Noah #4 – Tying up some threads

In the last few posts, I’ve commented on several resonances of the film – God as creator, religious experience and revelation, and the problem with humanity. There was heaps of interesting stuff in the film to highlight and think about, but I feel it would be remiss of me to not make a few loosely connected observations before I close the series.

A movie steeped in a worldview

The many interviews Aronofsky has given on the film give lie to the idea that movies are mindless entertainment. We clearly see the great love and care filmmakers put into their craft; the thought that has gone into developing the world, the themes, the characters and how the movie serves to explore the interaction of these elements to communicate big ideas.

Some have suggested the snakeskin talisman made of the serpent’s shed skin, and other elements, point to a Kabbalistic influence. A case could be made for that but I’m not familiar enough with that material to make it. A better argument would be to simply observe that Ari Handel and Darren Aronofsky say that they drew inspiration from the Zohar (the sacred text of Kabbalah). You don’t need to speculate. This points clearly to Aronofsky’s Jewish heritage and perhaps even something of his spirituality. That should not surprising.

But if this is a uniquely Jewish expression of the story – and perhaps a Kabbalistic expression – how can Paramount state in a disclaimer that the story is faithful to the essence of the story as viewed by people of other faiths who also read it quite differently? Money obviously, but my argument that the film is steeped in a particular worldview might explain the director’s displeasure with an essentially pluralistic statement added to the promotional material for the film.

Continue reading

Noah #3 – Kindness and the kind God

I’ve been thinking about how to wrap up this series, and while a lot more could be said on the film, I’m going to have to limit myself. The problem with going off notes I took a few months ago is that I’m not going to be able to get into detailed aspects of the plot. While I left the movie feeling more positive than negative,, I don’t plan on seeing it again soon. Still, I’m keen to get these out of my head because I think these aspects make the film worth talking about. They do concern the main characters of the film, but it was pleasing to see the film get somewhere close to diagnosing the problems with humanity. So for one more post, I’m going to explore a few more big points before tying up some loose ends in my head in the final post.

Man’s inhumanity to God

What’s immediately obvious (or should be) is that neither of these two guys are all that perfect. That’s not surprising – every movie needs a hero with a flaw and a villain – but this Noah is not the one you might have seen in your bright-coloured story books with bath-tub boats. Far from it.

Noah is a bold protector of animals and nature. He appreciates the way God has made the elements of our planet to work together well. He teaches his children too. (A super thing to do as a parent by the way.) He doesn’t eat meat which for the majority of the movie delineates the ‘good’ guys from the ‘bad’ guys. Noah is actually right to do God’s will by loving the environment and not eating meat. He’s dependent on God. He wants to understand God better. But while he desires environmental justice, he’ll harm humans to protect an animal! He doesn’t relate all that well to people in need. In summary, Noah has a high view of creation and a low view of humanity.

And then there’s Tubal Cain – a king of all those who do not follow God, an attitude denoted by meat-eating. These are the bad/evil people. In contrast to Noah, he espouses a high view of humanity and a low view of creation. He sets himself up as a kind of God of his own life and all that he can see is his. For Tubal-Cain, expression of his will is the ultimate. So, while Tubal-Cain rightly says he was made in the image of God (which is true) meaning he must rule, he takes it to the extreme and neglects the mandate to care for Earth. Instead, he says he’ll be the supreme ruler of his own life and so be like God, effectively dethroning God. In a sense, he’s fulfilling the serpent’s promise recorded in Genesis 3 that “you will be as gods”. But by neglecting his duty of care to everyone around him Tubal Cain shows that he really rejects God, rather than reflects God.

If you’re not part of the solution…

At one point, Noah travels to a nearby settlement to find wives for his sons. The barbarism of man’s inhumanity to man is bizarre and grotesque. As Noah watches, he sees a disgusting man eating meat in the crowd, and as the camera dollies in, through the crowd, Noah realizes the man is him. Noah sees that he too is capable of the evil that God is judging. He rightly concludes that he too deserves death for his rebellion. The scene climaxes in a terrifying scene of judgement.

