So “Noah” came out this weekend, and true to form, religious-minded Christians are having a heyday with it. Social media is ablaze over it, and not always in a good way. Even so, there are a few believers that seem to have kept a level head, and some have actually said some intelligent things about it.
Since I brought up this controversy earlier (see my post here), I figured now that I’ve actually seen the film, I might chime in one more time. (I’ll try to avoid any spoilers in case you guys haven’t seen it yet.)
First of all–yes, as expected, some liberties were taken with Scripture. (Get over it, Christians.) However, it was remarkable how many things writer/director Darren Aronofsky put into the film that actually are found in Scripture that a lot of scholars tend to avoid. As an example, 0ne key element of the story is the presence of “The Watchers,” which parallel the “Nephilim,” the “sons of God” mentioned only briefly and cryptically in Genesis 6. Very little is known about this aspect of early Bible history, so most people gloss over it, and a lot of Christians aren’t even aware of it. But Aronofsky didn’t shy away from making it a major part of his story line, and his version of what the Nephilim might have been like is compelling. Another example is the presence of Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, who would likely have been alive at the time Noah began building.
Secondly–the parts of the film where Aronofsky didn’t stay fully true to Scripture were not particularly blasphemous, but instead were actually redemptive in nature. If believers could get over their theology long enough to take this film as they find it, they’d realize that Aronofsky has used the story of Noah as a backdrop to explore many layers of the human experience in relation to God, which a straight Biblical account of the story can’t quite explore (after all, the Bible has 66 books to explore these things, while Aronofsky had one story and 2.5 hours of film). Self-doubt, struggling to hear the voice of God (and occasionally misinterpreting it), survivor’s guilt, love, mercy, forgiveness, redemption–it’s all there, expressed more eloquently in images and dialogue than just talking about it could do. Aronofsky even uses the story to explore the dangers of misinterpreting God, drawing wrong conclusions and becoming inflexible about those conclusions–a lesson we Christians could really, really benefit from.
The thing the religious folk who are criticizing this film need to remember is why the story of Noah is in the Bible to begin with. We like to think of it as a purely historical account (and I’m not suggesting it isn’t)–but it isn’t there just to recount history. The story of Noah, like every other story in the Bible, is there to teach us something. God put that story into inspired Scripture for the same reason everything else is there: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Aronosky’s version of the story doesn’t follow Scripture exactly, but then again, he wasn’t trying to create a biopic. Instead, he has brilliantly used the story of Noah as a parable of sorts to explore some very deep spiritual truths–and that’s actually closer to the purposes of Scripture, even if it doesn’t always quite line up with the account of Scripture.
I can tell you that for me, as a person who went into this experience with no agenda to measure the film against my own theology, there were numerous moments within the film that went straight to the heart, moved me deeply, rocked my world. I’d have missed those moments if I’d gone into this with the intent to scrutinize.
So instead of seeing this as some sort of desecration, Christians would do well to see the story behind the story. A secular Jewish filmmaker has managed to mine some truths from the story of Noah that the typical conservative, evangelical, in-the-bubble Bible scholar of today might easily overlook, and could actually learn from. The artistic liberties taken in this film aren’t going to lead anyone astray–in fact, we Christians might be surprised (and convicted) one day to find out how many people actually found God after watching this film–including people we had previously alienated with our own self-righteous attitudes.