Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Why We Need More Films Like Noah

noah

Ever since Noah was released last Friday there has been a flood of blog posts related to the film. Some posts have accused the film of being an anti-Christian environmental diatribe, while others have praised it as a great work of art. I was hesitant to weigh into the vast ocean of works already written on this subject. There have been some thoughtful and engaging reviews, blog posts, and articles written that I will share at the end of this post. Before I do that I will share a few of my thoughts and try to clear up a few misconceptions that are floating around the internet.

A Few Misonceptions

I was literally sick to my stomach as I read some reviews that attacked Darren Aronofsky, the director of the film, for being an atheist. The truth is that Aronofsky is not an atheist. He describes himself as a believer, although I am not sure he would identify with Christianity or Judaism. He also knows the Bible very well and sought to make a movie that was faithful to the text. Aronofsky probably understands the Bible differently than many Christians, but he was never trying to contradict it or make fun of it. When asked about the Biblical story of Noah and making a film based on this text he said,

It’s just important that you don’t contradict any of it and that you study each word, and study each sentence, and try to use and extract as much juice out of that to be inspired to turn it into a vision that represents the spirit of it all. That’s the goal.

Although the name of God is not mentioned in the film, God is referenced throughout. This was not an attempt to try and remove God from the film. If anything it is more accurate than using the name of God which was not given until the book of Exodus. Most often God is referred to as the Creator which is a Biblically accurate description of God. Some have complained because God does not openly reveal himself to humanity. God speaks to Noah, but only through dreams. We must remember that God reveals himself in different ways. God openly spoke to patriarchs and prophets. God reveals himself through his holy word and through creation. In between the Old and New Testament there were 400 silent years where God did not speak at all. There tend to be dry spells where God does not speak to people in the Bible when they are rebellious towards him. I did not have a problem with God not revealing himself openly towards humanity when most of humanity was rebellious and not willing to listen. It was clear in the film that they knew who God was, but they just didn’t care.

Some have accused Noah of being environmentalist propaganda. It is true that Noah focuses on creation and humanity’s responsibility toward it, but this is Biblical. God cares for his creation and he wants us to care for it also. In Romans 8:18-25 Paul talks about creation yearning to be set free from its bondage to decay. In this passage creation is spoken of first and humans are spoken of second (vs. 23). This shows that there is a distinction between humanity and creation and Paul is not lumping humanity into creation. God cares about creation. Creation has been affected by sin (Gen 3:17-18). Creation yearns to be set free. God cared so much about creation that he established laws that required the Israelites to give the land rest (Lev. 25:1-7). Aronofsky sees this as part of the Genesis story and he incorporates it into the film. In a recent interview he said the following,

For me, there’s a big discussion about dominion and stewardship. There’s this contradiction [between the two], some would say, in the Bible, but it doesn’t have to be a contradiction. It can work together. The thing is, we have clearly taken dominion over the planet. We’ve fulfilled that. But have we been good stewards?

I believe Aronofsky’s question is reasonable. God has made us stewards of creation. We should ask ourselves, “Have we been good stewards?” Instead of criticizing Aronofsky, we should applaud him for drawing our attention back to an important Biblical principle (stewardship).

My Thoughts on the Film

Film and the written word are two different mediums. A 100 percent accurate depiction of the Biblical story would be impossible. There are certain things we do not know. There are stories, like the story of Noah, that are brief and do not provide many details. We do not always know the tone of the statements we find in Scripture. Was the person sad or happy when they said what they said? Each film that is made based on the Bible has more in common with a commentary than a translation. We should not expect any film based on Scripture to be completely accurate, just as we do not expect historical dramas to be completely accurate. Film is not Scripture, and we should not expect it to be. Hopefully, films that are based on the Bible will encourage people to open their Bibles and read the stories themselves. Aronofsky understands this. He was asked if he was making a documentary type film and he replied,

It’s impossible to understand what these times are because there are four chapters in the Bible. It’s just important that you don’t contradict any of it and that you study each word, and study each sentence, and try to use and extract as much juice out of that to be inspired to turn it into a vision that represents the spirit of it all. That’s the goal.

Now we can argue whether or not Aronofsky did contradict anything in the text, but his goal was to try to be faithful to “the spirit of it all.” As I watched the film I was amazed by how faithful it was at times. I do not think it varied much more from the text than most popular films depicting Jesus, considering that there is not much text surrounding the story of Noah and the flood. I think most people have more of a problem with where Aronofsky fills in the gaps and perhaps with some of his interpretations. We bring our own ideas to the text and when someone like Aronofsky contradicts these ideas we get upset, even though our ideas might be just as foreign to Scripture as Aronofsky’s.

One of the big complaints I have heard about is with his interpretation of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Gen. 6:4)

The truth is no one knows how to interpret this verse. I do not think it refers to rock monsters, but I am not going to knock Aronofsky for trying.

There are many more things I could say about the film, but the most important thing about it are the two main themes that Aronofsky focuses on and that is justice and mercy. Does Aronofsky take some liberties that are not in the text? Yes he does. Do I fault him for this? No, because he does this to focus on the themes of justice and mercy. He does not do it to make people mad or poke fun at Christians. He is very interested in the Bible and this story in particular. He is interested in how God and Noah grieved over humanity and its destruction (Gen. 6:6). The story of Noah and the flood is not a children’s story, and Aronofsky’s version may be more accurate than some versions of the story that get told in Sunday school. It is the story of the destruction of the human race. It is the story of sin. This is a sad and tragic story and we rarely take time to consider this aspect of it, but thankfully Aronofsky has. He wants us to understand the tragedy of sin. He wants us to wrestle with the guilt and sorrow Noah must have felt. He wants us to contemplate justice and mercy and how a perfect and holy God balances the two. In a recent interview he said,

If you are too just with a child you destroy them with strictness. If you’re too merciful you can spoil them. Finding that balance is what makes you a good parent. So that was an interesting character arc for us to see.

Although Noah is not a perfect film, it is a good film and we need more films like it. I don’t know of any other film that takes sin as seriously as this film. I don’t know of any other film where the film is an entire meditation on justice and mercy. Noah might get a few of the details wrong, but it asks us to focus and dwell on Biblical principles and we should be thankful for this. It is a film that asks us to think deeply about important themes within Scripture and I don’t know of many films that do this as well as Noah.

Further Reading

The ‘Terror’ of Noah: How Darren Aronofsky Interprets the Bible – All the quotes from Darren Aronofsky were taken from his recent interview in The Atlantic.

Noah’s Co-Writer Explains the Film’s Controversial Theology – Some great insight into the film from the person who helped write the script.

Will Evangelicals Miss the Boat on Paramount’s Noah – Jonathan Merritt does a great job of addressing some of the controversy surrounding the film.

Noah – Alissa Wilkinson has written one of the best reviews of the film.

Noah the Movie, Part II – You don’t have to like the movie to give it a good review. John Mark Hicks did not care for the film, but he does a great job of engaging the film and understanding what it was trying to do.

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah – Another good review.

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