It’s a fundamental belief of Christianity that I am part of what’s wrong with the world. The evil out there is also in me. And yes, dare I say it, even righteous (biblical) Noah too. So give Movie Noah some credit for recognizing his flaw!

But Noah concludes that, even if he the righteous man chosen by God to fulfill this mission is also full of sin, God must therefore want to destroy all humanity, which is by the way, a big departure from the Biblical text which says Noah’s mission was to preserve a remnant for a new creation. Anyway, soon after this, Noah turns psychopath bent on destroying humanity, in the most surprising and perhaps controversial aspect of the film.

It’s not really about the environment

Many of the analyses of Noah I read before I saw the film (and before the film even came out) took issue with what they saw as an extreme environmentalist message: because Noah thinks God wants him to end humanity. This is where I think they’re mistaken.

Because…Movie Noah already loves the environment!

In fact, he couldn’t love the environment any more than destroying humans for the sake of it! If Movie Noah’s plan had succeeded, and the animals all lived happily ever after and happy music played as the last human died – that would have constituted an extreme environmentalist message. But that’s not what happened. Sorry. We only have the movie we got.

If environmental care is to be the message of the film, the moral of the story, Noah’s lesson, then there is going to be no character development. Most of the film would seem somewhat redundant. And much of the environmental awareness so prominent in the film’s early stages takes a back seat in the Ark… probably hiding from Noah.

The point is I think what we’re seeing is someone committed to the creation and allegiance to God but he ultimately lacks mercy. Remember his (perhaps Pharisaical) declaration that “there is no room for them on this boat”? Some hero, right? But he’s doing God’s will isn’t he? Clearly he’s living in this tension between a good God, an humanity gone wild while dealing with his own sinfulness as well as being the primary agent of God’s judgement in the world. How do we reconcile these things together? It’s a common point of tension and these issues may point to something else. I’ll return to in the last post.

Back to the story.

In the end of the movie, after the flood, Noah is living separately from his wife. He makes wine, gets drunk, and is found naked by his sons. Not the best way to start the new creation, but as the creation sequence indicated humans have a history of depravity. However, Noah repents and returns to his wife and family. Ila, Noah’s adopted daughter, assures him he relented from killing his grand-daughters because he has love in his heart (rather than being a failure). Finally, she says, to images of animals, “we need to learn to be kind”.

Not a bad message. But…

The thing with Noah, is that we don’t need to just learn to be kind, though we absolutely need to treat all creation, humans and animals, with kindness and respect. In contrast to Noah most of his family did actually seem to be kind. TC certainly didn’t seem able to be kind and Noah realized he himself is evil, deserving of wrath and judgement like TC. We haven’t done at all well at being kind; our whole history is one of violence, as suggested in the film. Since the fall we seem unable to do what is right to choose the “light” over “darkness”.

Kindness and the kind God

Christians agree that we need to learn to be kind. It’s just that we humans just aren’t very good at it and we seem to need help. Our lack of kindness comes from our self-worship and rejection of the truly good God. More than learning to be kind, we need to be transformed in a way that affirms the humanity of a Tubal Cain but destroys the pride that leads to barbarism and exploitation, and instead leads us to consider others better than ourselves. The pride that says “I will rule my own life. The pride that de-God’s God, if that were really possible. Likewise with Noah, he needs to see that demonstration that humanity is worth saving. In a sense both Noah and Tubal-Cain have the same need.

The good news of the Gospel is that there is a God who is kind and whose kindness – shown to us in the person and work of Jesus – actually leads us to the change we want and need to see in ourselves and in the world. Only because God has been kind first in spite of all our unkindness, selfishness and destructive tendencies, that we have any hope for change. God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) and to show grace and mercy to others. God’s kindness expressed in the self-sacrificial love of Jesus for forgiveness serves as a model for our kindness.

