Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Hullaballo About Noah

So many people lately have been complaining about Darren Aronofsky's film, Noah, that one would think the world was about to end. Well, it did in the movie! There were so many objections on so many different levels that I will not attempt to address each and every one of them. That would be pointless.

I had seen 2 of Aronofsky's films (The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream) and was quite aware of their dark, existential, and introspective nature. The Fountain dealt with immortal life and Requiem for a Dream dealt with drug addiction and the death of the "American Dream." I do not recommend Requiem for a Dream, unless you have a strong stomach for the brutalities of addiction.

The problem that many people have with the movie is that it does not hold up to our traditional image of Noah. I have a feeling that most people still conjure up images such as this:

Although such imagery is nice for children, this is not what happened. I believe that one of the most difficult scenes in the entire movie to deal with is the fact that the majority of humanity was killed. The screams from those outside of the ark were deafening and nerve wracking. Those inside the ark even debate about whether they should let some in or drag ropes to bring them in. None of them dare do it because those people were under God's judgment.

I believe that the main problem so many people have with the movie is that someone has interpreted the story in a completely different way than our preconceived notions. We like the idea of the happy animals on the ark with a rainbow afterwards. We conveniently forget the reason there was an ark in the first place.

There are definitely some things that the movie could have done without. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then be forewarned:  SPOILERS ALERT!

My Main Problem with the Movie

The main problem I had with the movie was the idea of a stowaway on the ark. I'm not certain it was necessary. However, it does make one feel extremely sorry for Ham, who unfortunately gets a bad reputation not only in this movie, but in the Bible, too. After Ham notices that his father is naked and drunk, Noah curses Ham's son, Canaan, in a clear reference to why the Canaanites were to be punished in later years. (It should be noted that Noah did not curse Ham in this movie.)

In all honesty, that was the only problem I had with the movie. They did not need to have the stowaway on board.

What is Praiseworthy about Noah

There are many things that are praiseworthy about this movie.

  • When we first see the Earth, the land mass is Pangaea. It is simply one land mass. Geologists have speculated this for many years now, as evidenced by the tectonic shifts in the Earth's crust.
  • I loved how the creation of the Earth was depicted. It incorporated modern science's understanding of the Big Bang, evolution, etc., yet understood from an Ancient's perspective. We sometimes forget that the Bible was not written to us in the 21st Century. It was written to a people who had no concept of planets, astrophysics, or even that the world was round.
  • I got a secret delight out of seeing two Paraceratherium board the ark. I'm certain Ken Ham was unhappy that there were no dinosaurs on the ark, as he maintains.
  • The fact that Aronofsky was even willing to tackle the complex issue of the Nephilim is laudable. Many of us would like to skip over the fact that the Bible seems to say that either angels mated with humans or they came to Earth and there were actual giants. Who are we to say that Aronofsky's vision is wrong or incorrect?
  • The film depicted the absolute depravity that humanity had sunk to. Certain people take issue with the vegetarianism portrayed by Noah and his family, but this was a non-issue to me. According to many Jewish commentaries, eating flesh was not permitted until after the Flood. Aronofsky, being a Jew, would understand this. The depravity of humanity was so great that the Earth had become a virtual wasteland.
Probably the best thing that I enjoyed about the film was the fact that Noah was presented to us as a normal human who has his moments of uncertainty. He is not God. There is no Scripture for him to go by to deduce what God wants from him. He has his doubts. He has misconceived notions about what God wants with humanity. In hindsight, we can see perfectly that God meant to save humanity, too. However, I can see how Noah might not have been so certain.

As a work of art, Noah is breathtaking. The scenes are beautifully displayed. We are not in the Mideast in this movie. We could be anywhere. Humanity is more advanced than we presuppose.

What concerns me is the reaction that I have seen to the movie, especially and most regrettably by Evangelicals. Condemnation seems to be easier than noting what is good about the movie. Theologically there is nothing wrong with this interpretation. The fact that not only is Darren Aronofsky a Jew, but an atheist, brings out strong reactions from the Evangelical community. We tend to view atheists like the mad professor in the recently panned movie, "God's Not Dead." However, atheists as a rule are just as moral and ethical as Christians. I do understand that Christianity is more than morals and ethics, but it is worthy to note that atheists are not the bogeyman we think they are. They are our brothers and sisters.

If we Christians are going to be fair in our condemnation of films based on the Bible, then we should note all the fallacies in every production. As an example, I give you the widely praised film (even by Evangelicals), The Prince of Egypt:

My Personal View on Noah

If, however, you want me to be technical about what I truly think of the Biblical account of Noah, it is as follows:

We have many tales throughout the Mideast about a Deluge that killed huge numbers of people, most notable Utnapishtim from the Gilgamesh Epic. A nice comparison between the two stories (which hold a remarkable number of similarities) may be found here.

The physical evidence for a worldwide Flood is lacking; however, there is archeological evidence for a localized flood catastrophe. Therefore, I believe that a significant Flood did happen in the Mideast and left its collective cultural impact on the survivors. According to the Bible, these survivors were Noah and his family. I do not believe a worldwide flood did occur because it would have killed off all vegetation and made all freshwater undrinkable. It would have killed off any freshwater fish life, too.

My personal belief is that the story of Noah is more important to us theologically rather than literally. God punished the wicked and promised never to do so in the same way. God cares very deeply for us and is slow to anger, not wanting to punish us at all. (See Isaiah 54:9-10.)

“For this is like the days of Noah to Me,
When I swore that the waters of Noah
Would not flood the earth again;
So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
Nor will I rebuke you. 
“For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake,
But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you,
And My covenant of peace will not be shaken,”
Says the Lord who has compassion on you.

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