I have a confession to make: I knowingly went into my viewing of Noah this week with a biased heart.
I had been reading so much vitriol on Facebook about how inaccurate and offensive the movie was that I assumed I was going to like it. I suppose it’s indicative of a streak of rebellion in my heart, but I can’t help but react to popular trends – positive or negative – with knee jerk rejection.
Therefore, given a child-free afternoon and a shot at seeing any matinee we desired, my sister and I unanimously decided to test my theory on Noah. This is what we found.
To my surprise, for such a polarizing movie, it left me lukewarm at best. I neither loved the movie nor hated it. I am more worked up about the fact that there even is a controversy here than by anything I saw in the film.
I came home and pored over the text in Genesis for an hour trying to see what was so anti-biblical about Daron Aronofsky’s interpretation of the story, and I found no direct contradictions. Some of the timeline is muddled, and it actually goes gentler on Ham in the end, but these feel like minor offenses. In fact, it would be difficult to actively contradict the Bible here, because the narrative is vague and replete with gaps. There is so much left to the imagination. We don’t know exactly how God spoke to Noah, what his family’s dynamics were, or what the heck all that Nephilim / giants / sons of God and daughters of men business means.
Even more basic, we don’t actually know what kind of a person Noah really was. The Bible says that he was “righteous” and “blameless among the people of his time,” and that he “walked faithfully with the Lord,” but what did that look like? Righteous does not necessarily equal right all of the time, or doubtless, or even likable. What’s so bad about a writer/director filling in the gaps with his creative interpretation?
There have been many other cases where artists have done that very thing with none of this backlash. The Ten Commandments has several secondary storylines that are not part of the Exodus text, and every single movie about the life of Jesus (including this year’s Son of God, which Christians have largely supported) has blended or enhanced certain events for the filmmakers’ purposes…yet I’ve never heard a call to arms that believers boycott any of them.
So what’s so awful (threatening?) about Noah?
I think the hardest things to accept about Noah are 1) it’s meant to be a character analysis more than a documentary or a retelling of the flannel board Sunday School tale and 2) that character is imbibed with an almost entirely Old Testament mindset. He is stark, driven, and possessed of a harsh sense of justice. He sees his compassion as weakness most of the time, and as a liability to his obedience. He questions his worth and ability / right to be chosen for the task, for forgiveness.
In short, Noah embodies every question that the Church of the New Testament and grace struggles to reconcile – and to its credit, the movie never fully tries to resolve them. In this way, Aronofsky and Russell Crowe (like him or not, that man is the king of complex period characters!) did a masterful job of exploring Noah as both man and myth.
There were many things I found disappointing about Noah. The plot was choppy and some of the twists felt like they were there to shock/scare us more than to serve the story. And I did not care for the representation of the Nephilim at all, having much preferred Madeleine L’Engle’s version in Many Waters. I probably would not have liked them even without that reference, simply because they looked distractingly silly to me. Also, I don’t mind the concept of fallen angels, but the idea that they would be punished simply for wanting to help mankind doesn’t jive with my understanding.
Nonetheless, more than anything, this movie is an opportunity. It is a gateway to conversation. Noah offers up all of the hardest parts of scripture for discussion. Our faith is making headlines, and instead of opening up our living rooms and coffee shops to flesh it out, we are slamming doors closed and crying, “heresy!” This response is an antiquated one; it has been done before, and never to a good end.
I prefer to see Noah the same as I might any painting or sculpture or just any piece of artwork: It may or may not be aesthetically pleasing, it may or may not be properly set to scale, I may or may not care worth a hill of beans for it…but it is still worth a respectful conversation.