Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist



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.


Faith and Film: Rise of the Guardians

Today I am starting an ongoing series of posts that aim to find the spiritual truths hidden in secular films. I will often sit with my wife and sift through the movies we see to find the metaphors and analogies that are bigger than the film. I love analyzing movies like this, and I hope that by reading these posts, you will start to see the metanarrative as it plays out on the big screen.

This is not a review. If I’m writing about a movie, then I probably really like it. However, you may not. If you haven’t seen the film and wish to, then I would suggest you stop reading and go watch it. Come back when you’re done. I’m just giving a heads up that I may give some spoilers in my attempt to explain what I’m talking about. You’ve been warned.

I just recently watched Rise of the Guardians for the second time. I was thoroughly impressed with the film in theatres, and was delighted when my wife bought it for me for my birthday. We tend to watch a lot of animated films because it’s getting harder for us to find live action movies that we enjoy. Yet this film floored me with the messages it gave.

I argue that the story of Rise of the Guardians is really about trying to find the meaning of one’s life. Jack Frost, called into being by the Man in the Moon, is left to figure out his existence on his own. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, he struggles to understand why he was made. Jack’s creator is frustratingly silent on the subject of his purpose, so Jack must take leaps of faith, trusting in the wisdom of others and confronting his past to find out who he really is.

Who hasn’t felt the angst of purposelessness? Jack can stand for everyone on the spiritual journey who has ever wrestled with the question “Why am I here?” God, like his lightly veiled metaphor, the Man in the Moon, is often not as forthcoming about the specifics of our purpose as we would like. It is only as we pursue this question and take risks to figure out the answer that we find our true callings. We can be helped along the way if we open ourselves up to the aid of mentors and fellow people of faith. It is often in relation to other people that we find our true purpose.

Perhaps my favourite part of the film was the characterization of several themes, like hope, wonder, dreams, and fear. I feel like this is the gold mine from which we can get much of the wisdom of this film.

Pitch, the main antagonist, is the embodiment of fear. He is the bogey man, creator of nightmares. Throughout the film, we see fear poison the dreams of children, something that happens all too often to children and adults alike. We allow our fears to corrupt our dreams, make short work of our hopes, memories, and wonders, and eventually destroy our faith completely. Fear can sap a person of strength and kill any belief in a better tomorrow.

Yet humanity is not without a chance in this fight. Arrayed against the forces of fear are the Guardians, embodiments of Hope, Memory, Wonder, Dreams, and (eventually) Fun. They shine like a light in the encroaching darkness, ready to sacrifice all for the sake of the children.

Each of these Guardians are also powerful tools in the real world when combating fear. Memories can instill a sense of confidence in the face of new situations. Seeing our situations with childlike wonder can take the fear out of any challenge. Hope can carry us through the darkest of times. Dreams can help us focus our efforts through the struggle. And maintaining an attitude of fun takes the fear out of any adventure.

Fear may cripple these Guardians in our lives, but it cannot destroy them. If we put faith in these tools, they can rise, like Sandy, from a place of apparent death to eventually overcome the fears. We need only trust that they, with help from above, can do their job.

In the end, we must look at our giftings and personalities to find our calling, our “centre.” If we can figure out how to work within our calling for the good of humanity, purpose is sure to follow. Like Jack, we can embrace our God-given potentials and perhaps battle back against the darkness that is encroaching on our world. With love, humility, and teamwork, we can all make a difference, no matter our age.

What do you think? Are there other themes we can draw from this film that I haven’t talked about? Or do you completely disagree with the ideas I have pulled out of Rise of the Guardians? Let me know!


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