When all the hype over Noah first hit the blogosphere, I read several different reviews written by Christians who felt threatened by the film. I’m not sure what threatened them more—the fact that the film made changes to the story, or the fact that it was an atheist director who was making the changes. I often wonder how the movie would have been received by these very same bloggers had Max Lucado or some other big-name Christian directed the project. My suspicion is that, while bloggers may still have been surprised by the changes to the story, they would not have jumped onto their blog sites with a vengeance, rallying Christians to reject a movie before they’d even seen it for themselves, blasting every detail of the film with a scathing critique saturated in a thick layer of sarcasm. I could go on for several pages about how such an attitude—toward anything—is unloving and un-Christlike, but I’ll address that in Part III of this series. At any rate, as I read these so-called “Christian” responses that picked apart every detail of the film, I decided as part of my response, I would offer a positive review of some of the movie’s strengths.
Here I present to you my top three reasons for why you SHOULD watch Noah:
- The depiction of God is accurate.
Like I said in Part I, if this film had depicted God contrary to His nature, I could stop right there and tell Christians not to support it. However, I believe this atheist director stayed true to the text he read, and his depiction is spot-on.
I love how:
- God is always referred to as the Creator—his primary role in the universe. In an era much closer to the beginning of the world, it makes sense that the world’s inhabitants would understand God first and foremost as the Creator. It’s a role often overlooked by Christians today and revitalized by this film. In particular, it’s a relationship that resonates with artistic types such as myself who also feel the need to create and design—desires I believe we possess as beings made in the image of the Creator.
- God speaks to Noah through dreams and signs, in much the same way He communicates with us today. When I sat down in the theater to see this film, I was dreading the depiction of God. I just knew at any moment, a Wizard-of-Oz-like voice was going to burst forth from the heavens and deliver the cheese-factor that usually accompanies biblical films. I was so relieved when it didn’t. Instead, Aronofsky chose to depict God as He is—a powerful, mysterious, wonderful Creator.
- Most importantly, God is shown to be merciful. And the only way we can truly understand the power of God’s mercy is to first understand the terror of His justice. Never before have I actually, truly thought about how evil the world must have been for God to bring about its destruction. Never before have I imagined how horrifying it would be to pitch up and down in the darkness of the ark, listening to the helpless cries of the people drowning outside. The sheer evil and terror are glossed over when we first hear this story as children, and I understand why. But they are vital parts to the story nonetheless, parts that we as adults need to rediscover, because it is not until we understand this terror that we can truly understand what a gift is God’s grace. The film does a spectacular job juxtaposing these two components of God’s nature and showing how, in the end, love wins. We are God’s chosen people saved from the flood. This movie calls us to return to a so-called children’s story as adults and reexamine it, and it does so with an emotional depth no other medium I have seen has been able to achieve.
2. The film is all about redemption.
The redeeming power of Jesus’ sacrifice is the single thing that draws people to Christianity. Without the idea that an all-powerful Creator would also love his creations enough to save them by sacrificing himself, Christianity would be no better than any other religion or world mythology out there. Redemption is something unexplainable, undeserved, indescribable at its core because words do not do justice to the power of the emotion felt at the thought of the Creator saving the world from the destruction it built for itself. The whole point of including Old Testament stories in the biblical canon—including the story of the flood—is so that maybe, by being introduced to the idea of redemption early on, we might begin to wrap our minds around the redeeming power of Jesus by the time we meet him in the book of Matthew. In the Bible, we see redemption echoed throughout history; we are introduced to it through narrative, poetry, and prophecy. In this way, we have an inkling of the monumental implications of that sacrifice.
Noah’s story is meant to introduce us to the idea of God’s love triumphing over God’s judgment. It’s meant to introduce us to the idea of a savior sparing us when we didn’t deserve it. It shows the horrors of evil we have chosen for ourselves pivoted against the hope for a Creator who would reach down and pull us out of our own imprisonment. Ultimately, the story of Noah ends incomplete, evil still present in the world even after everyone is gone but Noah and his family. This fact, though initially depressing, actually points toward an even greater act of sacrifice to come, a moment when the Creator will actually become a man like Noah and open his arms to the engulfing floodwaters in our place.
Scenes that, for me, best display the power of redemption include:
A. The Deaths of the Angels
When the angels are dying, they cry out to the Creator for forgiveness. In that moment, after years of exile on Earth, the Creator calls them home. Whether it “actually” happened or not, it’s still a scene that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The angels, like me, chose to separate themselves from their Father but nevertheless cried out to Him in their moment of need, not deserving an answer, not expecting one. But getting one all the same.