Noah #2 – Great expectations and a better revelation

At various times in Noah, both Noah and Tubal-Cain (TC) cry out to Movie God but they seem to hear nothing. They see nothing but grey storm clouds. It would be easy to conclude from this that Movie God is…indifferent. For example, the lengthy Answers in Genesis review, (exhaustive in identifying differences with the original text) says that: Rather than being the holy God described in Scripture, the god of this film is a vengeful being who remains silent when Noah pleads for an answer about his pregnant daughter-in-law.  I get the point the author is trying to make: Noah has an ethical problem. He cries out to God. God doesn’t answer. God’s not interested. Right? I had the same feeling at various times throughout the movie.

The thing is…

It’s not as if the God character has been entirely distant: throughout, the God character initiates, leads and guides Noah in His plan to cleanse and renew the world, as shown in Part 1. Movie God is not at all indifferent, even if Movie God doesn’t use words. Early on, while Noah is trying to make sense of his calling, grandfather Methuselah assures him “God will communicate with you in a way that you can understand”. Admittedly ,this could be construed in a pluralistic way, or perhaps it is intended to assure Noah that his dreams can be trusted. However, in light of Noah’s eventual belief that his mission involves destroying humanity, it raises the question: Can we hear from God personally and clearly in the way Movie Noah and TC expect? How do we hear from God? Was Methuselah right or wrong? Unfortunately, reading the above quote, one might inadvertently get the impression that perhaps Noah and TC ought to hear from God audibly, clearly and instantly; that God produces the vocal goods on an on-call basis.

Know the feeling?

I have to say that there’s something about Noah and TC’s frustration that rings true on some level. Let’s be honest, people of faith. Don’t we at times want to hear an immediate, direct and clear message from God? Any Christian (I can speak only for them, and then not all of them), and I’m sure many other people in moments of despair as our key characters face here, cry out to God. We want God to talk to us. This feeling is not just a modern frustration. It’s the experience of God’s people throughout history. For example, the Psalmist in Psalm 86 cries out to God in desperation surely wondering if God hears his cries in his suffering: 1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God. 3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. 4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. 6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. 7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. The heart-felt pleas sound something like Noah’s in their pain, if not the detail. But what’s going on in Noah?

Three observations

  1. First, the scenes are perhaps more revealing of Movie Noah than Movie God. Noah shouldn’t have needed an answer to what should have been obvious – at least to all those around him, and everyone in the audience presumably (explaining why the movie was so disturbing in places). He clearly knew the creation story and what was wrong with the world. But not the solution… That’s a point I’ll come back to in a future post.
  2. There seems to be an issue of self-righteousness. Tubal-Cain appeals to his own faithfulness in asking for answer from God, as if God owes him. Interestingly, when God doesn’t answer him directly and immediately, Tubal-Cain’s rejects God. We have it totally the wrong way around if we think God is at our beck and call. God doesn’t exist for us, we exist for him, we need him, we need to listen to him. He made us and sustains us – don’t we owe everything to him?
  3. Noah experiences God’s revelation in the form of dreams and visions. Methuselah said God would communicate in a way that Noah could understand. But the problem with a picture or vision is that it depends heavily on the interpreter. How can I know what your thought was? You might say I’m meant to respond to it in my own way. But if you were trying to communicate to me a particular message, how would I get it right unless you showed me and spoke to me directly? Probably visions aren’t the best way of communicating. Most of movie Noah’s issues seem to stem from this tension. (On this point, the Genesis text just says “God said” – ostensibly audibly but not necessarily, and it may have been a heap easier if movie God did it this way but the story probably wouldn’t have been quite so interesting and dramatic, aside from needing to voice God.)

Movie Noah clearly needs a better, clearer, revelation of God.

