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Why this Bible teacher thoroughly enjoyed 'Noah' (part 2)

The semi-biblical film gets some major things RIGHT.
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures International

[Continued from part 1]

Like I said last week, as an evangelical Bible teacher who has spent years teaching specifically on the Noah account found in Genesis chs. 6-9, I was supposed to hate the new 'Noah' movie--if the Christian blogosphere was to be believed.

But I didn't hate it.

I loved it.

"But it was so unbiblical! How could you enjoy a film that totally butchered the Biblical account of Noah and the flood??"

This has been the reaction from most critics of the film. And I can honestly understand why they feel that way. Whenever someone tells a cherished story in a way that contradicts our lifelong conception of it, a visceral reaction is not uncommon.

Think about it. If a movie was made about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. where the part of MLK was played by Ben Kingsley and instead of being assassinated in Memphis, Dr. King was killed in a lazer battle with members of the'd expect many, many people to be fairly upset with such a film, would you not?

So I can understand the disappointment and rejection of 'Noah' by those who were wanting or expecting a Biblically faithful retelling of a cherished childhood story.

But, interestingly enough, that is PRECISELY why I enjoyed the film so much!

You see, more than anything else about the Noah story Genesis, the one thing that gets ignored or distorted and which absolutely drives me crazy as a Bible teacher is the story getting portrayed as a CHILDREN'S STORY.

Who ever decided that Noah's Ark should be the default decoration for nursery walls or Sunday School classrooms?? The story of Noah is, without a doubt, the absolute DARKEST and MOST DISTURBING story in the entire Bible.


And that was the first thing I noticed and appreciated about Aronofsky's film. It portrayed the world of Noah as the text of Scripture presents it--ruined...corrupted...violent...dark...desolate. Or as Genesis puts it:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Gen. 6:5)

I've joked in some of my Bible studies and courses that I'm still waiting for a children's illustrated Bible to depict the story in an accurate way--floating bloated corpses of people and animals...fingernail-scratch marks on the outside walls of the ark from those who drowned trying to get in...horrid, smelly, cramped conditions sealed inside a tar-covered wooden box for a year on the open water. While such a children's Bible illustration may not be forthcoming, Arnofsky's 'Noah' achieved it with flying colors! One of the scenes that stuck in my mind was Noah's family huddled around the fire inside the ark while the muffled screams of those drowning outside echo through the air.

That is the stuff of nightmares...and that is the stuff of Genesis 6-9.

So let us do away with the "arky-arky" versions of the story which present it as a happy tale of a bearded man saving smiling giraffes and elephants on little boat with a happy rainbow in the background.

The REAL story of Noah is horrendous...and intentionally so!

The Bible has never been, and will never be, a G-rated collection of moralistic fables and bedtime stories. No, the Bible is an ancient library recounting the dealings of a sovereign, Holy God with a fallen, sin-soaked, rebellious creation. And when the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity meet, the results can often be disturbing. This is not something we as students of Scripture should ever shy away from. It may not always be comfortable for us to read...but that says as much about us as it does about God.

Another element of the film I resonated deeply with was the depiction of human evil having spilled over into a total repudiation of the Creation mandate to care for the land as God's stewards. Contrary to some Christians who have criticized the "environmentalist agenda" in the film, the Biblical account itself explicitly describes humanity having indeed made a "ruin" of the land...and as a result, God intended to bring about their "ruin" in a divine reset of the Creation. A more literal reading of Genesis puts it thus:

Now the land had become ruined before God. The land was filled with violence. God saw the land, and behold, she was ruined because all flesh had ruined his way upon the land. So God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh is coming before my face because the land is full of violence before their faces. Behold, I myself will ruin them along with the land. (Gen. 6:11-13, author's translation)

Somewhere along the way, an urban legend arose in our culture which says that Christians and environmentalism should always be opposing forces. Through a complex matrix of politics, folk-theology and pseudo-spiritualism, the original charge to humanity to "guard and keep" the created world and to exercise Godly stewardship (i.e. "dominion") over everything put in our care has been practically divorced from the worldview of most modern conservative Christian traditions.

