Noah: Why Even [Revise: Especially] Christians Should Watch It, Part I

noah

I realize this series is somewhat belated, considering the fact that the film in question came out several months ago. However, the points I want to make about Noah are points I believe to be applicable to a wide variety of different texts and works of art, so I hope you’ll give this series a read anyway.

Disclaimer: This post is intended primarily to address an audience of Christians who were deeply offended by the film Noah, and it responds to blog posts by such individuals encouraging other Christians not to see it. If you are not a Christian, don’t interpret Genesis as fact, didn’t have a problem with the film, etc., and still feel the need to comment on this post, please take into consideration the fact that the post is operating under the aforementioned basic assumptions for that specific audience. Please don’t be a troll or a hater. That said, I would love for you to read this series, no matter who you are, and participate in the conversation with a thoughtful, respectful response if you feel so inclined.

I heard the commotion being caused by this movie weeks before I actually went and saw it.

“It was awful,” more than one relative told me. “Wasn’t anything like the real story at all.”

On the other hand, I had some friends (also devout Christians) who highly recommended the film, placing before me a most perplexing contradiction—which, for the academic scholar part of me, meant I couldn’t wait to watch it for myself and draw my own conclusions. I saw the film with my small group from church, paid attention to every detail, looked for the things that had offended my conservative friends and family so deeply. After the movie was over, my small group and I adjourned to an ice cream shop nearby and literally sat there for the next two or three hours discussing the film, during which time I was able to process my reactions to the big screen version of Noah and bounce my thoughts off of godly people well-acquainted with Scripture. Here’s the conclusion I came to:

I loved it.

Before some of you reading this become shocked and appalled and begin doubting my salvation, let’s first go to the source and refresh ourselves on the facts:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%206&version=NIV

From there, the text turns into a lengthy genealogy, so that seems like a good stopping point for discussion. After reading and re-reading these three chapters (and the Bible in general), there is one obvious yet overlooked conclusion I’d like to state right off the bat:

For such a cataclysmic event, the actual flood account is surprisingly brief.

This is a problem we encounter time and time again with the Bible, simply because it’s a collection of documents covering a vast amount of history in a comparatively small amount of space. We never have as many details as we would want. Even in the accounts of Jesus (the whole point of the Bible), John tells us that “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book” (20:30 NIV). So here’s the thing: we cannot assume that a four-page-long account of one of the greatest natural disasters since the dawn of time includes everything that actually happened in that disaster. In other words (assuming everyone reading this post believes the flood narrative to be an account of a historical event[1]), we can safely say the details given in the biblical narrative actually happened. But does that mean that other details not included in the narrative didn’t happen? Is it possible that there were all kinds of things that the author of the story simply didn’t include for time’s sake? Or that were lost in translation? It’s not only possible, it’s actually certain that there are details we do not get to know.

That said, the majority of Christians who dislike the film actually disagree with the director’s inclusion of things not stated in the Bible.

Problems frequently cited by my friends and family who interpreted the film as a distortion of biblical Truth include the following:

  1. Giant boulder-like fallen angels help build the ark
  2. Noah considers murdering his family
  3. Stowaway on the ark causes problems
  4. Wives of the youngest two sons are still in utero when they board the ark

Thing is, none of these artistic choices on the part of director Darren Aronofsky contradicts what’s written in the text. Nobody can prove that they didn’t happen the way they’re depicted in the film. Aronofsky can’t prove that they did, nor is he trying to. He is simply offering an imaginative retelling of an age-old story the way he envisions it transpiring (loosely based, by the way, on a comic strip). I’d be much more concerned about the film if he’d distorted what the text DOES say, rather than including details it DOESN’T.

So what DOES the text say?

What’s the single most important thing about the Noah story that shouldn’t be changed? If you have read the Bible, the answer is simple:

The whole point of the flood story—and of the Bible in general—is showing how God’s love overcomes God’s judgment. Any retelling of a biblical story that changes the nature of God is a distortion of the story.