B. The Dark Side of Redemption
The inner turmoil of those who receive redemption is powerful. It’s a feeling I have had many times, a feeling of being rescued and not understanding why. So many Christians I have spoken with were turned off to the movie because of Noah’s contemplation to murder his grandchildren, and I can’t help but feel that such a reaction does not take into account the realistic struggle of receiving the gift of redemption. Now, don’t get me wrong, if Noah had actually followed through with his decision, it would have been an untrue representation of the story; nothing about a child-murderer points to the love of Christ. But that’s not what happened. What happened was we got to see some very realistic, poignant internal conflict in a man who has just witnessed the annihilation of his species and who must attempt to process why he and his family—also sinful—are the exception to the rule. He wonders if the preservation of goodness might be more valuable than his family’s lives—in my opinion, a legitimate question. I don’t believe there is a human being that has ever walked this planet who would be able to endure the destruction of the world and not experience some post-traumatic stress. To Christians asking the question, “Why would you depict Noah this way?” I simply say, “Why wouldn’t you depict Noah this way?” Just because he was spared by God doesn’t mean that his life was roses during the flood, any more than our lives are roses because we have been saved. All in all, this is the most realistic, moving portrayal of Noah I have ever seen. His doubt and his humanness make him relatable and also show the free will God allows for our decision-making. I’d venture to assert that every devout Christ-follower on Earth has or will at some point in their lives question why they have been saved when they do not deserve it. It’s the exact same question Noah wrestles with onscreen. Rather than being a deal-breaker for Christian audiences, this should be a conflict that resonates within the heart of every saved person.
C. Stylistic choices actually make the story more believable.
There are a number of wonderful details added into this film by the director, all of which, I believe, contribute to the richness and beauty of the story.
- I love the fact that this world is still very new, still very much connected to its moment of creation. The animals are recognizable, yet with an otherworldly, prehistoric aura.
- Noah’s wife is obviously connected to nature; her skill in the art of natural medicine has a distinctly magical feel to it. It’s not dark magic, but rather an energy and connectedness to all of creation, something I feel we might have lost along the way with our unwavering trust in science and technology. Her method of putting the animals into a drugged hibernation is an effective suggestion for solving issues of animal containment, feeding, and waste cleanup that largely hinder skeptics from believing the flood narrative to be true.
- The idea that there might be people trying—even almost succeeding—in taking the ark as refuge from the floodwaters is also entirely possible. Whether or not a man named Tubal-Cain actually stowed away on the ark and tried to convince Ham to murder his father is unlikely, but it’s not a point of contention. If we look at the character’s metaphorical purpose in the story rather than getting hung up on his literal existence, we quickly see the value of including Tubal-Cain. Put simply, he acts as the physical embodiment of corruption, showing how evil, like a disease, can be spread even to the purest of hearts, and how it is inescapable, even in a flood that attempts to wash it away. He also serves as a foil for Noah; if you think about it, there are striking similarities between the two. Both men believe they have the power and the authority to choose whether they and their loved ones live or die. Both of them believe they hold the power of judgment in their hands. If Noah had murdered his family, he would have, for all practical purposes, become Tubal-Cain. The fact that he chooses mercy where Tubal-Cain chooses judgment only further highlights how easy it would have been for Noah—or any of us—to succumb to evil, and how amazing is the grace of the Creator who rescued us. If you view Tubal-Cain as the corruption of mankind personified, suddenly his presence on the ark is not offensive; it’s accurate.
- One of my favorite inclusions is the character Methuselah, played by the supremely talented Anthony Hopkins. Throughout the film, Methuselah is on a quest to find elusive red berries. On a literal level, his search provides some much-needed comic relief. On another level, however, these berries are obviously a metaphor. Methuselah essentially asks the question, “Is there anything good left on this earth that is worth preserving?” It’s a poignant question. It’s the same question Noah wrestles with, the same question asked by the book of Genesis and the Bible in its entirety. By all accounts, the answer should be no. And yet, because of Jesus, we know God’s answer is, unbelievably, yes. It’s a theme that resurfaces in all kinds of unexpected places because it’s so fundamentally important for us. In Noah, just as the floodgates burst open, Methuselah unearths a few small, red berries, and he smiles. He closes his eyes and stretches out his arms to embrace the engulfing waters, content in the knowledge that hope exists. At the risk of sounding like Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, there’s some good left in the world, and it’s worth preserving.
- Lastly, I’m enamored with the creation story as told in the film. This is a stunningly beautiful retelling of the beginning of Genesis. We see creation and the fall of man acted out onscreen as Russell Crowe narrates. We journey through the beginnings of the world, watching as the animal kingdom branches into different families and species. Last of all, we see a monkey swinging through the trees, followed by a flash of white light. In that moment of light, humans come into being. The transition is executed subtly, leaving space for the viewer to choose whether to interpret events through an evolutionary lens or a creationist one. In one brilliant move, the director appeases both audiences. Add to that the fact that I love Noah passing the creation story on to his children through oral storytelling as a means of keeping mankind connected to its moment of creation and to the Creator, and you have a pretty powerful scene here. All of these elements combine to create both the mystical wonder of a newly-created world and a very realistic, tangible place in which there is both goodness and evil. It’s a world that is entirely different from and yet somehow relatable to our own.