April 3, 2014

Noah: what did you expect

by C-Gate Links

This review is written by Tom Patton, Pastor of Congregational Care at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles.

Last Friday movie theaters all around the nation opened their doors to invite the viewing public in to watch Russell Crowe take on his newest role; the epic character of Noah. Isn’t it interesting how just the mention of one of the Scripture’s most well-known characters in the same sentence as one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors can create an odd blend of curiosity and dread in most Bible-believing Christians? The two just don’t seem to go together. I remember the first time I saw the massive publicity poster hanging from the walls of my local cinema before the film’s release. There right before me hung a larger-than-life portrait of a grizzly bear of a man with a full beard, drenched with water, sporting what seemed to be a biker crew cut and wrapped in a battle worn leather garment more reminiscent of Harley-Davidson performance gear than Antediluvian dress. It was Noah meets Gladiator; Maximus meets Genesis; Hollywood meets the Ark.

Instantly I started wondering to myself, “Why in the world would Russell Crowe accept a role like this?” I had never known him to be a man of faith. In fact I had very often been disappointed with the stories he had shared about himself in the television interviews I had seen over the years. What I considered to be an incredibly gifted artist seemed to be in real life more of a drunkard than a hero. Deep inside I wanted him to be a man of integrity and strength like the characters he so often portrays; but, alas, he too seemed to be like everyone else of his stature who performs in front of a camera; a larger-than-life unbelieving man. So needless to say seeing Russell Crowe’s name associated with the name of Noah was somewhat intriguing to me. I wondered (for a split of a nanosecond) if perhaps Crowe had actually become a Christian. Though I hadn’t heard any rumor of his conversion in the trades it certainly could have happened. But once I found out that Jennifer Connelly (whom he had co-starred with once before in “A Beautiful Mind”), Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins were also starring in the film, sad to say all my previously held naivety evaporated on the spot. No, Russell Crowe was merely a blockbuster leading actor in a Hollywood film that sought to capitalize on the story of Noah from the book of Genesis; nothing more, nothing less.

So I asked myself, “Why would some of Hollywood’s most powerful artists come together to do a film based on the Spirit-inspired story of Noah?” It must be because they were out to make a “political” statement. I say that because years ago I was a part of a question and answer seminar with actress Susan Sarandon where she openly admitted to a crowd of young actors that “all films are political.” At that time I remember resisting her assertion, only later to reconsider her words and admit to myself that they actually represented reality. All film has an agenda; all media is unashamedly used for the promotion of some hidden message. So for a handful of Hollywood’s most highly paid actors to come together to be in a film of biblical proportions could ultimately be for one reason; to advance a political agenda. There was definitely going to be a schema behind the scenes. And yet, still I found myself wanting to see the film.

Why? Well for one, I was interested in how the film might differ from the biblical account. You see, I would never go to a movie titled “Noah” and expect to witness an accurate account of the biblical narrative. In fact, no one should ever go to a Hollywood production of any kind and expect to see a true rendering of biblical truth. Think about it; if someone has spent millions of dollars to procure for themselves actors and directors and writers of prominence to recreate a biblical story then almost by definition they aren’t going to promote the certainty of Scripture. There is a certain beautiful but dangerous naivety in most evangelical circles that has allowed them to entertain the idea that on some level Hollywood desires to promote the glory of God when they don’t. Perhaps it comes from the newest Christian vogue of trying to win the culture by living like the culture. Perhaps we have tried to become so much like them that now we believe they are like us. Somehow believers have seduced themselves into believing that unbelieving Hollywood wants to further the Christian agenda. Somehow born-again saints have concluded that creatively gifted pagans deep down inside want to present to the world a biblically accurate portrayal of a divinely inspired event and will commit millions upon millions of dollars to accomplish that end. Somehow well-intended Christians have convinced themselves that the present world system which is controlled by demonic forces desires to further the agenda of biblical truth, when they should know that just the opposite is true.

Let us be clear; Hollywood for the most part hates the Bible, hates God, hates Christ, and hates the church. “Hates” you say?  “Isn’t that a bit harsh?” Yes, I say “hates.” Remember not all hatred is expressed in fits of rage; some hatred is expressed in subtle shades of half-truths and therefore is more dangerous because of its covert disguise. Even Satan doesn’t present himself as a fork-tailed creature to the world but rather he comes as an angel of light. He doesn’t reveal himself as a devil but rather as a ministering spirit. He manifests himself more in religious dress than secular suits. Even in the book of Revelation we see how the Antichrist and the False Prophet are ultimately portrayed as religious in nature. Therefore no one should be surprised if Hollywood tries to capture the hearts and minds of the public through a movie like “Noah.” In fact, Christians who understand Scripture should expect just the opposite. I haven’t read any of the critiques that have circulated since the film opened, but according to the people I’ve talked to the general consensus among evangelicals is shocking. It seems as if many of the Christian film critics who critiqued “Noah” went into the screening thinking that its director, Darren Aronofsky, intended on making a film that would be accurate to the biblical text. If that is true then that naïve expectation, in and of itself, is more disturbing to me than anything I saw in the film.

