Noah: Perfect for Rattling Religious Cages

James Preston 3 7:00 AM
Unlike the slow emergence of the man in his time and more like the flood he is famous for being saved from, Noah the film burst onto the pop media circuit. It did so because it rattled the cages of the religious.

Bible-worshipping disciples came out in droves on Social Media to voice their dissatisfaction with a movie that was meant to be a champion for their cause.

I am here to give you an alternative perspective. Not for the sake of it, but thanks to these scathing attacks from the people I call brothers, I was provided a backdrop against which I could find and appreciate an artistic treasure. Noah is just that; an artistic treasure.

Noah is produced by the same artists that gave us the dark and twisted (and not to mention R-rated) Black Swan and The Wrestler. Two movies I am yet to see but have them on my IMDB watchlist for when my wife isn't around. Her moral boundaries stretch higher than mine.

Coming from producers and writers with such a history for objectionable material, one would expect more of the same in their treatment of an Old Testament epic: expletives, lust, sadism. But this was the first pleasant surprise. Darren Aronofsky, the film's principal writer, producer and director, treated this passage of Biblical literature with the respect it deserves without diminishing its potent portrayal of a deeply corrupt world judged by an Almighty Creator. Masterfully handled.

From the onset, Aronofsky and Handel (co-writer) introduce the audience to a world and its people created by a Personal Being of Divine Power. Christians would know Him as "God", but Aronofsky wisely refers to Him as the "Creator". Biblically speaking, the time from Adam's sin to Noah's account is one where very little dialogue takes place between God and man. Mankind didn't seem to know their Creator, and it doesn't seem a far cry that Adam and Eve would have forgotten what He was like after their fall, thus passing down only vague recollections. Making the commonly used term "Creator" in the film a fitting one.

The film's genealogical narrative of the Scripture is accurate, bringing to life the first 6 chapters of Genesis with magnificent interpretations of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, the fall, Cain and Abel, and even the nephilim.

Aronofsky knew his stuff.

Which makes sense because he is a born Jew. Not an atheist as many dogmatic Bible police seemed so quick to (incorrectly) point out. In a quote Aronofsky actually points to an earlier film of his, "The Fountain", as a not-far-off representation of his religious beliefs.

Being a man of Jewish descent explains his portrayal of a vengeful God seemingly callous to the plight of His gentilian creation. Although I would argue even this was well considered.

I don't know Aronofsky's beliefs. I haven't watched his film "the Fountain" and have only read the above-mentioned quote. But it is highly unlikely a man conscious of a God of Wrath would create such disturbing cinema as Black Swan and The Wrestler*. So, either he doesn't believe in such a God at all (thereby contradicting his Jewish heritage) or... he recognises that Old Testament Scripture provides a mere glimpse of God and His attributes, and not an exact representation; as I have so often explained citing Hebrews 1:3 in my sermons and articles.

I believe its the latter. Aronofsky takes into consideration that we don't understand exactly how or why the Noah account unfolded in the same way we don't have a full understanding of God and His ways. What is left is an interpretation of an historic event, one that must've required immense faith and inner purpose to be at the centre of. Which Aronofsky so brilliantly conveys with his lead role.

Russell Crowe provides a stellar performance that haunts the soul. This is one of the many strengths of this masterpiece. Aronofsky's ability to draw exceptional talent to his films is superseded only by his ability to draw that talent out of them. Crowe, along with Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson, lead the way in this shining example of exemplary performing, leaving even the great Anthony Hopkins in their shadows. Ray Winstone is perfectly cast as Tubal-Cain, a descendant of the murderous Cain. But even his typically loud performance is overshadowed by the tight-knit trio of Crowe, Connelly and Watson. Overall the film's acting achievements alone are enough to keep you fixed to your seat. Of course the Screenplay helps. Which, as mentioned, was extensively thought out and masterfully woven together.

This is where so many of my Christian brothers and sisters have fallen off the bus. The Screenplay. I don't quite know what they were expecting in 138 minutes based on 3 chapters of Scripture. I also don't quite understand why their majority response has been so vociferous.

Perhaps it is this very point. A well thought out screenplay interpreting 3 chapters of Holy Scripture. An interpretation they didn't agree with, which in turn led to their disregard and downright offence toward the film. After all, you can't play with Holy Scripture! Right? I don't know. Ask the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities about that.

