Should a Latter Day Saint See Noah?

By: Guest
March 30, 2014

This guest post comes from Morgan Deane.  He blogs at Warfare and the Book of Mormon as well as The Arsenal of Venice.

I just got out of the movie Noah, and it certainly left a great deal on my mind. With some Christians having issues with the movie I thought it would be wise to offer my opinions of whether a Latter Day Saint should see Noah. There are some things you should know going into the movie that will help your decision. (Please note, there are major spoilers throughout this article.)

Know the Old Testament:

There are many things in this movie that would shock an average Christian but shouldn’t because they are straight from the Old Testament. For example, Noah gets drunk off his rocker and ends up naked. That isn’t a Hollywood embellishment, though there are plenty of those, but something that comes from the Bible. People like Tubal Cain become very important as well. It is only after the movie that I searched and realized he was a descendent of Cain (the one who killed Abel) and Tubal Cain is considered one who “spices the craft” of Cain. Hugh Nibley discussed Jewish records about stones that lit the ark.  And the snake skin within the story that represents Noah’s power and priesthood, is also from the awkward story involving a drunken and naked Noah.  So what might seem like some weird and artsy Hollywood creation is actually deep and potent symbolism that many Latter Day Saints should recognize and appreciate.

Know Hollywood:

Though there are some artistic licenses taken. These range from how the story is centered, such as cold opening of the creation; to changing the myths above, such as Ham being denied a wife when the story lists each son having a wife; to the incredible cinematography of Noah’s visit to the refugee camp. Noah’s wife suggests that Noah seek out wives for her other children (Japeth already having one in Emma Watson’s character.) This has echoes of Nephi’s journey to Jerusalem to find wives for the sons of Lehi. So even the Hollywood adaptions have a meaningful and truthful ring to them. While in the camp, Noah witnesses the abduction of two women. They are dragged to a fortified center of the camp, and thrown through the gates in exchange for food. A live lamb(?) is then thrown to the crowd, ripped apart while still alive and screaming, and devoured by the people like animals. It actually reminded me of a feeding frenzy of zombies from the Walking Dead.

Noah witnesses this with tears in his eyes, and the camera pans out to examine the chaos and multiple burning fires of the camp. This is coupled with Noah’s earlier comments that fire destroys, but water cleanses and renews. One almost gets the feeling that this is what Hollywood could also do with the lament of Mormon as he writes about the depravity of his raping and cannibalistic people.

On that note, the third act of this movie was very difficult to watch. After seeing the depravity in their camp Noah decides that the human race deserves dies with the individuals on the boat. He allows Ham’s love interest to get trampled to death by a mob attempting to storm the ark. And after a Lord of the Rings type battle between fallen angles (that act like Ents) and those trying to storm the ark, Noah decides to kill the offspring of Japeth and his wife. Thus the third act largely deals with Noah who seems increasingly unhinged as he fortifies himself to complete the task of his Creator to cleanse the earth. (The director is the same who filmed Black Swan, and that artist’s descent into madness, so he seems good at it.)  When his wife tries to convince him that this is unjust, we get a long speech and debate about justice, which leads to the final point.

Know the Gospel:

A common teaching of the church is that mercy cannot rob justice, but the Atonement of Christ pays for justice and allows him to provide mercy. So when Noah is chasing down his daughter in law and raises his knife to slaughter his infants, he lowers the knife, then his head, and kisses their foreheads. (She had twins.) When asked later why he couldn’t finish the task, he said that when he looked at them, all he had in his heart was love. So while he still decided the human race justly deserved to die, he had too much mercy to do it. One can easily insert the idea of a God who weeps at his own justice.

The movie isn’t as clear cut as the famous Moses movie we all grew up with. Decisions are difficult. Noah didn’t always know the best answer in a given situation, but had to make the choice as best as he could. Revelation is hard earned, and not always the easiest to discern. One of the common themes of the movie is that it seems as though God abandoned his creations, and since man must earn by the sweat of his brow, he will be damned if he doesn’t take everything he can in life. (Everything past “sweat of his brow” comes from the villain. I love how most of his speeches employed scripture but with a slight mingling of his own self serving philosophy.)