The full picture

While many religions claim to have received revelation from God, unique among the world religions is Christianity’s claim that God has spoken finally in a person – Jesus. This is not simply that Jesus was a prophet bringing another revelation. Rather, Jesus is the revelation; the same one through whom the world was created. Hebrews 1 puts it this way:

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

The good news is that God has communicated in a way that we can understand – from the beginning of history to the history of Israel, culminating in the historical acts centered on Jesus of Nazareth, recorded for us in the Gospels: The message of the kingdom of heaven, of reconciliation and the hope of new life in the present characterised by acts of love, and hope of eternal life in the future.

The climax of Jesus’ ministry was his humiliating death and glorious resurrection to free the world from sin: for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). When viewed in light of promise to rescue his people in Ezekiel, this is not just another prophet claiming to speak for God but in a real sense, God himself.

How is this better than what movie Noah had? Simply that, in Jesus, we can see and know what God is like, what God requires of us. Because Jesus bids us come and follow him, the life of Jesus becomes the model for the life of the Christian: Jesus calls his followers to the same self-sacrificial life with the promise that they will be guided by his Words and transformed inwardly by the Holy Spirit.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the Christian life is about looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith. The Christian life is founded on looking to Christ in repentance for forgiveness before God, and perfected by looking to Christ to shape our heart, mind and will. What the Psalmist said above: For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. finds it’s clearest expression and fulfillment in the person of Jesus.

The Christian life is often difficult to live out. It will take a lifetime. Like Noah, we’re fighting doubt, our own tendency to sin and our limited perspective on life. But because the goodness of God is already revealed abundantly in the creation, in Christ and in the transformation of our lives, what we do know of God carries us in the times, when we can’t see; when the darkness seems to veil his face.

Noah #1 – A good God and Aronofsky’s Apple

Noah reunites A Beautiful Mind stars Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, and Russell Crowe with ships in his first sea-faring epic since Master and Commander. While Noah doesn’t rise to the heights of these two great films, some original art direction and some beautifully executed theological sequences help overcome some lacklustre special effects. The result is an uneven film but I think it deserves a little more credit for the themes than many of the negative comments – particularly from the religious community – would suggest.

IMDB hosts a summary of “what happens” here, so I’m not going to retell the story. The specific and significant departures from the biblical narrative should be obvious to anyone who has read the story once. The film also draws heavily on important themes developed earlier in the book of Genesis.

Rather than criticize specific details – partly because it’s been awhile since I wrote my notes – I want to pick up on a few high points and make a generous appraisal of the weightier themes the film brings up: God’s nature, how God speaks, the problem with the world as represented by the conflict between Noah and Tubal-Cain; all things which made me leave the cinema more favourably than I initially thought I might. While I don’t expect my snippets together to be particularly cohesive, I hope a point a two may invite further (positive) reflection on the movie.

A good God acting in a good world

The imagery of the activity of a creative life giving God has stayed in my memory since seeing the film. Among other sequences, Noah features a spectacular creation sequence as Noah recounts the creation story of Genesis. It was great on the big screen! The images concord with the standard cosmological and biological evolutionary models (with which some may disagree) but it’s accelerated over the narrative of 6 days according to the rotation of our planet Earth relative to the Sun. (Win-win?).

Some scholars read Genesis 1 as a hymn, a celebration. I like how Noah’s voice captures some of the amazement we’re meant to feel as we hear about God’s creativity, abundance and blessing. It’s meant to stir our hearts as we read and remember. I also like the discontinuity of sorts between animals and humanity. Whatever else we are, we are unique among the created order in our moral impulses & dilemmas, rational faculties and pursuit of beauty. Elsewhere, Noah affirms the goodness of the purposeful functional creation in which each element has a role to play. The created order is good. No one is confused about this.

At other times, God’s activity is represented in life-giving, abundant and flourishing images – take the flower that springs from the dry ground as God prompts Noah to act, or the life-giving stream that goes up across the face of the earth in provision for his creation. The Bible often use the imagery of streams and rivers to reflect God’s nature as the source of all life, and activity. For example, in speaking about God’s precious steadfast love, the Psalmist writes:

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36:8-9

He brings renewal and restoration; he makes beautiful things out of barren ruined wastelands. And that’s especially true of us too, if we’re open to it. If only our main characters would realize it too.

