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.

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