Why You Should Go See the New Film Noah
- Stephen McGarvey Editor-in-Chief, Crosswalk.com
- 2014 3 Mar
There was first elation.
Then there was mild concern.
Then there was great hope.
Followed by outcry and more concern.
Then in response to the heated uproar, cooler heads tried to calm us.
Then another uptick in the uproar.
All of this turmoil, when most have seen little more than a few frames of the film.
Undoubtedly Noah’s journey to our local movie theaters has been marked with controversy over the last few months. The level of outcry surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t have. Christians love the Bible and its heroes, and rightly so. The reverence we have for God’s Holy Word must certainly baffle those outside the faith. When we get wind that someone might be messing with inspired Scriptures we aren’t shy about expressing our concern.
Last week I had the privilege of seeing Noah before its wide release, and joining 20 or so journalists from Christian media outlets to talk about the film with director Darren Aronofski, and screenwriter Ari Handel.
With these events in my mind and several days of consideration, I can tell you that I hope you will go see this film. Christians, in fact, should make it a point to see this film.
I will avoid details on some specifics, so as not to give spoilers; that information is readily available for those who wish to seek it out. Noah certainly contains some incidents and dialogue that seem to challenge both our general understanding of the account in Genesis and accepted Christian theology. But I would like to share why I think Noah is valuable, and indeed, why it should be considered a notable film and respectable bit of pop culture.
Much of the early concern about Noah arose from Christians when they learned that neither of these filmmakers professes to share our Christian faith. When initial reviews of Noah expressed concern over some aspects of the film, many took to the internet with their concerns and complaints.
But both Aronofski and Handel express to us deep reverence for the story of Noah, evidenced in years of painstaking research. It was important to them to get beyond our sterile preconceptions of Noah, and dig deep into the timeless themes of the story.
“The story poses a lot of questions,” says Handel. “The biggest question is this notion of, ‘How do we get saved? Who deserves to be on that boat? Are people going to be judged or treated with mercy?’”
“That question of ‘why’ I think confounded us from the very beginning... ,“ he continues. “All these questions started as confusions, but as we worked on it harder and harder. We started to see that this [film] was a mediation asking us to grapple with this idea of mercy and justice, goodness and wickedness.”
“It’s just a great set up to examine what it means to be and individual and what it means to have goodness and wickedness inside of you,” says Aronofski. “All the characters sort of reflect that in the film.”
Many of the film’s troubling points center around the portrayal of Noah’s flaws. I will certainly admit that I found some of what Noah portrays about the character of this biblical hero a bit jarring. But Aronofski reminds us that the Bible doesn’t actually describe Noah as ‘good;’ rather it uses the term ‘righteous.’ And righteousness is more accurately defined as a balance of justice and mercy.
“When we went to see the Pope... it turned out it was Father’s Day in Italy and he talked about how as a father you should teach and educate a child when they do something wrong, but always have love for them. Which is exactly on point for what we were thinking about with the story of Noah.”
Discerning viewers will notice that much of the film version of Noah was influenced by known ancient writings in addition to the Book of Genesis. Specifically, the film’s understanding of the pre-flood world comes from both the apocryphal Book of Enoch and the Jewish Midrash. Despite this, Handel says their task was explicit and clear.
“We were trying to do two things very specifically. One was to not contradict any of the words of Genesis. The second one was to dramatize and humanize the themes that were being put forward in the words of Genesis.”
“To do those things together... ,“ says Handel, “We tried to violate expectations in a lot of places because by violating expectations you get all of us to take a step back... and say ‘this isn’t the [children’s] story, this is something else.’”
To be sure, Noah’s journey here isn’t your typical church nursery mural version of the Great Flood. You won’t see any of the sing-songy vacation Bible school themes of “Arky, Arky” or “Brother Noah Built the Ark.” As the film’s approach to the reality of destroying the entire earth and 99.99 percent of its living inhabitants doesn’t look away from the horrifying nature of what’s actually going on, Noah is probably not a great film for small children.
“When you really look at the story, it’s very, very scary. It’s really kind of the first apocalypse story. And as a kid I remember thinking about, ‘what if I’m not good enough to be on the boat? I have wickedness... What would it look like if I actually didn’t get on [the ark],’” says Aronofski.
Insights like these are some of the things I appreciated most about the film; Noah is filled with perspectives that offer fresh angles on places where Scripture lacks detail. The film truly made me examine my own assumptions about Genesis and these characters.
I love that Noah doesn’t shy away from examining the deeper themes like the true nature of mankind and what does God’s judgment look like.
I also love that Noah creates flawed yet believable human characters who are forced to work through their own emotions and decisions. Aronofski’s painstaking attention to detail makes the story come alive in a way we’ve never seen before with Noah. And while there are several creative decisions here that I personally would have done differently, there is a great deal to appreciate in this film.
“We tried to humanize it,” says Aronofski, “to put ourselves in the position [of saying] ‘OK if this was happening [to me], what would go on and how would that feel?’ Because I think that’s what makes it powerful for people, that’s the beauty of cinema and the beauty of storytelling.... We had to figure out how Noah and his family would go through this and what it would mean to them. ”
And where the film did deviate from what I was expecting, or seemed to challenge my Christian worldview, it was helpful to remember that as a snapshot in time, the story of Noah happened long before almost everything else that helps Christians form a biblical worldview. There was no Abraham, Isaac or Jacob yet. There was no Moses and no people of Israel. Jesus hadn’t yet come to earth, died and been resurrected. And most significantly, they didn’t have the Bible to view this bit of history next to the larger history of what was to come later, as well as the specific message we find in God’s Word.
As this is the case, I am inclined to believe that Aronofski’s film doesn’t deserve our ire, even if we hate it as a film. The problems I’m seeing in this iteration of Noah’s story do not outweigh the many valuable and insightful aspects of the film. Noah is a film worth seeing, and if you like movies, you should give it a chance.
Stephen McGarvey is the Editor-in-Chief of Crosswalk.com and the Senior Editorial Director of Salem Web Network.