Why would biblically-literate Christians ever expect unbelieving filmmakers to produce anything other than a story from the Bible that would distort the truth?  What is it about modern evangelicalism that believes a man who is a self-proclaimed atheist, who boasts that he had made “the most unbiblical biblical movie” ever, would want to promote the Word of God?  I fear that the doctrine of total depravity has been so diluted in the pulpit of most churches today that many have become vulnerable to that kind of strange expectation. Unbelieving people don’t believe the Bible.  At best, Aronofsky saw in the story of Noah an ancient myth that he could exploit for the purposes of furthering his vegan agenda concerning animal cruelty. At worst, Aronofsky saw in the story of Noah a biblical narrative that he could purposely distort so as to weaken the faith of an entire generation of Jewish, Christian and Islamic devotees while at the same time preventing a world of unbelievers from ever knowing the truth.  To be honest, if the former was his intention then he probably succeeded, but if the later was his intention then he failed miserably. In fact, I believe if an unbeliever chooses to watch the film “Noah” that they would come out from its story virtually unharmed from having done so. What!? Yes, I don’t believe a normal unbelieving man or woman could watch the film “Noah” and be turned any further from God than they already are in their unconverted state. Though it’s possible that Aronofsky might have desired to turn other unbelievers into becoming more staunch atheists like himself, I believe that goal clearly wasn’t met. Why do I say that? Because for some reason it seems that Aronofsky and the co-writer of the film John Logan wanted to stay true to at least the outline of the biblical story of Noah. Yes, they distorted the story on many levels; yes, they included a futuristic kind of alternate universe subplot that was anything but biblical, but overall it seemed as if they intended to “stick to the script” in terms of including some of the true story’s main points.

Again, it seems to me (without reading their own interviews) that they approached the film as an kind of ancient/futuristic fable and therefore felt entitled to change elements in the story to further their own ideologies. It would be no different than Christian filmmakers writing a script about the mythology of Ulysses, placing him within an ancient galaxy far, far away, and then drawing out redemptive parallels to retell the story so that the gospel message could be understood. The vital difference being that Noah was written by God while the Odyssey was written by Homer. Of course to unbelieving filmmakers the Bible is mythology so when they present it as such they are only being consistent with their world view. Instead of being surprised that Noah was painted as a fable we should be surprised that Christians expected it to be portrayed as the truth.

Yet, with all that said, there were some very interesting ways that the creators of the film attempted to weave their artistic ideologies into the shell of God’s biblical narrative. First, let me address the biblical shell they attempted to fill. According to the film there was a man named Noah (in this myth-like alternate universe) who had a wife and two sons that really did believe that the “Creator” (as they called God) had judged the world as guilty for the evil they had committed and thus had commanded Noah to build an ark to contain a portion of all the creatures of the earth since he was set to destroy the world by water and the human race would be punished by annihilation. That was the shell-premise upon which the writers operated. However, for all intents and purposes, any and all resemblance to the biblical story of Noah ended there. Based on this delicate shell of a script the writers then began to invent a series of interrelated story-lines that seemed purposely intent on filling up “white spaces” of the account with the most fantastical events they could imagine. At times the writers seemed to almost enjoy dancing dangerously close to the edge of the biblical narrative by introducing scenarios that, given the way they were placed into the story, seemed almost plausible in their context; while at other times the writers seemed to glory in blatantly and unashamedly distorting the Genesis account so as to insert their own revisionist history.

The distortions were easy to detect; instead of mankind being sentenced to die for the sins that they had committed against God, the Creator was presented as wanting to destroy mankind for the guilt they incurred against the creation. Animals were not to be eaten; trees were not to be consumed; the earth’s blood was not to be spilled. Therefore the film’s central “sin” that demanded man’s total annihilation by his Creator was his environmental iniquities. The main antagonist against Noah (who in the end actually forces his way into the ark and fights with Noah until his death) at times could be heard quoting portions of biblical truth concerning how man was to lord over the creation, yet because of the perverse way in which he expressed his position he made that particular scriptural reality seem cruelly barbaric and vindictive. In addition to these more serious distortions came also the introduction of some imprisoned spirits called “the Watches” that were confined to become part of the gravel of the earth. These Transformers-like rock giants were used in the film as an odd kind of comic relief becoming construction workers who helped build the ark as well as Noah’s personal body guards for himself and his family. This kind of plot insertion seemed extremely strange and unnecessary to the film unless of course they were trying to capitalize on the recent trend of placing digitalized monster/ogres into fantasy films like “Lord of the Rings.” These events as well as others we’re all clear distortions of the Noah story.