Aronofsky’s apple

Aronofsky’s apple – the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil - is the um cherry on top. Over the years, this fruit has been variously mocked, speculated on, parodied, misused. Regardless, Aronofsky’s rendition captures its significance just right.

This fruit looks good for food like a nice crunchy apple (Red Delicious is my guess) as is “traditionally” depicted. But Aronofsky’s touch adds something more. This fruit has the appearance of promising new life or a better life, represented by the heart. But behind it stands the choice to reject God and self-rule leading to destruction and death. It’s a perfect picture of sin. The consequences of this choice span human history and all humanity – from the first murder flows a history of violence and de-creation of the good created order.

We too face the problem, the same choice, We are presented with choices and delights which seem good to us but they lead to death and destruction. And we help ourselves to them because we can’t help ourselves escape from them. Yes, God is good and humanity has messed it up. That is clear.

Overall, I liked the various images depicting God’s activity. While God’s apparent silence is a source of confusion for Noah and some commentators (to be discussed in a future post), I’m glad God wasn’t given a voice. For starters, Morgan Freeman – or whomever was cast to voice the Creator of the universe – would be stuck with more jokes about being God. Besides, how does one depict the voice of the creator of the universe without being reductionistic (and probably comical)?

Conclusion

Whether Noah will become a classic among the canon of biblical cinema, it should at least rate a mention for its diagnosis of the problem: our history of violence stems from our rebellion against our Creator. From there, it’s complex and interesting what Aronofsky does with Noah and Tubal-Cain, as confused views about God, humanity and the creation work themselves out. I’ll paint some small pictures of these issues in the next few posts.

Clearing the decks for Noah (2014)

Hoping to go see Noah tomorrow night. I’m not expecting the film to be a blow-by-blow retelling and no one seriously should have expected it to be for a whole bunch of reasons. The Noah text of Genesis 6-9 consists of approximately 2000 words in the English Standard Version. You could read it in less than 15 minutes. There’s almost no speaking, except by God, and a bit from Noah at the end. To make anything other than a short film or a silent one, is going to require a large amount of creative licence. Every frame of (digital) celluloid and all the sounds you create amounts to some kind of ‘creative licence’. That’s what art is… no?

Two key criticisms of the film that emerged on various blogs and posts I’ve read are that 1. it isn’t faithful to the Biblical narrative, and 2. it features a strong environmentalist theme, i.e. values are defined by attitude to the environment.

This post is a rough sketch of my thoughts and other issues related to the above criticisms, prior to viewing the movie.

Hullabaloo – not surprising and not necessary

We knew from a long way out that Aronofsky’s vision probably wasn’t going to align with many viewers’ dream Noah movie (if such a category exists). One of the early quotes from Aronofsky was his statement:

“I think it’s really timely because it’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet,” Aronofsky told SlashFilm.com in 2008. “So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He’s a really interesting character.”  (Christianity Today)

So Aronofsky’s Noah concept has been floating around for many years, at least as far back as 2008. Anyway, shortly before the release of Noah, Paramount added a disclamatory statement to the film and on marketing materials, following consultation with focus groups:

“The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.” 

Let’s be realistic: securing a good return on investment is paramount to Paramount. (See what I did there? You’re welcome.) It’s in their interest to limit negative press and persuade potential viewers to spend their entertainment dollar with them. As Erica Orden reported for the Wall Street Journal in 2012:

Paramount is hoping “Noah” will connect with religious Americans who “may not necessarily go to more than one or two movies a year,” said Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore… “There’s creative interpretation that goes into things that aren’t directly addressed in the underlying material, and so you always run the risk that people take exception to those stories,” Mr. Moore said. Once that process is complete, the challenge shifts to getting both mainstream moviegoers and religious audiences into theater seats, a process that relies both on specialized marketing to those eager for a faith-based film as well as marketing that appeals to those searching for a “popcorn” movie.

