Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Movie "Noah" - One Pastor's Perspective

So, I finally broke down and saw the movie "Noah," directed by Darren Aronosfsky ("Requiem for a Dream", "Pi", "Black Swan").  I'd read reviews that referred to it as "the most unbiblical biblical film ever made."  I was familiar with many of the ways in which "Noah" diverged from the Biblical account of the Great Flood, yet I was hopeful about the film nonetheless.  I even re-posted an article that I read, which encouraged Christians to go see it, on the basis that whether they're good or bad, believers need to support biblical movie-making in Hollywood--otherwise, there might not be other biblical movies made.  I said on Facebook that while the pastor within me couldn't recommend "Noah," Greg was pretty excited about it.  I mean, who wouldn't like a biblical movie starring Russel Crowe (Silence of the Lambs), Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), and Jennifer Connelly (Hulk)?  

Turns out that "Noah" would probably have been more biblical if in addition to actors, it had thrown the gladiator, Hermione, Hannibal Lechter, and Hulk's girlfriend together in a blender and mixed them together to get a storyline.

Don't get me wrong--it was enjoyable to watch.  As an adventure/disaster film, it was well-made and engaging, full of tension and astounding special effects.  But it would have been better if they had changed the biblical names of Noah, Shem, Ham, Japheth, Tubal-Cain, and Methuselah to other names entirely.  Any similarity to the biblical story ends with these names and the facts that there was a flood, people died, Noah built an ark and rescued the animals, ravens and doves acted as messengers, there was a rainbow and a mountain, and Noah got butt-naked drunk afterwards. 

Spoiler alert:  I'm about to mention elements of the movie that you wouldn't have been able to get from reading the Bible.

In addition to the Bible, "Noah" relied heavily on the ancient Book of Enoch for its content.  I enjoyed reading the Book of Enoch, with its supernatural creatures like Nephilim and Watchers...but Aronofsky even gets his Enochian elements mixed up, confuisng Wathchers, Nephilim, and Golem legends.  He has rock giants who help Noah build the ark, and who protect Noah and family from attackers.  These rock giants are actually angels who tried to help humanity--and because of this, God punished them, contorting their shape into beings of stone!

Which leads me to my biggest problem with the movie: its depiction of God.  Nowhere in the film does God speak to Noah.  Noah has visions and impressions where he feels he needs to build an ark.  Noah draws conclusions about God's will, and acts on them in disastrous ways.  But nowhere does God give explicit instructions to Noah.  The bibilical God had a relationship with the man and family that He saved.  In this movie, God is silent.  And if God could be characterized in any way, He is a god of wrath who punishes any violation--even to the point of cursing angels who just try to help humans.  

These fallen angels, by the way, are heroes in the movie.  The last time I checked, fallen angels are called demons--and they seek humanity's destruction rather than its salvation.  In the movie, the skin of Eden's serpent is a tool for blessing and healing, giving further implication that demonic forces are actually forces of good.  So it seems that Aronofsky has his roles reversed.  It's not surprising that an athiest would be mixed up about his impressions of God and demons.

Some other problems with "Noah" are:

  • In the Bible, Shem, Ham, and Japheth were all married.  In the movie, only Shem had a wife.
  • In the Bible, these three and their wives repopulated the earth.  In the movie, Shem and Ila have twin girls (so, how is this re-population supposed to work?)
  • In the Bible, Noah is righteous; in the movie Noah goes insane, and acts murderously---even toward his own family.  (And, actually, his family's quick forgiveness of him is unrealistic at the end.  It's as if he can brush his hair and straighten up his clothes, and the would-be murderer becomes a source of blessing again.)
  • In the movie, Noah becomes so outrageously nasty that when we get to the fight scene at the end, where Noah takes on his nemesis Tubal Cain, along with fighting against his own sons Shem and Ham, you find yourself actually hoping it's Noah who gets killed.  He's just that bad!
  • In the Bible, the Nephilim (giants who are descendants of the union between fallen angels and human women) are bad guys.  In the movie, the're heroes.
Now, I do have to give Aronofsky some credit for the following:
  • I'm glad Aronofsky included peripheral biblical characters like Methuselah and Tubal-Cain in the story.  They added richness to the story line--even if they were greatly exaggerated.
  • Biblically, Noah and his family were vegetarians.  Aronofsky continues this tradition, but he juxtaposes vegetarianism against the carnivorous Tubal-Cain and his people.  In other words, "Vegetarians good, meat-eaters bad."
  • I do think that Aronofsky hit the nail on the head when he contrasted the mechanized society of Tubal-Cain against the natural, environmentalist lifestyle of Noah and family.  There's a lot of animal-loving, tree-hugging going on my reading of Noah's story.
  • Honestly, I think that the post-flood account of Noah's drunkenness in the Bible is a pretty realistic approach to a man who's been through everything that Noah endured.  Who wouldn't have a little PTSD and substance abuse problem after something like that?  Aronofsky's depiction of that part of the tale wasn't too bad.
  • The circular rainbow was a nice touch, since circles are symbols of covenant.
I've heard lots of people saying, "Yeah, it was the most unbiblical biblical movie ever made, but at least it gets people talking about the Bible."

To that I ask, "But what does it have them saying about the Bible?"  Does it teach that the god of wrath employs murderous madmen and demons in order to save the world from Himself and His own destruction?  That demons are the good guys, and heroes are really evil?  That the biblical story in which the world was destroyed and reborn through the remarkable work of one family isn't exciting enough--that it needs to be "dressed up" into something it was never intended to be?  That would be like saying the horrifying real-life Battle of Thermopylae wasn't exciting enough--that it needed to be made into a graphic novel and later a blood-and-gore move.  Oh--wait--somebody did that too!  

So, while at one time I said that the pastor within me couldn't recommend it but Greg was pretty excited about it--I have to say that Greg wasn't too thrilled with it, either.  The movie was well-made, to be sure.  I'm a fan of fantasy movies, and wouldn't have had any problem with a similar story that changed the names and didn't represent itself as a biblical account.  But when athiest Aronofsky starts to tell Bible stories--watch out!  

I'm sure I'll get flooded with comments on this one--let me hear what you think.

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