Lots of Christians have their panties all in a bunch about the new Noah movie. It’s not accurate. It’s not Biblical. It takes liberties. It was made by an atheist. Blah, blah, blah. Of course, all this before the movie had even been released.
Just once I would like to hear a Christian argue that the problem with movies like Noah is that we shouldn’t be making (or watching) them at all. At least not about the Bible. The 2nd commandment tells us “thou shalt make NO images of ANYTHING….” I might be able to get behind a critique like that. Instead, we get distracted by the fact that Jesus isn’t Semitic enough, or something equally banal.
Images can’t do what words can do. The medium matters. So why should we be surprised when a movie about the Bible (a book) isn’t captured well in a movie (an image)? What’s more, it’s not like Bible gives us much about Noah in the first place. 5 chapters that read in about 10 minutes. The movie was a long 2:20. Movies are never faithful to books — they can’t be. The only thing a movie is sure to do to a book is to turn it into a show — to turn it into something we consume for amusement. But I won’t mention that. Ahem.
I was actually surprised at how faithful the movie was to the text. Aronofsky may be an atheist, but you’d never know by watching his movie. God is active, God is involved, and God is supernatural. There is no attempt to explain away the miraculous with natural causes. God’s voice is “still small” — Noah has to work hard to discern the fullness of God’s message, but there is never any doubt whether or not there is a God. Even the rainbow is an atypical, pulsing, message from Heaven.
Some of the liberties taken are jarring at first, but not unreasonable. I thought Aronofsky might be doing a contemporary interpretation of the text — the civilization is moderately industrialized and the technology and fashions look a bit modern. But who says Noah’s contemporaries were Bedouin goat herders in sandals and robes? Just because the people were wicked doesn’t mean they hadn’t figured out mining and metallurgy. Likewise, Noah is assisted and protected by “Watchers,” strange angelic beings cursed by God and confined to earth in bizarre (quite frankly, dorky) stone exoskeletons. But Genesis does give an account of the Nephilim — “Sons of God” who mix their divinity with humanity, and while scripture doesn’t say that they helped Noah, it doesn’t say they didn’t. So I might not run out and erect a holy shrine to “the Watchers,” but I don’t think the earth will crash into the sun for the speculation.
I found some of the speculation, however, quite compelling. Noah doesn’t know if God wants to spare humans. He wonders if he and his family are cursed too, only useful to God to help the animals into the next world. Is there any good in humans? It makes sense to ask this question in the context of divine destruction. The wives of Noah’s sons are also not what you would expect. All three enter the ark, though perhaps not in the intuitive form. Without spoiling too much, the movie provides a rationale for Noah’s drunken behavior and a deeper justification of the animosity between Noah and his son Ham.
There are things that drive me bats about the movie. The film operates under the assumption that the great sin of humankind is that they have despoiled the environment. Hollywood knows no sin other than corporate greed and so the bad guys are meat-eating industrialists who have raped the planet and the good guys are vegetarian environmentalists. Look, Christians are commanded to care for the environment. God orders us to tend the garden, but the preachy tone of the movie just jerks us back to “typical Hollywood moralizing.” The scripture doesn’t really say much about what humans were doing to merit God’s wrath (“corruption” and “violence”), but it’s safe to say that it involved more than cutting down too many trees. (To be fair, some of the meat they were eating was human — cannibalism might be it’s own distinct, and flood-worthy sin.) The “Watchers” animation is pretty pitiful, too. Are they Transformers? Are they Foxsports football robots? They look like a less scary version of the comedic “Galaxy Quest” stone monster. It was hard to take these clumps of rock too seriously. The movie was also unnecessarily long. Slow and long.
My father-in-law once gave a sermon about Noah’s wife. He speculated a bit — wondered what it must have been like to be married to this boat building zookeeper. Some in his congregation were upset because the Bible doesn’t really say much about Noah’s wife. Aronofsky speculates, too — gives her a name and a personality. But the point of the story of Noah’s Ark isn’t locked up in the details and “facts.” Noah’s Ark is, as Prof Thompson told us back in college, “a Truth story.” It might not even really matter if it’s “a true story.” The point of Noah is that God is merciful, but he won’t tolerate sin.
I don’t go to the movies much, so feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I’d give it a low “B.” I wouldn’t rush out to the theater, but it’s worth seeing.
p.s. There is a visual montage of Biblical creation in the movie that is framed by everything we know about evolutionary science. The darkness is interrupted by one point of light that explodes into infinite light, and galaxies, and forming planets, and the miraculous evolutionary biology that leads, eventually, to the Garden of Eden. It’s not a godless scientific process, but a beautiful unfolding of God’s creative wonder. Aronofsky makes a beautiful case for theistic evolution.