On the other hand, the movie (with or without the help of the disclamatory statement) might have actually encouraged people to investigate the story for themselves. For example, the Bible Society reports that online bible reading of Genesis 6-9 has increased since the release of Noah. Maybe not the result those critics were expecting or predicting. But whether the Paramount statement is accurate or not, the trueness of the story to the original text is clearly the source of contention for many. I will suggest some of those challenges later.

On one level, the criticism really shouldn’t be all that surprising – Aronofsky is culturally Jewish and he’s influenced by the Midrash tradition. In the past – I’m estimating around 1998 – he’s described himself as Godless but for the god of narrative filmmaking – by which I take him to mean it gave him ultimate meaning and purpose.

However, reading his interview with The Atlantic, Aronofsky seems much more open than that. And I encourage you to read the interview in full. It’s a great read and there’s heaps of great observations and clearly the result of much “wrestling” with the text. Whether Aronofsky is reading the texts any differently to the way, say, Joseph Campbell might, it’s hard to say and it remains to be seen where he goes with this. But Aronofsky’s interview with The Atlantic suggests his creative choices should be approached more positively than not I think:

The moment that it “grieved Him in his heart to destroy creation,” is, for me, the high dramatic moment in the story. Because think about it: It’s the fourth story in the Bible. You go from creation to original sin to the first murder and then time jumps to when everything is messed up. [The first three stories in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, are the creation, Adam and Eve, and the story of Cain and Abel, which is often referred to as “the first murder.”] The world is wicked. Wickedness is in all of our thoughts. Violence against man and against the planet. And so it was so bad that He decides that He is going to destroy everything and destroy this creation. So what we decided to do was to align Noah with that character arc and give Noah that understanding.

It seems to me that Aronofsky is really fascinated by the story of Noah – it speaks to him in some meaningful way and is interested in these rather universal, timeless questions of the problem of evil, the role of humanity. That’s a good thing. As far as it goes. The “violence… against the planet” represents his particular way into the story, but more on that later.

Based on the background information, then, I question whether the hullabaloo is necessary. People shouldn’t be surprised and act all outraged if Aronofsky’s interpretation is not the Christian one. He’s not a Christian and he didn’t set out to make a Christian movie. And that’s not shocking. The more surprising thing would be if Aronofsky had made a version of the story that was pleasing to 100% of believers, with the story explicitly placed within it’s complete theological context. But what exactly would a “biblically faithful” version look like anyway? It’s not as simple as getting the order of events right.

The Bible and stories and stuff

Movies and stories typically involve a protagonist who wants to achieve something but an internal flaw and an adversary keep him back. In the course of overcoming the flaw and adversary, the character learns a lesson (or not) about how to live or not live life. That’s simplistic I acknowledge. There are a whole bunch of different story shapes, but many stories contain these elements. That’s Story 101.

Good readers in general and good readers of the Bible in particular will recognize that Biblical narratives are highly structured too and in similar ways to ordinary stories. For example, the Noah story might be structured like this:

  • Situation: humanity has become increasingly violent and evil
  • Inciting incident: God is grieved at humanity’s rebellion and graciously chooses Noah and his family to establish a covenant with them to renew the earth
  • Rising tension: as Noah builds the ark, will anyone repent? as flood waters approach and rise, will anyone survive?
  • Climax: God remembers Noah. Ultimately, only Noah and his family are saved, and God reaffirms the creation blessing/mandate, to be fruitful and multiply. A new creation and a new humanity, right?
  • Resolution: Soon after the new creation, problems begin again, with Noah and his family indicating that humanity is yet in need of restoration and the promised saviour is yet to come.