Christians have been accused of adopting the very mindset of the tyrant king Tubal-Cain, wherein the resources of the created world are all subservient to the desires of humankind. His speeches to this effect throughout the film were marvelous, and reminded me of some of the dialogue between Ransom, Weston and Devine in C.S. Lewis' classic "Out of the Silent Planet" (which you should ABSOLUTELY read if you haven't already!) or the depictions of Mordor and Saruman in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (and even moreso in the Peter Jackson movie versions!), yet very few Christians raised objection to those. Likely this is because Aronofsky is not an "in-house" voice of criticism. As an agnostic/atheist/non-Christian filmmaker, his depiction of the evils of environmental destruction are met with defensiveness by many Christians where those of Lewis, Tolkien, or even modern theologians such as N.T. Wright are not.

Regardless of the environmental theme's acceptance by critics of the film, this subtle twisting of the "Imago Dei" doctrine (i.e. humanity created in the Image of God) was portrayed fantastically through the character of Tubal-Cain and the "technological development" with which he and the overall line of Cain actually are associated in the Biblical text (Gen 4:1-24). Though nothing in the text would lead us to conclude that Tubal-Cain's sister Naamah was Noah's wife, and though Tubal-Cain's father Lamech (not the same Lamech who Noah was born to) is the one we see bragging of his violence in the text of Genesis 4, the overall picture of humanity's prideful, lustful, insatiable appetite for violent evil which we do find in Scripture was powerfully depicted in the character of Tubal-Cain.

So to summarize: the things I found most helpful and accurate about 'Noah' were its darkness and the stark, non-sugar-coated depiction of human evil and depravity, which according to God Himself in the text, was so great that it was beyond redemption. The cancer of Sin which entered into the world in Gen.3 had spread its tendrils as far as humanity had spread across the face of the land, and it required an initial radical surgery to remove the bulk of it (and according to the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the New Testament writers, it would require a later, even more radical surgery, to deal with the root cause...but again, that's a whole other article!). Thus, as the movie's Methuselah (who was something of a Gandalf-meets-Yoda character, admittedly) discerned in his conversation with Noah, God was going to take creation back to its primeval state of watery chaos in order to begin again through Noah and his family.

This resonance with Genesis 1 often goes unnoticed in modern retellings of the story, but it is absolutely crystal clear in the Hebrew text. The terms used in Gen.6-9 resonate heavily with those in Gen.1-2. Terms like "ruach" (Spirit/wind/breath), "adam/adamah" (human/ground), "chayah," "remesh," "behema" and "oph" (terms used to denote the various animals on the ark) as well as language of "be fruitful and multiple and fill the land"...all of them recapitulate the initial creation account in the story of Noah. Noah's story is, in effect, Creation 2.0.

Did Aronofsky get all the details right? No.

Did he take liberties with the text and utilize other ancient Jewish texts and traditions to fill out the story in his version? Without a doubt.

But did his film capture and portray a number of profoundly deep Biblical themes which often go unnoticed even by preachers and Christian readers today? Absolutely.

Watching 'Noah' reminded me of how I felt when I saw the Denzel Washington movie "The Book of Eli." Both were gritty post- (or in 'Noah's' case pre-) apocalyptic films influenced HEAVILY by Biblical themes, and dealing with profound theological questions. Neither are "Christian" films, nor do they provide a solid foundation for doctrinal development. But they both, in my opinion, served as excellent windows into a "God-haunted" culture (as do many of Aronofsky's films, in fact). As such, films like 'Noah' or 'Eli' provide genuine potential for modern "Areopagus moments" (see Acts 17 if you don't get that reference)...IF we engage with them rather than railing against or boycotting them as simply "heretical."

Now...what about those giant rock-monsters??

We'll discuss those next. Stay tuned!

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