I saw Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, and I’m confused.

I’m confused by the critical acclaim. I’m confused by the public outcry. An impressive level of effort, a middling result: not brilliant, but not odious.

Some thoughts:

It includes a stunning depiction of the Genesis creation, with text faithful to the Torah.

If it had ended 10 minutes earlier it would have been positively poisonous. It would have suggested that man exists beyond Noah because of Noah’s own weakness, that it was the Creator’s intent that we be destroyed. In sum: that God hates man, sees man not as the image of Himself but as an aborted curiosity. When this line of thinking arose midway through the film, I did hold-out hope they wouldn’t leave it there (and they didn’t). But a big part of me suspected they would, as a throw-in with extreme environmentalism—you know, the kind that sees mankind as a blight and prays for its destruction. (I consider myself an environmentalist. But I’m not allowed in the clubhouse because I’m motivated by longevity of the human race and not by self-loathing.)

But it ends strong. There were shades of Abraham and Isaac, but it didn’t go there, not really. Instead, it portrayed Noah as an avatar of agency, much as Adam was in the Garden. Adam chose to leave the Garden, and “by the sweat of [his] brow eat [his] food until [he] returns to the ground.” Noah chose to remain that way. It’s an unorthodox portrayal, but not an offensive one—Adam set a strong precedent, and both Judaism and Christianity generally embrace the idea of ritual as physical ratification of spiritual choice. And of course, Christianity is built around the idea of avatars: Adam, Abraham, Noah, but most of all Christ himself.

And this was not a film that tries to explain historical texts from a secularist’s perspective. This was not about Noah as folk hero, the flood as a localized phenomenon, and “seven pairs of every kind of clean animal” as the modest contents of his own barn. It was, above all, a story about miracles. About the extraordinary designs of an omniscient creator. (And yes, about the difficulties of divine inspiration.)

The fallen-angels-as-cool-rock-monsters was an odd choice. One might argue that it (intentionally?) pushes the story into the realm of fantasy. But the Noah story needs no embellishment to be highly implausible—which is why it’s often the first casualty in a non-literalist’s reading of the Bible. The rock monsters and the “sleep smoke” (magical smoke that causes all the animals to hibernate unnaturally) both strike me as an attempt to explain inexplicable events. But they raise more problems than they solve.

There were other oddities. The ability of primitive man to destroy the earth. A nine-month sojourn instead of forty days. A thirty-minute birthing of twins. One pair of each animal and not seven. Making buckets of wine in a fortnight.

But I did like Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of Methuselah. Good craft on display all around, really.

Even a Biblical literalist knows very little of extraordinary stories like Noah and his ark. There is so much left unsaid. There is ample room for creative interpretation. Watching Noah, I did not feel the filmmakers were being disrespectful. I appreciate efforts that try to tell stories in a historical context, stripping away contemporary fashions and sensibilities (unlike, say, Hell on Wheels and Manh(a)ttan which oh-so-practively try to rewrite well-documented history.)

Keeping these stories in the public consciousness can’t help but benefit Christendom. I suspect the filmmakers were confused by the outcry. But maybe the outcry explains the critical appeal, eh?