If Aronofsky had portrayed God as something He was not—if he had allowed justice to conquer mercy, evil to conquer good—I would tell you right now that the film could not be considered a Christian film. But the fact is, whether or not you agree with fallen angels protecting Noah’s family,[2] it’s undeniable that the nature of God in this movie remains true. Aronofsky does a fantastic job portraying the mystery and awe-inspiring power of the Creator. Therefore, what most Christians are disagreeing with is the director’s artistic depiction of events, not some sinister attempt to subvert the redeeming power of the Creator.

This is why I simply do not see how any person can criticize the way another person envisions a biblical story transpiring. We all envision Bible stories differently, and chances are, none of our versions is a 100% accurate representation of what actually happened. When we are taught the flood story as children in Bible class, for example, we are taught it in a very particular way that masks the horror of a mass annihilation of the human race and the cataclysmic powers of a global flood. We replace these terrors with cute felt animal pairs and baby nursery decor. We need to realize that the way we envision the flood happening in our heads is almost certainly not the way it actually happened, so the director’s version may be different from yours, but it is no better or worse than yours. Trying to decide who has the most realistic version of that event is futile. So many people who believe that the Bible is a sacred and infallible text either forget or do not realize that play and fluidity are still present within the stories it tells. In fact, events in the Bible are often told through different viewpoints with different details and interpretations—as all history is told—and that does not make the stories any less true. It’s something Christians often seem to forget (which is ironic, considering the most important story in the entire Bible is told from four very different perspectives back-to-back). If different versions of the same biblical story are all considered true, why do we have such a problem with a “different” version of the Noah story on the big screen?

You may be thinking, “But Sarah, if you add too many new things into a story, at some point it ceases to be recognizable. Where do you draw the line?” What if Aronofsky had decided to make the elephants purple and equip the ark with a jet pack that sent it soaring into outer space? Eventually, the story wouldn’t even be true anymore. Right?

Not necessarily.

When retelling an old story, it’s acceptable and even expected that you would make some minor changes. Otherwise, what’s the point of offering the retelling? However, a good storyteller knows that in order for the story to retain its credibility, the changes must still lie within the realm of possibility of things that could operate realistically within the story. All of Aronofsky’s stylistic choices keep the flood story’s credibility intact (and some of his choices actually strengthen the story’s credibility, something I’ll talk more about in Part II). No matter what the director changes, no matter how crazy the film gets, we still recognize an element of Truth[3] there that has not been distorted. Something similar happens when we recognize the TV show House as a medical modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes, or The Lion King as a retelling of Hamlet with a dash of Exodus thrown in for good measure. (If you haven’t thought about those before, I might have just blown your mind.) Though Noah makes much smaller changes comparatively, the point I’m trying to make is that a surprising number of details can change in a story before we lose the ability to recognize it as that story. In all of the aforementioned cases, the message of the story remains the same. We still recognize this as the story of Noah. We still recognize this as the story of God redeeming the human race. Therein lies the Truth—and the worth—of this film.

Additionally, to those who would argue that Aronofsky’s version of the flood seemed too fantastical or unrealistic, I would remind you that the story of a worldwide flood and a boat carrying two of every species in the animal kingdom is already fantastical and unrealistic; the fact that Aronofsky adds or embellishes some should not be a deal-breaker for Christian audiences who, by the definition of their faith, are required to possess the imaginative capability of believing in things unseen and “unrealistic.” Christianity is a celebration of the creative imagination, of the desire to create as a reflection of our Creator first designing us from His imagination. If we approach this retelling of a Bible story as a product of the God-given creative imagination and not as some abhorrent perversion of biblical Truth, we may be surprised to find that a film like Noah has the ability to revitalize our own imagination and creative spirit, and, in doing so, reenergize our personal faith in the Creator.

[1] If you interpret the flood narrative as myth or allegory, you probably don’t have a problem with the Noah film. I am responding to those Christians who view the entire Bible as 100% fact. In defense of an actual global flood, see multiple references to a similar event documented in various mythologies around the world.

[2] Genesis states that the Nephilim “were on the earth in those days—and also afterward” (6:4 NIV). Most scholars believe them to either be fallen angels or sired by fallen angels (“sons of God”), so historically, it is possible that Noah had interactions with some sort of celestial beings like those depicted in the film.

[3] I’m using the absolute form of Truth here to indicate a Truth present in the story regardless of whether or not smaller facts or “truths” have been altered or re-envisioned.

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