Friday, March 28, 2014

Noah: A Flood of Opinions

is a difficult movie to write a review for, because the opinions are going to be different among filmmakers, conservative Christians, and culturally-attentive Christians. Each of these groups will have different conclusions about the movie. Because of this, I have decided to write three mini-reviews so you can see all sides. Truthfully, each of these reactions I felt on some level after watching the movie. Noah is not a movie you can come out of the theatre with definitive ideas about -- and I think that was Darren Aronofsky's intent.

First of all, I must make a note that the violence (and implied violence) pushes the PG-13 rating to its limits. Some of that violence involves women, children, and babies. I would not recommend this movie to anyone who is sensitive to violence. 

From a filmmaker:
Cinematically speaking, I give you permission to go into Noah with extremely high expectations. I guarantee that those expectations will be met and maybe even left behind in the dust. In my opinion, there has not been a Biblical story with this high of production quality since The Passion of the Christ. 

There is one big reason for this. Darren Aronofsky, unlike some filmmakers who tackle Biblical stories, is not afraid to branch out and make artistic choices with the camera. For example, there are a couple of beautiful time-lapse photography sequences that caused my sister and I to look at each other and go, "yes!" He visually creates this pre-flood world from the ground up. Christian filmmakers need to get out their notepads and write this lesson down: "Creativity is a good thing in movies!"

The scriptwriting deserves a shout-out, too. Any story about a handful of people building a boat and then living in that boat for a long period of time will need serious character development in order to succeed. The crazy thing about Noah is that it's not just about Noah. We see the journey of each character as they all struggle with leaving the old world behind and moving on to new beginnings. Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson give us such a beautiful, deep look into their female characters that the movie could just as easily be called, Naameh and Ila. I guess that title doesn't roll off one's tongue like Noah...

I have to end this section with a quote from an esteemed scriptwriter, Jack Lugar. He said (and forgive me if I get this wrong, Jack): "There's a difference between a narrative and a documentary. A narrative is fiction and a documentary is fact." I think we need to apply some of Jack's wisdom to Noah. Yes, it is a movie based on real events, but movie-goers know how to read the language of a movie screen. They know that the movie screen is not a station that dispenses only the facts; if they wanted that, they could just watch the news. The movie screen is a venue where movie-goers can watch art and get new ideas about life. 

From a conservative Christian:
Not surprisingly, some liberties were taken from the original Biblical text of Noah's story. There are times when I felt like the script was borrowing from other Biblical texts, like the experiences of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Aronofsky denied pulling from other cultures' flood stories, such as "The Epic of Gilgamesh," but I found traces of these, too. 

Without going into great details and spoilers, there are two problems Biblically I would like to mention:

1) God is more distant in this movie than he is in the Bible story. For example, in Genesis 6:13, God speaks to Noah (presumably with a voice) and gives him the low-down on why a flood is coming and how to build the ark. In the movie, hearing from God is a more hazy happenstance for Noah. He gathers from a dream that something is amiss and then goes to consult his grandfather Methuselah for further counsel. (Methuselah, played by the wonderful Anthony Hopkins, kind of acts as a stand-in for God in this movie.) God is always referred to as "Creator" and is portrayed as a being "somewhere out there."

2) The character of Noah is different than the Sunday School cookie-cutter image we have in our heads. He isn't a ancient version of Santa Claus that rescues the animals in this movie. He struggles with depression, self-doubt, mixed signals from God, and drunkenness (see Genesis 9:21). He seems angry for most of the movie...but do you blame the guy? After re-reading Genesis 7 (the flood account), I can see why the filmmakers had to invent some of Noah's character. The text is all description; there is no dialogue. Genesis 7 reads more like a newspaper than a movie script. 

In the first twenty minutes of the movie, someone who is going into Noah with the expectation of a story that matches the Bible's account verbatim will be severely repulsed and disappointed. And rightly so. If this is what you want, do not go see Noah. 

From a culturally-attentive Christian:
This is the category into which I fall the most strongly; it is a combination of the two views above. I recognize the Christian "shortcomings" of this movie, but I will not let those get in the way of recognizing Noah as a high-quality opportunity to find truth and transcendence. 

Have I mentioned yet that I found transcendence while watching Noah? And not in the part of the story where most people would be impacted. I felt God speaking to me very strongly when the waters started pouring in and the crowds of people are trying to get inside the boat. God, that should be me clinging onto that rock. I have no righteousness on my own. Apart from Jesus, I'm just as lost as those people.

Jesus is never mentioned in the movie, and as I have already said, the Creator is a distant character. But Darren Aronofsky has made a movie that the secular world will have no problem watching and enjoying, and Noah opens a door wide open for spiritual conversations. This is the most redeeming aspect of the movie. I would easily be able to share the Gospel with someone after watching Noah with them.

The bottom line for the culturally-attentive Christian: Noah is not for everyone. But as Christians, are we going to see the potential in this film, or are we going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and go see the latest Transformers movie?

Food for thought. Or maybe I should say...water for thought.