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Review: Noah Movie Has Its Moments, But…

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Posted on March 30, 2014 in Bible and Theology, Media, Politics and Ethics

It’s OK to use artistic license with Biblical portrayals as long as the art doesn’t undermine the message.

Noah posterThe high-budget movie “Noah” that opened Friday March 28, starring Russell Crowe, got some things right:

  • Man was created in the Creator’s image.
  • A real Fall by a real Adam and Eve led to a curse that required man to live by the sweat of his brow.
  • The first son, Cain, committed the first murder of his brother, Abel.
  • Tubal-cain was the father of metallurgy.
  • Patriarchs like Lamech and Methuselah are properly identified.
  • The word “wickedness” was used of the antediluvian population, and “righteousness” used of Noah.
  • The earth was filled with violence.
  • The Ark was huge.
  • The animals on the Ark were different from how they look today, but reproduce “after their kind.”
  • God brought the animals.
  • God shut the door of the Ark (this is implied, not stated).
  • The Flood was global, and killed all mankind and land creatures.
  • A raven and a dove are released; the dove returns with an olive branch.
  • Noah got drunk and naked after the Flood; Ham gazed, but the other brothers respectfully covered him without looking.  This scene was discreetly done.
  • A rainbow appeared as a sign from heaven.
  • All humans descended from Noah’s family.

Nevertheless, there are some clear deviations from the Genesis narrative in the movie:

  • God did not create life by an accelerated evolutionary process.
  • The stars were created on the 4th day, not the beginning.
  • God spoke specific words to Noah, including the dimensions of the Ark.  Noah did not have to discern His will from vague, subjective visions.
  • The “Watchers” did not build the Ark, nor were they punished (and redeemed) for trying to help mankind.
  • The Ark had three decks, not a wide-open interior with the animals on the bottom.
  • Noah’s sons were not single or young.  As mature men, they all brought their wives with them on the Ark.  Ham’s and Japheth’s wives were not born on the Ark.
  • The “fountains of the great deep” were most likely the mid-oceanic ridges, not geysers spurting out at random around the Ark.
  • Tubal-cain was not a stowaway on the Ark.
  • Noah, not Ham, released the birds.
  • The Ark landed on a mountain, not a beach; this may be quibbling, since it is on the slopes of a mountain, and the waters were still high.
  • Noah did not turn into a murderous madman.  He is always spoken of as a righteous man in the Bible.
  • Man’s wickedness was not primarily ravaging the creation, eating meat, or building cities, as the reason for judgment, but rebellion, violence and evil.

It is common practice in portrayal of Biblical stories to use artistic license.  Jon Saboe’s novels The Days of Peleg and The Days of Lamech are good examples; he added abundant plot detail to fill in the blanks of the sparse narratives in Genesis.  The question that should be asked when evaluating the success of a portrayal is whether the added details work with what is known, or work against it.  In addition, the retelling should get the known facts right.

This is your editor’s commentary (David Coppedge):  Spoiler alert: be advised.  I watched the movie as open-minded as I could, aware of the praises and criticisms by other Christians.  It is certainly a big-budget flick with some incredible scenery and occasional dramatic action.  The musical score is powerful.  Crowe gives Noah a strong and responsible look of integrity, like he gave the hero in Gladiator, until the madman scenes.  The universality of the Flood is clearly portrayed.  The first third or so made me hopeful it would be at least marginally faithful to Genesis, but then weird things started happening that stretched credulity: magic seeds, magic rocks, an instant forest, and especially the bizarre “Watchers” (presumably the Nephilim from Genesis 6) rising like fallen angels imprisoned in rock bodies.  Nowhere does Scripture portray these beings having any redeeming virtues (see I Peter 3:18–20 and II Peter 2:4–5).  Whatever they were (some expositors think they were sons of Seth who compromised, some think they were evil angels who possessed the line of Cain and interbred with the human line), they were not sci-fi monsters but human in appearance, though perhaps giants.  No one (especially fallen angels) can be redeemed through good intentions or good deeds.