That being said, some of the events in the film were not clear distortions of the Genesis account bur rather were presented to the audience as being conceivable alternatives to the traditional story. For instance, the Bible clearly states that God saved eight persons on the ark (1 Peter 3:20). Yet instead of those eight people being Noah and his wife and his three sons and their three wives (presumably all having been married when they entered the ark), the number of eight persons was seen as being represented in Noah, his wife, his three sons, one of their wives, and the twin daughters she bore in her womb that were born on the ark (presumably portrayed as being the other two sons future wives). This kind of hermeneutical gymnastics was created to allow an incredibly powerful sub-plot to emerge that drives Noah’s character into a crisis of Abrahamic proportions. Instead of Noah receiving revelations from God in the form of direct commands through words that he could understand, the film presented Noah’s revelations from God coming to him in dream-like visions that he could misinterpret. In the film, Noah comes to believe that once the ark was built and the animals were saved from the flood that the Creator desired Noah’s own family to die for their guilt as well. Therefore, once Noah realizes that his son’s wife has delivered twin daughters on the ark he believes that he must now kill the infants to carry out his Creator’s plan. This of course is entirely created for the sake of inserting a very dramatic and gut-wrenching series of scenes that both shocked and captivated the audience and had nothing to do with the real story at all.

Yet, in spite of that, this unbelievable sequence of fictitious events allowed Russell Crowe as an actor to display such an amazing degree of emotional anguish that it was almost impossible for anyone that knows anything of the story of Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son Isaac not to be affected by its deeper meaning. Noah like Abraham was acting upon what he believed with all his heart his Creator was calling him to do; yet unlike Abraham in the Bible, Noah in the film was entirely wrong. Interestingly, though this plot is clearly not in the account of Noah, it was the way in which Crowe allowed himself to be fully related to the cost of obeying his Creator even at the expense of great personal tragedy that spoke more to the kind of man Noah must have been than anything else in the movie. Noah was portrayed all throughout the film as a man who would obey his Creator no matter what; whether he fully understood the mission given to him or felt deeply conflicted with what he commanded to do. Crowe’s depiction of Noah portrays a man of undistracted loyalty to his Maker. If it weren’t for the earnestness of the performance I would wager to think that this fictitious insertion was meant to be an expose against those religious zealots who believe that God told them to let their children die without medication. If that is the true reason it was included then I think it failed as well. Crowe’s performance only created compassion in the audience for his struggle and not judgment for his fanaticism. Regardless, it was the way that the filmmakers strived to combine both the shell of the truth with the kernel of a lie that makes “Noah” such an interesting but clearly fictional adaptation.

For those people that feel having a film like “Noah” in theaters all around the world is an irreversible tragedy for the cause of Christ let me offer the following comforting thoughts. If an unbeliever attends a showing of “Noah” what possible wrong views of Scripture might they entertain that could drive them further from the truth that they already reject? First, I believe that most unregenerate people will leave the theater saying to themselves “Is all of that really in the Bible?” There is so much within the Noah screenplay that has never been associated before with the biblical narrative that most people I believe will find themselves going to the source to see if these things are true. Worst case scenario; they put the Word of God in their hands and they start reading the Bible. So now the worst case scenario comes very close to being the best case scenario. Second, they might come away thinking that the Creator of the world loves animals, and that’s just fine too because He does. I’m not concerned if pagans believe that eating meat is wrong or not, for it’s not essential to their eternal soul anyway.

Third, they might be horrified to think that the God of the Bible actually allowed the entire world to be drowned for their innate guiltiness; and (as hard as that might be for some to grasp) that is also undeniably true. The true and Living God is not like the god of their imagination; He is the God who punishes unrepentant sin. And sin deserves to be punished for every man and woman is born guilty before God. This really came to light in an amazing scene in the film where Russell Crowe is seen trying to convince his wife Jennifer Connelly that they are just as guilty as the unrighteous that are going to be drowned by the flood and they deserve the same death as well. He makes her face the truth of her own capability to do evil by reminding her that the love she has for her own children is so great that if someone tried to kill them that she would without question kill as well; evil is within her own heart and she must understand that she is vulnerable to the same condemnation as the unrighteous that will be drowned. That’s a pretty excellent argument for total depravity if I do say so myself. Man is sinful and God did destroy the world in times past for their rejection of His commands by flooding the world with water; all of these things are true and haven’t distorted the attribute of God’s justice at all. In fact, He’s going to do it again at the end of the age with an atomic inferno of unimaginable wrath. Maybe evangelicals don’t want the world to know God in this way, but this is the true God of Scripture.

