people wishing to be saved? Well, the New Testament assures us that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV). Was the God Noah knew patient? We do not have to guess. The Bible is clear: “God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water” (1 Peter 3:20, ESV).

The real historical Ark of Noah can be seen as a picture of salvation—a picture of the eternal salvation available only through Jesus Christ. The Ark only had one door (Genesis 6:16), reminding us that there is but one way to be saved—one way to receive God’s gift of eternal life. John 14:6 records Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And the Bible also tells us “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5–6). Noah and his family had to go through the Ark’s one door to be saved from the Flood. Similarly, we need to go through the “door” of the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved from our sins.

Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

God certainly knew that only eight people would be on the Ark, but He was nevertheless patient, as He is with us today, “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He demonstrated His patience in raising up Noah as a preacher of righteousness. And all who did not repent were without excuse.

Noah’s faithfulness to preach God’s message even though he must have been very busy preparing the Ark in which he knew his family would be saved (Genesis 6:18) is a reminder that we should be faithful to keep proclaiming God’s message of salvation today in a lost and dying world.

Perhaps the moviemakers were attempting to use Noah’s Ark to depict biblical truths concerning not only judgment for wickedness, including the wickedness of refusing to believe in God, but also grace to those who trust in God. Both of these themes are valid. The Ark has a message of warning and a message of hope even today. But that message must never be tainted by distorting God’s Word.

The Ark is a historical reminder not only of God’s judgment but also of the place where “a few, that is, eight souls, were saved” (1 Peter 3:20) from cataclysmic destruction. Instead of expanding the passenger list to include a number of mythical people who heeded Noah’s preaching before God closed the door, the moviemakers should have allowed the stark truth that of all the people in the world at the time of the global Flood—sinners all (Romans 3:23)—only Noah and his family were mercifully spared by God. The fact that today so few people, comparatively speaking, actually do receive the gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ should motivate all of us to obey the great commission and share the gospel, encouraging people to trust the Bible from the very first verse and the Savior who died for our sins.

Conclusion

UPtv’s Noah’s Ark remains far closer to the biblical text than last year’s blasphemous Noah movie. Rather than slandering Noah and God as Aronofsky’s film did, this latest treatment of Noah shows him as a righteous man who faithfully serves the Lord in the midst of a sinful culture. Yet the film still had its shortcomings when compared to the infallible record given to us in Genesis.

Noah’s Ark may be useful for some families to generate discussions about Noah, the Ark, and the Flood. Viewers should keep a Bible in hand as they watch it so that they can compare everything they see and hear with God’s Word. And we encourage you, if you do choose to watch the movie with family and friends, to point out that the real historical Ark is a reminder of the salvation available only through Jesus Christ as well as a warning of the tragic eternal destruction that awaits all who—like the people who shared Noah’s world—reject God’s grace.

Footnotes

  1. This critique is fitting for the position called “hard atheism” or “strong atheism”—those who confidently state that God does not exist. However, a less dogmatic view is known as “soft atheism” or “weak atheism.” Those in the latter camp admit they don’t have all knowledge, so they acknowledge they hold a belief that God does not exist.
  2. Transcription based on my own viewing of the film.
  3. The biblical text doesn’t strictly rule out the possibility of Noah having other sons and daughters prior to the Flood who had either died or moved away from home before the Flood. Also, this Canaan is not to be confused with Ham’s son, for later Ham and his wife announce they will name their own son Canaan.

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