Another common criticism that is brought against Aronofsky’s Noah is his inclusion of “rock monsters.” While this is a clear step away from the Holy Scriptures’ telling of the story it is a legitimate use of artistic license (one that I think was well done) that does have a basis in the Judeo-Christian tradition. These “rock monsters” are Aronofsky’s reinterpretation of the Nephilim.
So who are the Nephilim? They are first mentioned in Gen 6:4, the word being translated as giants. While this translation is not necessarily incorrect, a better translation may be “the fallen.” There is definitely some obscurity to the text. First, there is the problem of how best to understand the word itself, and then there is also the problem of determining who the Nephilim actually are. Many (most?) interpreters take the Nephilim to be the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of man (Gen 6:1-4). In this interpretation the sons of God would be the descendants of Seth and the daughters of man would be the descendants of Cain. However, some read Nephilim to refer to the sons of God rather than their offspring. In this case, the Nephilim would most likely be a form of fallen angels. Aronofsky seems to merge these two interpretations into one.
Traditions which look to the Nephilim as fallen angels also look to them as damned. In 1 Enoch the Nephilim are imprisoned in hell and their offspring with the daughters of men are wiped out in the Flood. Aronofsky, however, does not look to the Nephilim as damned nor as the cause of the extreme corruption and degradation of mankind. Rather, they are depicted as benevolent beings who came to help mankind in his distress. They are the originators of man’s technological learning and subsequent advancement, only to later be turned upon by those they had helped. For their “sin” of descending upon the earth they are apparently abandoned by the Creator to Whom they are still faithful, must suffer witnessing the destruction of creation through the tools they gave to man, as well as suffer death. They are redeemed through their faithfulness and assistance to Noah at the cost of their own lives. We find in this presentation a mirror for ourselves and, while it is not by any means an exact parallel, there are some similarities between the Nephilim and Tolkien’s valar and elves. Aronofsky here gives a lot of material to chew on philosophically and theologically.
To those who criticize the movie because of the Nephilim (in the movie they are called “the Watchers”), I have one fundamental question: what really is your problem? We are dealing with an obscure mythic text of Scripture and the Nephilim are a mythic representation of who knows what. Their presence and action in the movie in no way contradicts the essence of the Noah story. So besides finding them odd looking, what really is the problem?