Dissecting Noah: The Graphic Novel vs. The Film

Dissecting Noah Header
Like The Fountain before it, Darren Aronofsky created a graphic novel adaptation of Noah that was released before the film, and in Noah’s case the book’s narrative actually works better.

Check out my full review of Noah.

***Spoiler Throughout***

I enjoyed Aronofsky’s filmed version of Noah, but the complaints I had about it are remedied in the graphic novel. That isn’t to say there aren’t improvements from the graphic novel to the film, but I think the story structure could have been helped greatly if he would have stayed on track with his original vision.

One thing that immediately stands out as an improved decision from the novel to the film is the reimagination of the Watchers. Their origin and redemption remain the same, but in the novel they are simply six armed giants with a vaguely eastern religion influence. The rock version of the Watchers in the film is one of my favorite elements of the picture and the execution of the design and animation really stands out and sets the story apart from the biblical version. The energy essence of the Watchers is implied to be same essence that men use to make fire which brings up an interesting corollary as we use our past to fuel the future. The biggest improvement of the Watchers over the novel is their big battle moment that just can’t be told as well on the page. The fight on film is one of the picture’s most iconic moments and I am glad it was these weird rock creatures that were carrying out the fight over the six armed giants of the novel.

My biggest issues with the film comes from a labored final section of the film on the Ark that drags everything out and tries to wrap it all up in one thrilling conclusion. It also pushes or patience on the believability of the story by having Tubal-Cain remain on the ship, for so long, undetected. The film saves the inevitable confrontation between Tubal and Noah till the same climactic moment of Ila’s birthing of the twins, the novel plays out the two’s confrontation before Ila’s pregnancy is even revealed. Focusing the tension around Ham and Tubal avoiding detection and getting to the fight earlier would have given the slowest part of the film a bit more life, allowing the viewer to give over all of our attention to the family drama that follows. The presence of Tubal would also help support Noah’s descent into madness as the evil of men is seemingly never going to stop threatening The Creator’s plan. Tubal’s presence revealed earlier would have given the film some momentum and characters’ motivations, maybe even allowing some depth to the family to question whether they really should go against Noah or not.

Of course, the reason that they save Tubal’s reveal till the end of the film isn’t just because of a perceived sense of tension, but because his death is supposed to be an act of justice at the hands of Noah; as Tubal killed Noah’s father in the film’s opening. This bit of backstory isn’t in the novel, and the film’s failure to build much of any drama out of the connection makes you wonder why even include it. There is the bit with the snake skin from the Garden of Eden which is kind of cool, but I would have traded that for my perceived reasoning (father’s vengeance) as to why they pushed their big fight till the Ark’s conclusion.

The book even has a clever alternative call back for Tubal that inspired the snake skin, as he wears a horn of a young beast that Noah and his sons save early in the book. An equivalent beast dies in the film in the correlating scene where they encounter men, but in the book it is saved, but ultimately killed when their camp is overrun by men. They find the young beast slaughtered without its horn and it is implied that this is the same one Tubal wears. This thread also gives Ham a nice bit of redemption as Tubal tempts him with meat and the idea of men holds dominion over the beasts and Ham uses the fallen necklace to stab Tubal in the back as he stands over Noah hanging for his life off the edge of the ark. Ham also has better motivations for helping Tubal in the book as Tubal assisted in saving Ham’s future wife and getting her out of his city. The sequence in the movie where Noah leaves her behind is better executed than the book (one of the movies most powerful moments), but we have to make a lot of the connections for believing Ham would help Tubal in the film. Everything with Tubal plays better in the book and it also reinforces an anti-poaching/hunting message that the film doesn’t allude to.

Also playing out better in the book is Noah’s internal conflict over the decisions he has to make regarding his family. The book takes moments to show Noah hoping that Ila’s daughters are sons, he doesn’t want to kill his grandchildren. In the film, Noah comes across as a lot more one note and set on stopping the human race at any cost. The destruction of Shem and Nala’s boat is told slightly differently as well and I think the book’s version strengthens Noah’s conflict and paints him as less of a crazy person. The film has Noah, crazily, setting fire to the boat and destroying it, the book sees Shem lowering the boat into the water and a giant sea creature come up and destroy it. Not only would have this been a cool moment to add some life to the back third of the film, but it would have had both the viewer and Noah wonder if this was The Creator’s doing, signaling them to stay on the boat. From there, you could even debate whether the Creator was saying that it was too soon for Ila and Shem to leave or that the Creator was trying to keep them there for Noah’s hand. It would have added a lot of complexity to the drama surrounding the family, but Aronofsky mentioned that they ran out of money in response to a question about sea creatures, so maybe that was the case?

Japeth is mostly a non-factor in the film, but in the book he is given a bit more to do as he gets involved in Tubal’s plot and is clearly in charge of sending the birds out to look for land. The novel finds a way to connect him with Ila as well and that was one of my favorite moments of either iteration of this story. At two plus hours you would think they could have given Japeth something more to do. Maybe the child actor they got sucked or something, I don’t know, but Aronofsky’s original plan was a better version of the character than the one that ends up on screen.

Another cool, but probably cut for cost, moment in the novel is the scene where the twins are taken, Noah uses the animals to assist him in overtaking his family. The thematic relevance of this isn’t that deep, he has clearly turned against his family, but the visuals of all the animals over taking his family so Noah can kill the twin girls would have been some amazing imagery. Still, I think the scene is still quite effective in the film and I loved that both versions of the story utilized Noah’s lullaby as the thing that brings him back to his family.

Noah’s revelation that he and his family have the same evil as everyone else inside them is more interesting in the film, as the sequence where Noah visits Tubal-Cain’s camp at night is one of the picture’s high points. The imagery is unsettling and it shows humanity at its worst, reminding us that we aren’t all that different today than the way men are depicted in the film. The book elicits this reaction in Noah after Japeth accidently kills a lizard, dooming it to extinction, and while I would have loved to see that moment in the film as well, the trade off is worth it in the film. That visit in the night to the camp is one of the most haunting elements of the film.

Noah is a borderline great film and when I picked up the book I was disappointed to see that Aronofsky might have had the formula to make it great at one point. We don’t know why he made the changes, but it is still an interesting look at the evolution of the story from novel to film. They are essentially the same story, but I am a little shocked that the graphic novel was the version that was able to capture a bit more nuance.

2 thoughts on “Dissecting Noah: The Graphic Novel vs. The Film

  1. In the script I read, Nael (Ham’s Girl) makes it to the Ark, but Noah throws her off to her death and then threatens to do the same to Ham. Is that in the Graphic Novel? That would have given Ham a better reason to help Tubal, but it would have enraged Christians even more.

    1. If I remember correctly, Kahn saves Ham’s lady, then Noah just doesn’t let her on the boat in the book. So it uses that bond to fuel their team up, but that boat toss would have been something.

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