Lastly, I don’t believe “Noah” strikes an irreversible blow to unbelievers because when all is said and done, those who are lost need the full revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be saved and as great as the biblical story of Noah is, the saving power of Christ is not revealed there. It’s not until the New Testament that we learn that Noah was a preacher of righteousness and that Christ proclaimed the gospel through him. If the movie going audience is to find eternal life they must come to the New Testament and be found by Christ. Though I’m sure there might be some that believe “Noah” has crushed the cause of Christ I just don’t see that as a viable reality. If anything they could through the massive distortion of the film still find reasons to seek the Savior of the world; and I pray they do.

One more thought and then I’ll be done. In the beginning of the film there was a disclaimer that read, “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.” I think that was unfortunate. Whoever believes that this film is “true to the essence, values and integrity” of the biblical story has a misguided understanding of what those three words mean.  The “essence, values and integrity” of the real story surround a wicked people who have offended a holy God. It’s about a loving Father who demonstrated unbelievable patience with a people that rejected His claim over them and judged them in righteousness. It’s about man’s need for a Savior that would one day appear and that the time granted to seek Him is limited. It would have been best just to say “Read Genesis to see if these things are true” and leave it at that. Evangelicals concerned about this production of Noah need to stop being surprised when the world acts like the world and start being shocked at how little the church acts like the church.

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  • Frank

    “Evangelicals concerned about this production of Noah need to stop being surprised when the world acts like the world and start being shocked at how little the church acts like the church.”

    It’s equivalent to someone being shocked a 2-year-old acts like a 2-year-old. Like, really?

  • guest

    The filmmakers have given multiple interviews regarding their thoughts and reasons for the choices that they made. You admit that you have not ready any of these. By not engaging with what they have said quite publicly, and instead arguing against why you believe they were attempting to say, you are creating a straw man to argue with. Very disappointing on so many levels.

    • elainebitt

      Mr. Guess, the “choices and reasons” that they have made is not the point of this blog article. Maybe you should engage with the topic of this article or not engage at all.
      Thank you. At least I smiled at your “strawman” comment. =)

  • www.kathleensfaithwalk.com

    What can we expect when the atheist director called his movie “the least biblical biblical film ever made.”

  • Tim T.

    Instead of saying that all films are political, perhaps it would be better to say that all films have a worldview at their foundation. To understand the film, you must understand its underlying worldview.

  • LogosAletheia

    “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man.”

    This morning it dawned on me the real reason for the Noah movie is beyond artistry of filming and effects to re-define the definition of what life was “in the days of Noah.” If the culture at large doesn’t recognize the nature of the current times as similar to the conditions of Noah’s time, it will stay in the darkness, being unable to recognize that the coming of the Son of Man is near. This is how the film works to increase the darkness that the unbeliever/culture walks in and does them further harm. It is like turning off a fire alarm in the bedroom because you don’t want to hear the noise and going back to sleep without checking for why there is smoke billowing in the hallway.

  • Sir Aaron

    I fear that the doctrine of total depravity has been so diluted in the pulpit of most churches today that many have become vulnerable to that kind of strange expectation.
    Most churches don’t believe in total depravity much less teach it. So that’s part of the problem.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    The biblical story takes a couple minutes to read. The movie takes a couple hours to see. Who in his right mind thinks–or could possibly expect–the former to be faithfully depicted by the latter without a lot of “filler” not found in the original source material? If you want a film that just sticks to the story, you’ll spend $100 and be done filming in time for lunch. And no one is coming to see it because it’s not showing anywhere.

    It’s just like the creation account. Something like 33 verses are all we’ve got to cover the creation of the entire universe: stars, galaxies, planets, comets, gravitation, time…on and on. Does anyone but Ken Ham really believe that such a brief description can get into the “hows” and “whens” and “wheres” in just 33 verses? Thousands of books on astrophysics over the course of years still haven’t covered it all; what makes anyone think 33 verses answers all our questions?

    Sometimes I wonder why christians are so surprised when they get flack from the secular world. Maybe it’s because some of us have a 4th grade outlook, and we can’t get our heads around the notion that the creation is complicated. Very, very complicated.

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