Noah: The controversy is expected, but the scale of the controversy surprises me
As implied in my last post, I am finally adding to the cacophonous hysteria about Noah.
I liked it. Let me tell you why.
I felt well-enough informed after reading Phil Cooke’s piece on the film, knowing how solid he is on all the related issues, and because he had actually seen it. I trust him and his opinion on most things. So I had nothing to fear, and I wanted to be clued in on discussions.
As a film, this is a huge one. Heavily researched, long-developed, stellar cast who delivered on their performances (most of them anyway, in my opinion), amazing visuals, great music. Industrial Light and Magic said it was the most complicated rendering they’ve ever done. It did have a bizarre twist with the fallen angel mutant rock biter guys, but that didn’t bother me too much and I will explain why. Also, it certainly added a lot of material to the original story and used lots of artistic liberties, but I don’t think that’s bad when it’s established that it’s an artistic exploration and extrapolation from a story–never intended to be a re-writing of it. It’s especially not bad when it is clearly a movie not touting itself as a literal, primary account. It’s Hollywood. It’s art. It’s a movie to entertain and eat popcorn and Raisinets to.
To really appreciate this film, it’s important to really weigh the significance and reality of the true story of Noah, which I don’t hear religious folk do very often. Consider these facts:
- Noah is a very brief story in scripture, but with enormous consequences for theological and religious doctrine and history.
- Based on Genesis, Noah lived in the days before Moses and even Abraham. So he had no law canonized, no scripture to go off of, no recorded prophecies as we know them now, trust for God but very little notion (if any) of a coming Messiah, no special revelation of the future after the Flood, and no therapist to help him deal with the devastation of watching the world wash away. I can only imagine the fear and loneliness he personally came up against at least some times.
- Seriously, can we grasp the weight of the devastation Noah probably felt? We know Noah was chosen because he did what God asked him to, but we don’t know a lot about his personality. The writer/director, Darren Aronofsky, said he had always been interested in Noah as “a dark, complicated character who experiences real survivor’s guilt.” That’s giving some charity to Noah and his family. I don’t think I have ever heard another person talk about this real aspect of Noah’s wellbeing. Any average human is traumatized by watching someone die, even if that human is not responsible for the death. Imagine watching the whole world you know perish…
Think about a couple of conventional portrayals of Noah and his ark…
I’m not suggesting we crusade against such cuteness. But I dare us to look at an image or two that are at least slightly more realistic…
- We Christians have happy songs about Noah and decorate nursery walls with the ark and rainbows and animals two-by-two. I wonder if these sentiments are mostly what is under threat when we get offended by this film. To be sure, there is a hopeful redemption story with Noah, and his story is part of the bigger picture of God redeeming the world ultimately through his ark in the flesh, Jesus Christ. But that was thousands of years after Noah, and we can’t use the lens of hindsight from an additional two thousand years later to understand what was happening through and in Noah’s experience. We also can’t dispense with the unprecedented catastrophe of people being judged on the largest scale yet seen in human history. Even if it was “justified” to God, loss of life is loss. Tragic no matter what. We can’t and shouldn’t separate this fact from the original story.
- This movie is very dark and violent, and I think that lends itself to historical accuracy. Yet I don’t think the film comes even CLOSE to capturing what it must have been like in the days of Noah. We have all seen some truly awful things in history. Whatever the human race was collectively doing at that stage of the world, it must have been pretty awful for God to actually feel regret for creating Man and decide to start over.
Positive effects of Noah as a film
1. No matter how you look at it, people are going to the Bible to really look at the primary account of Noah. This movie does its job of entertaining but also getting people to be interested in the primary story and the characters in it. It also gets people to think and talk about the impact the story has in our culture and human history.
And what a human impact indeed. The amount of iterations in different human cultures and presence of this story throughout the world is staggering. ICR.org and TalkOrigins.org discuss these accounts (and TalkOrigins actually lists them.) I think it’s only natural to see that it implies either some degree of truth to it, or at least that it has a profound significance on our identity.
2. Speaking of Creation and Origins, I have spent some time over the years researching creationist topics and theories, including the ark. One theory is the existence of the firmament or water canopy in the earth’s atmosphere coming down, and the film actually depicted something much like this in the breakout of the flood. The waters above joining the water below. This theoretically could explain the Precambrian explosion, why organisms were so much larger in the past, why people lived longer according to the Bible, the fossil record, and many other things.
While I have evolved [no pun intended] in my positions on these topics, I have always made the effort to go where the data and the inferences to the best explanations lead. There is some evidence and rationality to the whole Noah story. I realize that saying something like that in my culture today can make a lot of people automatically view me as a fundamentalist backwoods moonshining fascist, but that’s ok. Once we get to talking that usually subsides. The fact that this movie is approachable to a lot of different audiences and persuasions makes it an ally to people like me, who believe in Noah but also accept that there are huge limits to my knowledge. So much of the story was left out of the text, and it’s ok to dream and ponder on the things that aren’t there as long as you don’t build doctrine on that.
The creators of the movie Noah did do at least some homework on this one.
3. Hollywood will still make movies that interact with Scripture. To be consistent, those who say Hollywood shouldn’t make films that are biblically themed unless they maintain exclusive adherence to the text are going to have to throw out a lot of heavily favored movies like Passion of the Christ, The Ten Commandments, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Charlie Brown Christmas, and lots of other films that have been praised for depicting Scripture to variable extent.
Some have criticized the film because the creator of it is publicly an atheist or agnostic. Similarly they criticized the environmentalism spin. My response?: that doesn’t really matter much. The power of the story of Noah is in the power of the story, not the person telling it. And the environmentalist/vegetarian emphasis, while heavy-handed and popular in Hollywood, is not entirely absent from the original account either. Genesis clearly teaches that mankind was supposed to be stewards and caretakers of the earth and of each other, not supposed to crush it and eat it and crap it out. The Fall of Man ushered in all kinds of violence and upset in the original order. Natural order, the creation, has always been used to give testimony to its Creator and to reflect supernatural truth.
Parallel this with Jesus Christ. People have abused the name of Jesus for thousands of years, but He still transforms people for the better because there is power in His Name. While he has been mislabeled and misrepresented, His teaching endures. That invokes and enables people to come to know more about Him and discover the Truth. Even those who don’t believe in Him but respect Him as a teacher or agent of peace have used His influence to effect positive change. The rise of hospitals, schools, and even science have largely resulted from the efforts of Christians and other religious groups throughout history. These are good things, on the way to coming to know the Author of everything good.
Wait, so what about those rock-biter angel watcher thingys?
Oh, yeah. I wanted to mention them further because as I was watching the film that was probably my biggest “say whaaaat?” moment. Mashable has a decent little piece on them as film elements and the fact that they aren’t completely contrived. As I said, they didn’t bother me too much because they are simply an artistic vehicle and interpretation on some biblical creatures that are fascinating but not explained. In Scripture, there are plenty of things that are mentioned but not fleshed out much like the Nephilim, Leviathan, Behemoth, and other things. It’s interesting to let our imaginations go on these creatures, but in the end we have to accept that we don’t need to know everything. Some things we have to wait for them to possibly be revealed some day. (Archaeology tends to find more evidence to corroborate Biblical history of people groups and cities that have long disappeared.)
Why go see it?
As long as you go with an open mind, you like fantasy (if you hated, say, Labyrinth or Neverending Story, you will probably hate Noah) and historical fiction, and your’re not afraid to encounter the dark and light sides of humanity, I think you will glean something from this film. It is entertaining and I believe it is art worth supporting. The fact that it is engaging the world at large in such a profoundly important Biblical event is a good thing overall.