Friday, April 11, 2014

“I saw death; but I also saw new life”: A ‘Noah’ Film Review

Before I actually review the film let me address the negative feedback this movie has received from the evangelical community in particular, mostly even before folks actually saw it.  If you think that a big-budget Hollywood epic helmed by an atheistic director based on Biblical source material is going to be 100% “evangelically kosher”…well then it’s not Hollywood or Darren Aronofsky that’s the dumbo…you’re the dumbo.

The breath of surprise and offense a lot of Christians (mind you many who haven’t even seen the movie) have exhibited against this movie is downright sad.  Attributing moral standards on folks in which were never meant to apply to is at best ignorant and at worst damaging to the spread of the kingdom of God – as Jon Stewart adroitly points out. 

Please stop propagating the stereotype that Christians are a bunch of judge-a-book-by-its-cover mindless judgers.  I understand avoiding products with known heretical elements (i.e. ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’) from personal conviction, but I’m sorry…using the name “Creator” in lieu of “God” most of the time does not count as blasphemy (see explanation below).

Knowing beforehand the movie would obviously expand upon the Biblical text creatively like any reasonable-thinking Christian would allowed me to enjoy the movie for what it was.  Of course I knew this would not be the same Noah story I was shown via 80’s flannel board cut-outs in Sunday school.  My hope was it would never venture into sacrilege territory though…and contrary to perhaps some peoples’ agendas, it never did (despite yes, grand creative liberties taken by the filmmakers).  Yes the movie does have thematic elements that may reaffirm some people’s mostly incorrect belief in a completely different Old Testament (vengeful) God and New Testament (loving) God[i], but I think it will motivate them to open up and actually read their Bible pique peoples’ interest in the actual Biblical story much more than it will give them ammunition to reject faith.  Now on to the actual review…

Minor spoilers…

                Apart from the discussion above, basically I will say that if you’re a Believer, this movie will not change that.  If you’re not one for faith, I doubt this will change your thoughts either.  In both cases I think, and hope, it will pique interest in the Biblical account though.   The movie retains the essence or core of the Biblical story, and though fantastical elements are involved, it doesn’t stray from the fact that God saw man’s wickedness had indeed reached a threshold deserving annihilation, that he chose a righteous, yet imperfect man, as his earthly vessel and mouthpiece, provided an “ark” of salvation for this righteous, yet imperfect, man and his family, and proved his love for them by saving them and providing new life for all.  Sound familiar doesn’t it?  ;)

                The first thing that struck me about the film was how foreign the physical environment seemed.  Yes it could’ve been filmed in any arid mountainous region around the world, but I believe the directors were trying to capture the assuredly different world that was after the Fall and before the Flood.  Yes there are some surprising fantastical elements in this pre-Flood world, but none of them necessarily contradict anything the Bible says about it – which is very thin if not silent on mind you.  That said, some of the creative liberties Aronofsky chose to implement almost seemed like they’d fit (some did not and only served as a moderate distraction IMO).  You must remember that during the time of Noah, they were still only a handful of generations removed from the Garden.  Yes folks lived many hundreds of years during that time, but oral tradition assuredly was potent and the residual effects of the Garden’s fallout surely were still remembered and felt.  The movie touches upon this residue in neat, speculative ways for the most part.

                Let’s set the record straight, the movie does utter the word “God” at least once.  Ham at one point says, “My father said there can be no king. The Creator is God”.   Why this is even an issue to people I’m not sure.  Not only are we talking about a time period where things like the Ten Commandments or the nation of Israel, let alone Christian buzzwords like “small group” and “backsliding”, are millennia off into the future, we’re dealing with a God that won’t even tell us his name when people asked.  I mean you can’t get any more brilliantly and ambiguously divine than the “I Am That I Am”.  Further when the Pentateuch was first penned, the Hebrews dared not even utter the name of YHWH out of reverence.

             To be honest I felt the constant reference to God as the “Creator”, interestingly by both the righteous and the wicked, to be pretty neat…almost endearing.  Considering what I said earlier about these folks still being relatively close to the 6th Day or Creation, it makes total sense they would know God less as the personal, approachable God that we have in Jesus today, and more as the sustaining, providing, creator God portrayed in the Torah as he begins to rebuild his relationship with his crowning creation.

Drunk Noah
                "Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent." -Genesis 9:20-21

                Not only was Noah drunk, he was a naked drunk lol!  I don’t get folks that make Noah out to be the first ordained saint.  Perhaps he wasn’t as “combative” as Russel Crowe’s portrayal (which was fabulous IMO), but if any other of God’s chosen vessels throughout the Bible are good indicators, chances are he had his fair share of issues like the rest of us.  Lay off the guy.

                Regardless your opinion on the context of the movie the acting was fine across the board.   Russell Crowe is his usual commanding, ideal-convicted film self that we all know and love about him as the lead protagonist.  The rest of the characters, even the child actors do a fine job.  There is a little bit too much melodrama towards the third act of the film, primarily by Jennifer Connolly and Emma Watson's characters, but it’s not overboard enough, pun intended, to derail the core story.
                God’s communication to Noah via dream sequences is an interesting choice for communication medium.  Again the Bible doesn’t specifically mention God talked verbally to Noah, but I think there was less ambiguity between them then the movie perhaps portrays.  That said, God speaking to folks via dreams is definitely not unprecedented in the Bible.

Not Your Sunday School Noah
                As I mentioned before, this is a much more action-oriented, fantastical, dark Noah story then we all learned as 1st graders.  And when you think about it with your adult mind, chances are the real story of Noah was probably darker then we were led to or care to believe.  I mean when the world has become so wicked even the long-suffering God of forgiveness and mercy’s hand is forced, you know it’s a dark time. 
                In addition, the special effects are top notch.  Never before except in the movie '2012' has any one, Christian or not, really been able to depict onscreen the massive catastrophe that the Flood event must have been, local or worldwide[ii], with the necessary gravitas such as this movie.

                As can be expected the Garden of Eden, and more particularly the Fall of Adam and Eve, play heavily into the plot of the story, as it does in the Bible.  The movie refers back to this infamous seminal event in mankind’s history numerous times.  At one point we’re visually taken back to symbolic moments of the Fall of Adam and Eve and how the filmmakers depict Eden is quite different than I’ve always picture Eden to be.  Of course any specific depiction is pure conjecture, but I figure it’d be a bit more “garden-y” then as shown in the movie.  If you start thinking about Windows XP after you see it, you’ll know what I mean lol.

I think my brother Derek said it best when he said that “God gave us the exact amount of information he wanted to regarding Noah and the Flood; no more and no less was necessary.”  That said, what was given is probably too little to make a full-length feature movie out of.  Aronofsky tried, and surely personally, and perhaps critically and financially, succeeded, but because the source text is fairly thin on a lot of the Flood account’s surrounding elements both before and after, much of the movie's elements are merely conjecture.  If you want to see a fairly entertaining action/drama set in a cool world and time period based loosely on the famous Bible story by all means go see it.  If you’re looking for an accurate rendition that gets to the point without 20 minutes of previews, check out Genesis chapters 5-9.

3 out of 5 stars

[i] Please read Psalm 103 in the OT or the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 in the NT to see some contrasting views to that theory.
[ii] For the record, I believe in the "Local Flood Theory".  See more info here

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