Even if you do get an answer sometimes it’s excruciatingly difficult to follow them. Noah felt like a failure for watching the whole earth die because of their sin, and then allowing mankind to repopulate the Earth so it can happen all over again. We don’t always understand God. We are angry at him for what we have to do, and for the long silence we sometimes get. One of the most impactful scenes came when the villain Tubal Cain looks up at the rain and talks to God. “I am made in your image, why don’t you talk to me?” After no answer he shouts at the sky, literally raises his fit to the sky, and with rain in his face rallies his soldiers to defy the God that abandoned them and make their own fate by seizing the ark.

But after what seems like years of silence and anger at God for his seeming abandonment, we can get answers. At the end of the film, Noah realizes that maybe what they’ve learned is that human kind has a second chance. Over a montage of protective and motherly animals, Noah is told that maybe he can help the human race be more kind this time. He shares a loving moment and reconnects with his estranged wife, puts on the snake skin/garment representing his priesthood power, and blesses his twin daughters at an alter to be fruitful and replenish the Earth. The screen fades to a rainbow,(which, Latter Day Saints should realize is a sign of God’s promise to spare the people until his Son comes again) and the movie ends.

Noah was an imperfect person, he seemed to come unhinged, and much of his family resented or outright hated him by the end of the movie. But life is difficult, and answers are hard to receive and even harder to carry out. We face conflict within our families, and we do our best to follow God in our imperfect ways in a very imperfect world. So the movie might be tough, and it might seem difficult to see a moral to the story; but it shares the same features of a mature faith, earned through years of thought and effort to understand and apply gospel principles in a horrible world filled with so much doubt, pain, sorrow and death. In that sense, the movie is an amazing look at faith, justice, and mercy.


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5 Responses to Should a Latter Day Saint See Noah?

  1. Andrew S. on March 30, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    I believe Emma Watson’s character was the wife of Shem, not Japheth.

    In general, I feel kinda weird about the question the title of this article asks. “Should a LDS see Noah” shouldn’t be that different from asking whether anyone should see the movie… If the movie is artistically meritable, people should see it. The title gives me the sense that the author believes that if Noah had too many theological quibbles, then he might have suggested LDS folks shouldn’t watch out, regardless of any other merits.

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  2. Morgan D. on March 30, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    Yes, I noticed several typos that didn’t get corrected before this posted. I exchanged Shem for Japeth two times. I apologize. I do my best but a few always manage to sneak into the publication.

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  3. hawkgrrrl on March 30, 2014 at 7:29 PM

    I tend to agree with Andrew S that an LDS person should see any movie that has merit, regardless its theological content. I couldn’t sit through the trailer without bursting into laughter, so I haven’t been racing out to go see it. Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins are absolutely chewing on the scenery in that trailer.

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  4. Nate on March 31, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    I haven’t seen the film, but I think its creation is extremely positive. The filmakers obviously treat the story as myth, but they seem to find great value in that myth.

    Up to this point, our cultural and religious discussions of Noah up to this point have always focused on the historicity of the story: flood local or global? But I’ve never heard anyone, including anyone in the church that was able to provide anything more insightful about the story than the idea that maybe God “wept” because he was sorry that people weren’t obeying him, and he had to destroy them. And Joseph Smith thought Noah was Gabriel. But other than that, the story has always been pretty meaningless.

    But this movie seems like it will challenge my previous assumptions about the story.

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  5. Andrew S on April 1, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    re 4


    Since you mentioned weeping…have you not read the Givens’ “The God Who Weeps.” It asserts that Mormons have reason to believe that God didn’t weep because “he was sorry that people weren’t obeying him.” Rather, God weeps because of the self-destruction that people cause, the unhappiness and suffering they experience, because of their sin. It’s not obedience for obedience’s sake — but a more pragmatic, results-oriented view.

    I think that Noah actually captures this, somewhat (especially with the creation sequence and the sequence of man’s violence.)

    It doesn’t exactly hold up when I think about it deeply — after all, humans are not the first to commit violence against one another. (The story kinda ignores that the animal kingdom, believe it or not, is also pretty ruthless and violent.)

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