Another serious problem is the misanthropic tone of the film, as Wesley Smith describes in Evolution News & Views.  The movie really tanks when Noah becomes a madman on the Ark, wanting to kill his own grandchildren, so that after the Flood, human life will die out.  Noah’s wife screams at him, Seth’s wife is in tears, etc.  It’s a pathetic portrayal of these godly characters, for one thing, and reveals Aronofsky’s apparent alliance with the “war on humans” mentality of the modern environmental movement that sees man only as a plague on the planet, as if Earth would be a perpetual Eden except for humans.  The evil Tubal-cain is the proud man wanting to “subdue the Earth and have dominion” (even though that was God’s command to Adam and Eve); he is made out to be practically an evil Republican wanting to cut down the trees and pollute nature.  That is NOT what the Dominion Mandate meant; it meant stewardship and care for creation.  God created mankind in His image and did not abandon the human race after it fell.  Look at what He did, sending His own Son to die on the cross for man’s redemption!  That is God’s nature: not just wrath and justice, but love, grace, and mercy.  Unfortunately, the “Creator” spoken of in the movie is portrayed as a distant, nebulous One far out in space, whose will is inscrutable and downright capricious.  Aronofsky makes the audience sympathetic to demons, as if they were unfairly judged for just trying to help man.  This is perhaps the worst aspect of the film: misrepresenting sin, and misrepresenting God: failing to portray the mercy and love of God as communicated specifically and with great clarity to Noah in verbal form.

There are other annoyances, like the frequent and lengthy close-ups of Crowe’s hoary face (in IMAX, every zit is about 10 feet wide), the anachronistic clothing, the general darkness of everything; nobody smiles or laughs; everyone is somber and anxious, even after the Flood.  The animals all charge into the Ark and lie down in a heap when Noah’s family stupifies them with smoke.  Why that didn’t put the people to sleep, too, is a mystery.  The Ark looks chaotic and primitive.  I think Noah was a better architect and organizer than that.  He would have had the animals in cages, with systems for their care.   The rainbow appears as a kind of magical emanation from the sky, with no statement of the Noahic Covenant from God.

When watching a movie, alert Christ followers should always seek to discern the underlying message and know something about the producer’s motivations.  This film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, is a self-proclaimed atheist.  It’s clear he does not believe the Noah story is a fact of history, so he decided to turn it into an environmentalist parable.  Viewers should know that context before acclaiming this film as a worthwhile faith-based work.  Jesus said, “An evil tree cannot produce good fruit.”  (For Aronofsky’s atheist views, see his statements on CelebAtheists.com.)  God can, though, use the wrath of man to praise Him.  The film draws attention to a Biblical event.

Some good can come from this movie if people use it as a conversation starter.  Tas Walker feels it can lead to good questions about Flood geology, for instance.  Christians should encourage viewers to “read the book” for the true story, appreciating the faithful parts but pointing out the errors.  I don’t wish to dissuade people from seeing it or participate in boycotts or group protests.  We don’t want to discourage Hollywood producers from touching Biblical subjects or faith-based material.  We don’t want to look like an angry constituency that is impossible to please.  This is certainly better than the comic portrayal of Noah from Hollywood years ago that made a mockery of the story.  I just wish producers would get the facts straight from the Bible before adding on speculation, and make the unknowns contribute to the knowns rather than distracting from them.  Noah was a righteous man who believed God and obeyed.  Let us follow his example, not Crowe’s or Aronofsky’s.  Use your creativity for God’s glory, remaining faithful to His word.  When judging others’ creativity, be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

 

 

2 Comments

mmartin March 30, 2014

I like the sanity in your review.

Floodnut480 March 30, 2014

Lots of problems with the movie, but it can be a great conversation starter, and as suggested above, it is so easy to say, “I LIKED THE BOOK BETTER.” Then we can discuss with people why the account in the Book is better.

And then too, for a far cry less money than was spent by Paramount, Christians could pool talent and resources and produce an excellent “artist’s conception” of what the Flood looked like, adding details to fill in the information gaps — but only such as are not contrary to the facts as explicitly stated in Scripture.

Who wants to lead the movement to produce a biblical Action/Drama of the Flood that is scientifically tenable and biblically accurate? Where do we sign up?

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