I wanted to love the movie and I did. It wasn’t only because of the luxurious recliner that I sat in, or more accurately reclined in, but because the movie was beautifully interpretative, psychologically compelling and surprisingly on-target in many of its bold readings of the Chumash.
The critics reviews that resonate most with me are Peter Travers’ review in Rolling Stone, and this review by YU professor Eric Goldman in the Jewish Standard- he has some good inside scoops, and this one in the Atlantic. This one in Slate is also helpful.
As I watched the movie I was transfixed by the conflict between Noach and Tuval-Cain that Aronofsky portrayed as the primary conflict of the film. Noach was concerned about God’s earth and Tuval Cain who was concerned more with man’s progress. This conflict seemed familiar to me and then (I’m embarrassed to say) I surreptitiously checked my emails and noticed this email had just arrived in my inbox sent by Rabbi David Fohrman:
Don’t get me wrong- there are plenty of embellishments and inaccuracies (The love story between Emma Watson and Ham reminded me of the Anne Baxter’s Nefreteri’s love for Moses over Ramses, where were the other daughters in law? and many many more) but I was so excited to see that Aranofsky’s interpretation of the story actually followed the model that Rabbi Fohrman developed in his book! I thought that the creatures that were supposed to be the נפילים looked like a cross between a Transformer and the Iron Giant but nevertheless were an inventive interpretation of a cryptic episode in Chumash. I also loved how I was left unsure of Noach toward the end of the film- I wasn’t sure if I was rooting for him to be killed or not- and to me that was a terrific demonstration of filmmaking embracing the idea of יש דורשין לגנאי ויש דורשין לשבח- i.e. Noach was a complex character who embodied heroic and tragic themes. I also loved his interpretation of ותשחת הארץ- the land was actually soaked in blood. Notwithstanding the super-hero big budget Hollywood action adventure style of the movie, I think there’s a lot to be gained from “learning” the movie.
And now most importantly- I saw the movie with a few students, one of whom is interested in filmmaking. I’m pretty sure that our experience of seeing the film and processing it afterward was an important event in his religious development. I think that seeing creative, thoughtful, artists who search for meaning and depth in their interpretation of of our mesorah and by honoring them we can do a great service to our students. Torah doesn’t have to be limited just to the kids who love Gemara. An artist, an author, a playwright, a filmmaker, a poet should be encouraged to see their medium as a method of drawing closer to God and bringing others along with them.