I can't seem to put my finger on it. But I lean toward it being our (Christian's) ability to deal with theology that challenges our own beliefs. We've never been good at it. Just ask Paul the Apostle, Martin Luther, and more recently even Martin Luther King Jr.

But if this is the case, and the offence does indeed stem from challenged beliefs in the Noah account, I battled to find merit to their argument. The two aspects so quickly pointed out to me are the "talking rocks" and the evolution sequence in the Creation recital.

But that's my point here! We can't be sure of either! It was clear the "talking rocks" were inspired by the Scriptural narratives of "fallen angels" along with the "nephilim". These so-called "talking rocks", or The Watchers as Aronofsky termed them, are clearly an artistic expression of what these Nephilim could have been. And I thought it was handled excellently. With this impression Aronofsky was able to deal with two common anomalies in the Noah account: 1. How did Noah build such a large vessel? 2. How did he protect himself from the hoards of people wanting to get onboard when the rains got heavy? His Watchers are able to make these anomalies palatable. Christians, quick to point out such imaginative expression, forget that trying to accurately account for what happened in Genesis 6 is no easy task without some kind of licentious interpretation.

And what of the evolution sequence? It vexes some Christians as if it were outright blasphemy. But could you have asked for more genius a portrayal? One that allowed for the inclusion of a Divine Creator, a Scriptural Creation account, and for science's great prize, evolution? I thought it was a masterstroke. One that I don't necessarily have to believe in, but one that is a lot more agreeable than the extremes of Darwinian evolutionism and the equally challenging themes of young earth creationism.

 Overall, Darren Aronofsky has presented the world with a digestible presentation of one of Scripture's great narratives. A narrative found in most major religions, including the three primary Theistic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. In his presentation, he has portrayed Noah as a man not unlike each one of us. A man with the ability to hear God, yet misinterpret what He says (or thinks He is saying) and contemplate atrocities in zeal for the One he hears.

What better an illustration of religion's ugly side than a God-fearing man willing to kill his only two infant grand-daughters born to a barren woman? This mini-narrative woven into Aronofsky's masterpiece is a skilful elusion to the frightening paradox faced by Abraham and his son Isaac. I can't recount a narrative so filled with allegorical treasure.

Aronofsky's Noah is a treasure. A masterpiece deserving praise from all who appreciate the arts, none more so than we Christians. It has unintentionally placed our Creed on the world stage and reminded the world our Scripture is not some laughable myth. It may not quite reach the echelons of epics such as Braveheart, Gladiator or Titanic, but it deserves its place among the greats. It gets 89% from me.


What did you think of Noah?
Drop a comment and let me know.

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*For the record, I haven't watched either. As a morally grounded Christian (kept grounded with the help of my wife) I filter what I watch with the help of Plugged In.com, a website run by Focus on the Family that give indepth reviews of every movie released, citing its negative content right up to how many expletives are used and what kind. Thanks to their reviews of Swan and Wrestler, I have avoided watching them with my family, if I ever get round to doing so. Any film rated highly by the community (Wrestler - 98% on Rotten Tomatoes!) is one that I would love to appreciate. But at the same time have to draw my boundaries and realise not all art is worth appreciating.

3 comments

Hi James, thank you for such a wonderful, balanced review. I think the kind of criticism that we see against the movie has its roots in a very fundamentalist way of reading old testament scripture. Oriental story telling just isnt the same like reading an modern day journalism. I believe every word of the scripture to be true but I do not see these as historical accounts. This is why I love the movie: It reminds us that biblical story telling is not the same as some myth. The secrets of our existence are hidden in these stories.

Thanks Simon. That's a really great perspective. And such a great point about the secrets to our existence. Appreciate you taking the time to drop the comment!

I haven't seen the Noah movie myself, but this novelist seems to have done a thorough job of summarizing the common theological objections, in particular explaining why so many people react badly to them. http://godawa.com/movieblog/tag/noah-movie/
And here is another critic who does his best to remain objective/neutral. http://www.dennyburk.com/the-midrashiest-midrash-that-ever-was-midrashed-a-spoiler-free-noah-review/

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