As Christian groups welcome the new Hollywood epic Noah with scathing rebuke for being unbiblical, a closer examination of the film shows that its message is more biblical than that of its religious critics.
Darren Aronofsky—the director of Black Swan, The Wrestler and The Fountain—is described by Rolling Stone Magazine as having a “trademark infatuation with the conflict between the body/mind and the spirit/soul.” In his first biblical epic, Noah, he presents an adaptation of the biblical story that was criticised by Christians in the US, long before any of them had even seen it. But when it was presented to a small group of Christian leaders, many of them changed their minds and began to endorse the film.
Focus on the Family president Jim Daly said, “Darren Aronofsky is not a theologian, nor does he claim to be. He is a filmmaker and a storyteller, and in Noah, he has told a compelling story. It is a creative interpretation of the scriptural account that allows us to imagine the deep struggles Noah may have wrestled with as he answered God’s call on his life. This cinematic vision of Noah’s story gives Christians a great opportunity to engage our culture with the biblical Noah, and to have conversations with friends and family about matters of eternal significance.”
Several scholars and religious leaders have participated in a video about the film—made by Cooke Pictures and posted on vimeo.com—encouraging Christians to see the movie.
That some of the early criticism was repealed after watching the film should serve as a cautionary tale for jumping to conclusions about things we know nothing about. But the same trend of early criticism is being echoed in India without any signs of a change in mind.
A filmmaker has to make critical choices to make a story compelling—even more so when dealing with a story so far removed from the present and with such limited detail in its primary source. It is true that Aronofsky has taken strange and unexpected artistic liberties in his portrayal of Noah. But these choices are limited to plot points relating to his family, his allies, his enemies and their life on the ark during the flood; and it is these very story-telling choices that make the film so intriguing, dramatic and unpredictable.
A discerning viewer should be able to tell that they do not take anything away from the very biblical message of the wickedness of man, the justice and mercy of God, the new beginning of the world and the powerfully compelling question of what we are going to do, now that we have a second chance.
In an interview with The Atlantic Magazine, Darren Aronofksy said of the story, “It’s poetry that paints images about the second chance we’ve been given, that even though we have original sin and even though God’s acts are justified, He found mercy. There is punishment for what you do, but we have just kind of inherited this second chance. What are we going to do with it?”
Ari Handel, who wrote the script, has said: “The story of Noah starts with this concept of strong justice, that the wickedness of man will soon be met with justice, and it ends when the rainbow comes and it says, even though the heart of man is filled with wickedness, I will never again destroy the world … So it ends with this idea of mercy. God somehow goes from this idea of judging the wickedness to mercy and grace. So we decided that was a powerful and emotional arc to go through, and we decided to give that arc to Noah.”
Noah is not a Christian film, nor has it been made by Christians. That is the reason why it is so strange that it has been criticised for not measuring up to Christian expectations. That is also the reason why it is so compelling that it has presented the wickedness of man—matching it with a call to return to our Edenic calling—with such powerful clarity. But some of its critics have missed that message because they were distracted by minor plot points and unorthodox character portrayals, even though they simply reflect the imagination of the filmmakers without tampering with the message of the Bible.
The real question we should be asking of the film is whether it was made with respect to the essence of the story of Noah. The writer and director have worked on this script for 16 years. The film was made with a budget of $150 million. It features an A-list cast and one of the leading filmmakers of our time. The filmmakers went to great lengths to get the ark built to exact Biblical measurements. The film is visually striking and reflects the work of a gifted storyteller. But more than anything, it succeeds in presenting the chief crisis of humanity—man’s rebellion against a gracious God —leaving us with an opportunity to finish the conversation that it has started.
“Movies aren’t meant to preach. Movies aren’t sermons. And so if they can bring up a topic and start conversation—that’s a good movie. And this one made me ask questions,” says Karen Covell, Founder, Hollywood Prayer Network.
The real question we should be asking ourselves is why we are so quick to judge when we ought to be slow to anger. Our message is transformation by grace—not religion and morality. To ask anyone to think like Christ without being moved by His power is like asking the ground to bear crops without planting any seeds. Such insecure religiosity will be quickly recognised by the world as being more ‘unbiblical’ than the film.
“We have endured 12 to 14 months of irrational criticism and now people are starting to see it and to realize how respectful it is, and how true to the source material it is and how intense of an experience it is in the movie theater, you know, so that’s cool,” Russell Crowe told the Associated Press.
Coming from the prophetic imagination of a skilled filmmaker, we ought to be grateful—not unreasonably critical—that the problem of sin and the mercy of God are presented to the world in such a captivating way. Instead of seeing the tiny problems in the film as obstacles, we need to appreciate the larger message of the Bible in the film as an opportunity to create conversations about the responsibility and privilege we have been given by our Creator to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.
Such an opportunity should urge us to explore the questions that the film leaves us with, not demonise the filmmaker for simply doing his job. Anything less will do an injustice to a rare and fascinating presentation of the central conflict in the Bible.
Unless we reassess—dare I say, repent of—our uninformed, knee-jerk reactions to people who try to interact with the Bible, we will continue a pattern of superficial thinking that fails to appreciate honest efforts to unpack the Bible in imaginative ways. We will then present ourselves to a listening world as a community that lacks discernment, imagination, gentleness and respect—the latter of which are central to the way God would have us present the Gospel. Eventually, we will find that we have exchanged God for religion, grace for morality and creativity for thought control. That is a message that the world will rightly find unbiblical.
Image Credit: The Huffington Post