Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist


Darren Aronofsky

5 Reasons to See (and Not See) Noah

Well, you all knew it was coming. My post defending the movie Noah being made is one of my most read articles, and now that I’ve finally seen the film, I figured I should share some of my thoughts.

I liked the movie. I really did. I probably won’t buy it, but my initial reaction is that it is well done, and it stays true to the biblical story as well as it could. Is it exactly the story from the Bible? No. And I, for one, am glad it wasn’t. As I said before, the original story would have made for a really short and rather boring film, so I’m glad they added things to make it more exciting. I’m going to give five awesome things about this film, and five reasons someone may want to steer clear, just to be fair. Warning: there are spoilers below.

Awesome Things:

1. Stellar First Half

My wife disagrees with me, but I thought the first half of the film was miles better than the second. Aronofsky was able to take a classic Bible story, add in some cool new additions, and make the whole thing fresh for a new generation of seekers.

2. Portrayal of God

This is going to earn me a lot of backlash, but I loved how God, referred to throughout as “The Creator,” is portrayed. The creators of the film were not hesitant to show God’s beauty in creating the universe and his wrath towards humans for falling so far into sin. This God seems very true to his portrayal in throughout the Old Testament, but his glaring silence at key moments in the film can resonate with those yearning for God’s voice today.

3. Solid Filmmaking

There is very little about this production that isn’t well done. The writing, the acting, and the special effects all come together to create a movie-going experience that is definitely worth your $15. Each character’s arc (not ark) was compelling, and the inter-personal conflicts that arise keep everything tense. It’s really cool to see Hollywood using it’s impressive creative prowess to make the stories from the Bible come alive.

4. Interesting Questions

It seems that no one can agree on this film’s themes, and whether they accurately depict what is in the Bible. This doesn’t bother me. In fact, it made for some great conversation as we left the theatre. Some imagery is a little confusing (I still don’t understand the snake-skin armband, but I’m not ready to jump onto the Satan bandwagon yet), but some is really, really cool (the destructive power of industry, for example). I know many hated how progress was portrayed, but I think it is worth our time to ask if we are really stewarding the planet as we strip it of all its resources.

5. Rock Angels

The Watchers are cool, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Fallen angels who are encased in stone as punishment for their rejection of God’s commands may not be in the Bible, but the Fall of the Watchers comes from other non-canonical books, such as the books of Enoch and Jubilees. I loved their six arms harkening back to the six wings of the seraphim in Isaiah 6. Even their return to Heaven, signifying God’s forgiveness, while not biblical, is a reminder of the forgiveness we receive when we turn to follow Jesus.

The Not-So-Awesome

1. Noah Goes Crazy

At one of the key turning points in the film, Noah believes God does not want to start over using Noah’s family. He believes humanity had its chance and blew it, so God is only saving the animals. While this is clearly not in accord with the biblical account, some may find this section of the movie confusing. Does God actually want to abolish humanity, or is Noah just going crazy because of the hard choices he has already had to make. Hard to know, and the movie does little to clear it up.

2. Dark, dark, dark.

This is pretty self-explanitory, but if you’ve seen any of Darren Aronofsky’s movies, you know he’s not too big into sunlight and nice things. He delves into the dark recesses of the human mind, and pulls up some distrubing stuff. I had to look away as a CGI animal was torn apart alive by the wicked who were about to perish. However, if we really look at the source material for the story, the narrative is pretty dark to begin with. Humanity is so far gone that God needs to kill almost every person on the planet. I’m sure their dying screams would have been horrific, and the poor family on the boat would not have been singing joyous songs while others drown. But it is a little oppressive, so this movie is not for the faint of heart.

3. Creation

If you are a hard-core young earth creationist, you aren’t going to like the portrayal of Creation. Noah tells the rest of the family on the ark the story of God creating the universe, and a rapid visual showcase accompanies the tale. Each line is partnered with the corresponding section of the evolutionary, old earth take on how God created everything. It is not a literal seven day telling. The creation of humanity, however, is left up in the air. We see life begin as single celled creatures and evolve all the way to tree-dwelling apes, but the camera pans away and comes back to find humanity fully formed (and glowing…). I appreciated this portrayal of Creation, but I know others don’t. You’ve been warned.

4. Climaxes

This film has too many of them. A huge climax at the introduction of the flood and the battle for the ark. A final showdown between Noah and Tubal-Cain, the main antagonist. Noah’s conflict over the fate of his grandchildren. Noah’s choice to rejoin his family at the end. Perhaps this was meant to mimic the wave-like pattern of being on the ark, but so many ups and downs had me a little disappointed in the plot structure. If you don’t care about such things, you probably won’t even notice.

5. Setting

I’m aware that this choice was on purpose, but I did not like how ambiguous the film was about when it was set. The wicked people seem to have advanced to near-modern industrial practices, yet still use swords, spears, and axes (as well as weird glowing-gunpowder-rock “guns”). It seemed to be a cross between ancient humanity and post-apocalyptic survivors. It’s not a big thing, but I wasn’t a fan.

