There’s this movie coming out at the end of this month about the story of Noah. It’s called Noah.:) It’s got some really cool actors in it, and it looks like it will be a really good movie. My son The Director really likes the work of this film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, and has been looking forward to this film for a long time. As for Aronofsky himself, he is Jewish by heritage; he has been entranced by the story of Noah from childhood, so this movie is something of a lifelong dream for him.
But it hasn’t been easy. A lot of unnecessary grief. And I have no qualms about pinning much of it on the religious Christian community.
It seems like anyone who wants to make a film about the Bible (at least, anyone who isn’t in the Christian “bubble”) is stepping into the metaphorical lion’s den these days. There are just too many people with too many interpretations and too many strong opinions about how the story should be told. The studio backing the film, Paramount, was nervous about this before any Christians saw any cuts of the film. Aronofsky’s version, they felt, might take too many liberties for the Christian bloc while being too marginal for the non-believing community. They got in there and started messing with Aronofsky’s edits and testing them with audiences before the film was even finished. Not surprisingly, it didn’t go over well with test audiences, or with the director, because test audiences weren’t seeing anything close to the finished product. Perhaps realizing they had made things worse, Paramount eventually conceded to let Aronofsky cut the film his way.
But there’s a reason Paramount got nervous. Because it’s a film about the Bible, they assumed Christians would be the primary audience, and Christians are very difficult to please. The truth is, if they cut this film in a way that it offended the least amount of Christians, it would probably be so artistically bland that it wouldn’t be worth the price of a ticket.
I’m sad to say that the Christian community has responded pretty much the way Paramount predicted, raising issues over some the more human elements of Noah as portrayed by Russell Crowe, and crying foul over some of the artistic liberties that aren’t quite 100-percent true to Scripture. For example, Christians don’t like the fact that Noah gets drunk in the movie (which is ridiculous because the Scripture about not getting drunk hadn’t even been written during Noah’s time), or the fact that the film doesn’t make absolutely clear that Noah’s son is married to his love interest (Hello? Were there justices-of-the-peace or church weddings in Noah’s day?).
Majoring on the minors. What else is new?
So now, unable to water down the film acceptably, and still concerned about offending the religious-minded, Paramount’s latest solution is to put a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie:
“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.”
Maybe not big deal to some. It bugs the crap out of me, for three very important reasons:
FIRST…It is nearly impossible to make a film about any Bible story without taking a few liberties.
For example, if you’re going to be completely true to Scripture, you’d have to age Noah about a hundred years, because if you do the math, that’s about how long it took him to build the ark. As for un-Biblical interpretations, has anyone seen The Ten Commandments? Or The Greatest Story Ever Told? These films aren’t exactly true to Scripture either, yet lots of Christians love these classics and watch them every year. Why didn’t we make the studios put a disclaimer on those? It’s inconsistent at best, and hypocritical at worst…which brings me to the next point:
SECOND…The religious community as a collective is hypocritical and conveniently selective in their self-appointed guardianship of Scripture.
That sentence sounds a bit lofty, so let me break it down…as a collective, we Christians pick and choose which un-Scriptural things we “allow” in Bible movies, and it’s not based on Scripture itself–it’s based on what offends us at the time, or what does not. Here’s a great example…
A few years ago, some Christian filmmakers put out a film about Queen Esther called One Night With the King. Most Christians raved about it. I hated it. (In fact, I really gave up on the Christian filmmaking community after that film.) Why? Well, let’s start with the fact that they portrayed Esther as a virgin, even after her “night with the king,” because sex outside of marriage would have offended the Christians. But wait, what? That’s un-Biblical. Before Esther became queen, she was a concubine. The job of a concubine is to have sex outside of marriage with the king at his will. Whether or not she would have chosen it by her own Jewish heritage, Esther would have had to make love to the king in order to please him–but this was definitely not portrayed in the film, or even suggested. And did anyone besides me notice Esther’s prayers under her breath in the film looked very much like a modern-day charismatic praying in tongues? Umm…chronology? Acts 2 didn’t happen until hundreds of years later.
My point? Those Christian filmmakers were just as un-Biblical in their treatment of Esther as Aronofsky might be in his treatment of Noah. They just chose an un-Biblical treatment that was less offensive to modern-day believers by portraying Esther more like a 21st-century Christian than a Jew in exile in a pagan land. And yet, most of the Christians I knew loved it, and saw it as a great tool to witness to their non-believing friends.
THIRD (and this is most important)…the Christian community is once again missing a huge opportunity to open up a meaningful conversation.
Let me pose a question. I respect the sanctity of Scripture as much as most Christians, but at what point did God appoint us as the vanguards of how people interpret the Bible? I don’t think there’s anyone, even among the Christian community, who has got the Bible pegged; why do we insist that non-believers stay true to our interpretations of it? We’ve completely missed the point that Darren Aronofsky, who is essentially a secular Jew, wants to make a movie about the Bible. We’re further missing the point that this is a passion project of his, and that even if he gets some things wrong, he’s doing this from the heart. And we’ve completely missed the point that this could actually be a way for him to connect with God. And yet, we’re so busy harrassing the guy and his studio about the intricacies of Scripture that we’re blowing the perfect opportunity to open a conversation with him, or with other non-believers who will see this film, about God. How incredibly sad and stupid of us.
My understanding is that whether through circumstance or serendipity, there have been a lot of individuals surrounding Aronofsky on this project (including at the production level) who are believers. If that’s true, my only hope is that they’ve been a bit more common-sense in their approach than the self-righteous, religious bigots who have been giving him grief over his film. I sincerely hope wherever this man is in his walk of faith, God will reach him in spite of us.
As for me and mine…Darren Aronofsky, we can’t wait to see your film. We’ll be there opening day.