So there’s the bare bones of a story there. But the problem is I’ve introduced a whole lot of stuff from earlier parts of the Bible – the backstory. Stuff like sin, that God is interested in doing something about it, that a redeemer was promised. Hence, the whole story of the Bible could be expressed as follows:

  • Main characters: one supremely good character (God) and a whole bunch of flawed ones (humanity)
  • Situation: the good God creates a good universe for humans to enjoy and steward under his rightful, loving rule
  • Inciting incident: humanity rebels against God but God promises a redeemer
  • Rising tension: What will God do to fix the sin problem? Where is the promised saviour? why can’t Israel be faithful? Can God and man be friends again? [<- Noah fits in here]
  • Climax: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for sin, for sinners, for salvation brings the opportunity for reconciliation between God and humanity
  • Resolution: With Christ as King, humans can properly love God and love neighbour now and into eternity

The Biblical account of Noah, then, is seen as a story within a story of salvation history, which connects the beginning of the creation, the fall, to the redemption won by Jesus, and an ultimate new creation. This is why Christians care about the treatment of the text. Ultimately, in some way, it points us forward to Jesus. As salvation history, the Bible’s primary focus is theological and Christological.

How does one express those theological aspects on screen and transmit the message faithfully? It’s certainly not just a simple matter of putting the events up there in the right order with historically accurate details, or someone reciting reams of text. There’s the question of back story, aligning competing views, particularly problematic for a story like Noah in which only a handful of characters – God, Noah, Noah’s family, the rest of humanity – are mentioned.

A prima facie reading of Aronofsky’s interview suggests to me he gets a lot of the background work right – even if tracing the story through and beyond the Old Testament we would eventually land at different places as to what is the solution to the sin problem – Jesus. People might question the whole basis or reason for doing such a film in the first place, but I’m interested to see how much of this background work is developed in the final film. This can be engaged with fruitfully.

The environment

Now to the big non-controversial thing. Thematically, Aronofsky chose the theme of the environment. And again, it shouldn’t be that surprising. It’s a relevant topical theme of the last 40 or so years and will continue to be for the next century. If we’re still around, and not drowned or hit by an asteroid or stuck in some kind of Matrix. But then how would we know? Even if environmentalism as a theme dominates the movie Noah, it need not be totally repudiated. And it can still be a decent movie either way, or not.

While it’s not the whole focus of the Bible’s storyline, the Biblical writers have quite a few things to say about the environment. Things like

  • God’s creation is good
  • God’s creation is God’s
  • we are part of it as God’s creatures
  • we’re to take care of it
  • we’re to enjoy what it has to offer
  • God’s judgement is against those who destroy it
  • There will be a final new creation

It’s a gift of common grace by which we all physically live. We care for the environment because it’s God’s and it’s good for people when we do. And it’s bad when we don’t. For example, the disposal of computer and mobile phone parts by incineration releases deadly toxins into the air. A dreadful cost of our technological lifestyle. Or transportation emissions leading to respiratory conditions and possibly death. [rant] It annoys me when political conservatives display a lackadaisical attitude to the environment, or fear of espousing environmentalism. Preserving stuff is the core business of conservatism right? Let’s get the conservation back into conservatism. [/rant] Perhaps a Venn diagram will help:

venn

Diagram not to scale.

Now, some worldviews place the environment equal to humanity or above it in the place of God. And when they do, things get out of order. Not only is this view of the world skewed, either the environment or people end up suffering. Humans are more valuable than the environment, but abuse of creation is an affront to the One who made it too and it is detrimental for humans when we mess it up.

Conclusion

So this leaves me with the questions I will bring to my review: To what extent does Noah succeed as a film – is it entertaining, emotionally engaging, characters, acting, or exhibit artistic or technical merit? What is Noah’s goal, flaws, the antagonist, how does he change in character between the beginning and the end? Is the depiction of humanity true? Does it say anything worth saying?  Does Aronofsky’s ground work for the film come across on screen? Not too different from questions I’m asking here ordinarily. How uncontroversial.

Review ahoy.