Was this movie perfect? Not at all. Does it raise some interesting questions about humanity, our relationship with our Creator, and our respect for the rest of his Creation? Definitely. If you are looking for the Bible story, I would suggest the first episode of Mark Burnett’s The Bible mini-series, because this is not that story. It instead uses the story as a jumping off point for a great movie that blends drama and action and explores our faith in a God who is beyond our comprehension. If that is something you are up for, I highly suggest seeing the film. And be ready to talk about it with those you see it with.


A Defense of Noah

For everyone unaware, Hollywood’s next big biblical epic is coming out next year. Darren Aronofsky (director of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream) is set to release Noah in March 2014. With a star-studded cast, including Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson, this marks a return of the serious, big-budget films that explore the biblical stories for a new generation. I have loved the epic biblical movies of yesteryear, such as The Ten Commandments or Samson and Delilah, and more modern retellings, like The Bible miniseries, so this new film makes me very excited. If you haven’t checked out the trailer, you can see it here.



However, not everyone is excited for this film. I started my day this morning with an article by a fellow Christian railing against the danger of Noah. As the rest of my post is going to be refuting this article, you should probably go read it first:

Now, I have several issues with this writer’s challenge right from the start. The author claims that he has “various sources” who have given evidence that the film is not biblical. I am skeptical of such vague claims about the source of the plot points he attacks later. Without knowing who these people are, I have no way of knowing their intentions, or even their qualifications for judging the biblicalness of a film. Are they film critics, biblical scholars, or just a couple of crew from the film who are harbouring because Aronofsky took the last cucumber sandwich from craft services? I have no idea. Yet, for the sake of argument, we will continue as if the following claims are true.

I have no idea what the inter-personal relationships are going to be like in the film, but I would bet quite a lot of money (if I was the gambling sort) that much of the dialogue is not going to be taken from the Bible. Before my conservative friends get upset, let’s have a look as to why. In the entire Flood story, from Genesis 6 – 9, only one person says anything at all: God. After Noah is told to build the ark, the Bible tells us “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (Gen. 6:22) God then gives Noah directions about which animals to bring on the Ark, and we are again told, “And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. (Gen. 7:5)  Not exactly riveting cinematic material.

If Noah adds characters and interpersonal issues for dramatic reasons, we should not jump to the accusations of “unbiblical.” The artists are merely telling the story in a different way than the Bible has. We will return to this idea in my conclusion.

The issue of Noah’s character, again founded on vague details like “Noah said essentially…” is also hard to build a strong case for. In Genesis, we are told that Noah was the only righteous man of his generation, but we are also told that he passes out, drunk and naked. The first words recorded of Noah’s are curses against his son. Definitely a person of complicated spiritual and emotional well-being. The author of this article seems to balk at the idea of a mentally strained Noah, but I believe there is evidence that the patriarch may have been affected by the ordeal.

After a staggering list of unsupported claims about the plot and trivial detail differences, the author attacks the editors for the “con-job” they have pulled by stringing together enough of the film to make Christians and Jewish people willing to see the movie. This theory makes the filmmakers seem far more sinister than I think we can accuse them of being. Even if it turns out that this movie has very little in common with the biblical story, every trailer editor has the job of making the movie seem exciting and worthy of our fifteen or twenty bucks at the theatre. Of course they want us to be excited to see the film, because Noah needs to make money or else Aronofsky will have to stop making movies.

Finally, our friend asks if we want our children and families to watch a movie that inaccurately portrays such a pivotal part of the Bible’s narrative. My answer is yes. I want my kids to know what the world is saying about our faith. Am I worried that they will be lured away from the true account into believing what Hollywood tells them about the Flood? No, because I am not leaving the spiritual education of my children to Hollywood. It is my job to instruct my kids in the truth of the faith. When they see this film, they will know how the Bible tells the story.

This should be true for all Christians and Jewish people. If you are leaving your spiritual formation to big screen movies, you may need to start afresh. I don’t think a retelling of the Flood story is going to lead any away from God.

As for those who do not know the story, I believe that this movie could be a huge blessing. After watching what appears to be an epic film with an incredible story, perhaps people will go “read the book.” I did that with The Hunger Games, so there is no reason to expect this situation to be any different. And anything that gets more people reading the Bible is good in my books.

In the end, this is a question of the place of an artist in telling God’s story. Are we allowed to change details for dramatic effect? How important is the number of Noah’s sons for the Flood story? In the context of the Bible, you can argue that it is very important, for each son’s lineage is traced further in the book. Yet, in the Flood story, the important detail is that Noah and his family were saved by God for His purpose. The number of animals, the size of the boat, the opposition that the family faced are all secondary to the main idea: that God saves. If this is captured, then the story is told.

Actually, my only qualm about this film so far is to be found on IMDB. Under genre, Noah is labeled as a fantasy. I understand that to a secular person this may be considered true, but to the faithful, this is a little insulting.

But people are making good art about God. Perhaps this should be celebrated and not condemned. If we do that, maybe we will see more good art about the Creator in the future. Maybe.


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