My wife and I saw Noah the Movie last night. This film has stirred up quite the controversy and I knew that my simple Facebook status update, “Seeing Noah…” would raise questions in people’s minds. While I do not have the time or inclination to do an in-depth review and critique of the film (there are plenty of those out there), I thought it might be helpful to share two points of reflection on Noah – The Movie.
1) Noah as Art – This is a well made film and worth seeing. Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel have crafted a script that tells a powerful story. The themes of evil, unrighteousness, justice, judgement, mercy and love are universal storylines and the film drew me into the epic questions in a strong way. As my friend John Hall suggested, you should see the film and simply let it wash over you. The portrayal of human brutality was difficult at times to watch; the scenes of loyalty and love were profound and moving as well.
Noah is a well made and at times, beautiful film, but it is far from perfect. I am not a sci-fi fan and while it was an bold move to cast the giants as Transformer-like creatures, I found them unimaginative and boring. While I am sure that some demographic group will appreciate the battle scene between the Watchers and Tubal-Cain’s forces as the rain began, I felt like it missed the gravity and horror of having the doors of the ark shut before your eyes, condemning you to a sure and certain death. As well, for a big budget like this, the computer generated animals didn’t cut it. Or as my wife pointed how, by the end of the film, Russell Crowe’s Noah looks like he has been through hell and back while his wife looks, well like Jennifer Connolly.
2) Noah As Theological Work – At best, the movie is loosely shaped around the arc (totally intended) of the biblical narrative found in Genesis 6-9, loosely being the operative word. If you go into the film thinking you are going to witness a literal retelling of the Noah narrative based upon the Scriptures, you will be deeply disappointed and perhaps even angry.
In an interview with Paste, co-writer Ari Handel described the creative process that he and Aronofsky took when writing the script as follows:
Paste: I started out saying the film was not a retelling, but more of a re-imagining. But I eventually landed on the label “a meditation.” Then I read an interview with Darren where he talked about seeing the film squarely in the tradition of midrash, in Jewish thought. That seems to me a perfect description.
Handel: Yes. The exact meaning of “midrash” is complicated, but it basically is commentary. In the Jewish tradition, you look at a text in the Bible, and there are clues there, subtle details that raise questions. And they’re there for a reason, the thinking goes. They’re there to make you ask those questions. They’re there for more stories to tell, and to invent, and to imagine, that would shed light on those questions. And these midrash interpretations aren’t meant to be absolutely, exactly what happened. They’re meant to be a hypothetical, what may have happened, to illuminate an aspect of the story, and those take place in dialogue with other midrash and other commentaries. It all takes place within the grounding of not contradicting the text in any way, but within that context it’s looking for other interpretations and trying to understand things more deeply. We took that pretty seriously.
Let’s be honest: there are plenty of places in the biblical narrative where the imagination could have a field day. But when Handel suggests that they went to other interpretations to try and understand the Noah narrative, he wasn’t kidding. Think extra-biblical content, apocryphal material, non-biblical material, insights from Kaballah and even Gnostic mythology. (If you are interested in this line of critique, check out Brain Mattson’s detailed post, Sympathy for the Devil). If you are fearful of being exposed to this kind of material or think that viewing a film filled with syncretistic imagery will tank your Orthodox faith system, I would say do not see the film.
Two closing quotes and some questions. The first from Wes Sames at Precipice Media who writes:
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and any other descendants of Noah who may read this, I firmly believe that the Noah movie is a beautiful, useful movie. It is not truth, but it was written and directed by atheists and is presented as a mythological epic, so can Christians truly expect perfect truth from it? While it does not present a true view of God, it presents a true view of human nature, and for that reason I am happy to support it as an enterprise and a work of art. It constructively adds to the ongoing conversation between the church and the world at large.
And a final word from Alissa Wilkerson’s thoughtful review in Christianity’s Today:
Noah is not poorly made or shoddy. It is not political. It is not evangelistic. It is not a theological treatise. Rather, it’s a movie that approaches the level of “good art.” It asks big questions. It explores concepts like grace, justice, pride, guilt, and love. It respects its source material and respects the power of human imagination. It takes a sober look at the evil in the human heart. That is the sort of movie worth watching.
Have you seen the movie? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, will you see Noah? Why or why not?