I just watched Darren Aronofsky’s newest controversial flick, “Noah,” so you can see just how behind the times I am. For weeks pundits and bloggers have been back-and-forthing each other on the merits and demerits of the movie, with many in my ultra-conservative Bible-belt town imploring their friends and fellow churchgoers to spend their hard-earned dollars elsewhere—on movies like “God’s Not Dead.” After reading and listening to these folks for a bit, finally watching the darn thing myself, and then waiting a day to sort through my feelings, I’ve compiled some thoughts on whether or not the movie works.
THINGS I THINK MANY CHRISTIANS DISLIKED ABOUT THE FILM
- It’s not biblically accurate. Instead the movie’s a hodgepodge of biblical characters, Jewish folklore, controversial interpretations (I’m looking at you, “Nephilim”), and the director’s own morals and faith-struggles.
- The director is openly an atheist. This is actually a fair criticism. I think that many evangelicals were afraid—given the liberties with which Aronofsky tells the story—that the director was secretly poking fun at Christians. I thought the rock-creature/Nephilim-angels were a pretty neat idea, but one can easily see how Christians would get upset that their faith was being caricature-ized, mythologized, etc. They worried about any ulterior motives Aronofsky might have had. I can understand that fear.
- The Creator isn’t really a character in the film. Sure, the existence of God is not really debatable in the world of this movie, but Noah doesn’t actually talk to God at all. He gets a dream “from the Creator” about the coming flood, and he has to decide what to do with that information. So he builds an ark for the innocent animals and prepares for mankind to be wiped out. This absence of God in the Noah story is understandably jarring for many Christians.
- The theology is off. This is related to the fact that the movie isn’t biblically accurate, but it goes a bit deeper. In the film, it is Noah himself who must decide whom to save and whom to damn. He decides that all of humanity is to be extinguished—including his own family. But the important thing here is that Noah decides this. The whole storyline with Shem’s unexpected offspring is the only thing that keeps Noah from going through with this judgment—and his mercy is (at least in Noah’s mind) painted as a failure to live up to the Creator’s will. The rainbow at the end could signify that the Creator wanted things this way, that He is delighted by Noah’s mercy, but once again we don’t explicitly hear from the Creator and so this is ambiguous.
- Also, evolution. You know the part I’m talking about.
THINGS I PERSONALLY DISLIKED ABOUT THE FILM
- It’s not biblically accurate. At first I was uncomfortable with this, but I soon got over it and enjoyed the movie as a film about faith itself—a film that wasn’t trying to be accurate. A film that was trying to tell its own story. But for the first several minutes of the film I was uncomfortable.
- Relatedly, some of the theological differences I had with the film made me uncomfortable—until I realized that this movie wasn’t about conveying a specific theology. When I began to see that the movie was telling an entertaining story about Aronofsky’s views on faith, I no longer cared at all about the theological differences he and I have. Because—as I’ll tell you later—much of his feelings on faith seem to be similar to my own. I connected with the story.
- I’m sad to say it here, but Anthony Hopkins was too… I don’t know. Comedic? Joyful? Whatever the word is, his Methuselah didn’t fit the feel of the rest of the movie. And not in a way that seemed intentional. Sure, he’s like a beacon of mercy for Noah’s wife, but his acting still felt forced and not quite one with the film’s whole.
THINGS I LIKED ABOUT THE FILM
- You never see God. This, to me, is the entire point of the film. Noah operates on faith—utterly blind faith. It drives him crazy. He is going to kill his own grandchildren—and when he can’t do this task he immediately plants a vineyard and gets drunk. Not only does he refuse to save anyone from the flood, but the birth of his grandchildren makes that staggeringly sad decision utterly pointless: the sin of Adam will live on in his line, corrupting the world. Of course, in the end the rainbow and the coincidence of the twins’ birth can be interpreted as the expression of the Creator’s pleasure. But even this “happy” conclusion is not accompanied by an explicit word from the Creator—it must simply be believed that they are doing the right thing. God it not a present character. And this eats at Noah. This is a very scary, very human kind of feeling. I dug it. A lot.
- Noah is not a hero. He’s kind of an ass. No. Not even kind of. The man is cruel to Ham, seems driven more by his own hatred of people than by the Creator’s law being broken, and is convinced that it’s a good thing to kill his own just-born grandbabies. Why did I like this? Because it captures the feel of the Bible’s stories. The people are never the heroes in those stories, man. Don’t believe me? Read about how Abraham gave up his own wife to rulers (twice!) to save his own skin. Or about how David had sex with one of his soldiers’ wives and then put her husband on the front line when she became pregnant so his sin would be hidden. Samson sins. Moses doesn’t get to see the promised land. Adam fell. The titans of the Christian faith are all terrible human beings. The moral is that we need God to save us—and that is one bit of theology this atheist’s film got spot-on.
- Russell Crowe. I thought he acted his guts out. His descent into madness was believable and frightening. His tortured, torn soul was on display. For me, his acting was a significant high point.
- As usual, Aronofsky delighted me with the beauty of his shots. The evolution shot stands as my favorite sequence in the film just for its sheer inventiveness, but there are so many others. The river snaking through the world, the jump-cuts of the snake and forbidden fruit, the shot of the angel returning to heaven as he flies past an Earth covered in hurricanes. There were countless moments of simply beautiful cinematography. The man blows my mind in pretty much every film he makes, and he didn’t disappoint me in this one.
- It was made by an atheist. Why is this a good thing? Because it means the old tradition of finding artistic merit and meaning in religious stories is still alive and well in the secular world. This film sparked a national conversation about faith and art and how the two meet. Hopefully this means that many Christians will start thinking seriously about how their own faith can be on display in the mainstream, where the people they’re trying to reach will actually see it. And more importantly, I think it sparked a conversation about whether or not a movie has to be biblically accurate to accurately handle biblical themes.
BUT DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT
Let me know how you liked or disliked the film—and why—in the comments below. The discussion is what’s important.