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March 31, 2014 / Pastor George Fike

Swimming Against the Flow – Aronovsky’s Noah


russell-crowe-noah1    Ok. So I blew my movie money for this quarter to see Aronovsky’s “Noah.” That means I’ll have to wait for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” to come out on DVD.  Do I regret it? Not in the least! Money well spent. As I pondered how to express my thoughts and feelings about this movie, I have become painfully aware that many of my fellow believers are very offended. People I love and respect. Most of them are offended because of something one well-meaning “holy man” or another has blogged. I thought about writing my thoughts in a way so as not to give away too many plot points. Unfortunately, a detractor has already taken it upon himself to spoil the movie to convince Christians not to see it. So I will include points that will reveal much of the movie’s plot in order to bring some balance to the discussion. Sorry. If you plan to see it without bias or preconception, stop reading.

One young blogger was very biting. It has been shared by many on facebook. Here’s an excerpt from his conclusion:

Watching this movie left a chilling effect on me as I left the theaters. I was outraged, upset, and simply mortified that a story of such epic proportions could be twisted around and retold in a way that leaves audiences completely void of the truth. I shouldn’t be surprised though, the film’s director Darren Aronofsky is a self-proclaimed Atheist and yet this man directed the film! But as I researched more to find out the truth I found his self-proclaimed goal was to make Noah the “least Biblical Biblical movie”. Aronofsky seems to have done the impossible, he took a Biblical story and made it into a secular film that does not mention God once.

This is just one glaring example of the diatribes that confronted me when I logged onto facebook Saturday after the movie came out. The blogger was passionate, but also distorted. But thankfully, he gave me an outline to discuss my observations about the movie. His outline points (in italics) will be followed by my comments. And understand me: I mean him no disrespect. I admire his convictions and the passion with which he writes. I simply believe he was wrong that this movie had no value for believers.

Was “Noah” true to the biblical account? Not really. But it was true to the Bible itself in a few very important ways. That’s right- the Bible. As I told my wife: “If they are limited to using the biblical account of the Flood, the movie will last about 25 minutes.” I knew from the get-go the writers would have to embellish the story in order to enthrall the audience for two hours.  So they included Biblical and a little extra-biblical material. Yet they never lost sight of the story’s hero. I’m not talking about Noah. I’m talking about a misunderstood individual who is mentioned throughout scripture, yet whose character cannot be completely comprehended even today. That person would be… God.

Let’s put 10 people in a room. There will be 10 different iterations of the God whose name is Yahweh or Jehovah or Elohim – the One True God. And none of those opinions will be 100% correct- whether they be corrupted or simply incomplete. One thing I appreciate about this movie: they refused to compromise with the nature of our paradoxical God: He is just, but He is also gracious. He is not “either or”; He is “both and.” Sometimes we cannot wrap our minds around that. Of course, the producers were no more successful in displaying the whole, unfettered nature of God than anyone else has been… or can be in this fallen world. Do you know the old story of the four blind men who encounter an elephant? Each man argues based on his own experience. One holding the trunk says, “It’s a snake!” Another grasping a leg shouts, “No! No! It’s a tree!” Still another pressed against the animal’s side says, “You’re both wrong! It’s a wall!” The last man grasping the tail says, “You fools! It’s obviously a rope!” We sighted people look at the picture and think, “How silly! None of them see the complete picture.” Well, neither do we. No matter how many people might follow our blogs.

Let’s talk about the movie now.

1. The film’s cast wears clothing that would have been considered modern in the early 19th century!

C’mon! Get real! You have no idea what they might have worn. What a stupid reason to be turned off! Did it bother you that none of the attire in 300 was accurate? And by the way, do you seriously believe the Ark is still up on the mountain where they landed? Wouldn’t they be smart enough to use the dense wood of the Ark to begin building their new homes?

2. The film promotes Evolution instead of Creation!!!

This stylistic piece of CG was placed over Noah’s recounting the story of creation from Genesis 1. It did not necessarily promote evolution. It simply revealed the introduction of new creatures in a creative time lapse. Evolutionists could see it as evolution, but creationists such as myself just see the increasing introduction of new species. The film deliberately marks a distinction in the introduction of man. He is not introduced as a development from the monkey. He is distinctive – one man and one woman – as Noah tells the story of the fall in Genesis 3. They are glowing with the spark of God’s image within. It was very creatively told and completely faithful to the Biblical account. I find it preposterous for the blogger to claim that there was no mention of the image of God. It was very clearly presented in this section.

3. The main builders of the ark are angels who fell from heaven and became giant rock creatures!

Of course this is not part of the Biblical account. And this is where great creative license was taken. But it was very inventive. The only purpose for these creatures was to move the plot along so the Ark could be built quicker than it actually was. As an aside, there were a few other “ooky, spooky” elements in the story beside these primeval “transformers.” There was a magic bean that miraculously grew the forest providing the wood and sustenance for Noah as they worked on the Ark. (Much cooler than Jack’s beanstalk!) Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, seemed to borrow from JRR Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey. But I saw these as shortcuts to move forward the story in a more entertaining way. This is kind of fascinating, really. These creatures – the Watchers – are an element, not from the Bible itself, but from a pseudepigraphical work entitled 1st Enoch. But they flipped the characters from the original to make them more heroic. These fallen angels in the interpretation of the 3rd century (BC) writer were the “sons of God” referred to in Genesis 6:4 –

“The Nephilim (fallen ones) were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”

The book of 1 Enoch was a fanciful expansion of the story of these angels who rebelled against God – probably in Lucifer’s rebellion – and having lost the intimacy of heaven decided to steal it from mankind. They sired children who were giants and conquerors. In this work, they were not well-meaning benefactors of Adam; they were evil, self-seeking beings that taught man to make war. For punishment, God buried them in rock in valleys. So, no. Rock creatures did not help Noah build the Ark. He built it the old-fashioned way – by the sweat of his brow and that of his three sons. And not in ten years, but 100. But one thing I appreciated was that these creatures demonstrated repentance and were forgiven by God (only in this historical fiction, of course). But that is a truth for “we the people” – not for angels. Choose against your self-indulgent life and return to God; He will receive you. Subliminally, repentance and grace were preached. If CS Lewis can use satyrs and a talking lion to preach Christ and salvation, why not use a rock creature? More on the Watchers and Nephilim in an upcoming post.

4. Noah decides that God actually meant to kill everyone. While on the ark, Noah decides to end the human race by killing his family.

Actually, he interprets the flood of God’s judgment as a judgment against all of mankind. His intent was not to kill his family, but that they would help the animals get acclimated to the newly cleansed earth, and then die off, purging the earth of man’s evil. As Noah stealthily infiltrated the camp of the ungodly, he had a vision of himself as one of the evil participants in the camp. He hastily left, very much shaken, the experience causing him to see himself and his family, not as righteous, but as infected with sin as anyone else. In this, he apprehended something that we don’t like to see in our Bible heroes: “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) He recognized he was just as undeserving of God’s mercy as any of the ungodly men in the enemy’s camp. Even though the Bible differs from other “sacred” writings in its honest portrayal of fallible men and women, we have this romantic notion that they were all a cut above Average Joe. After all, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD,” we read. But remember: this does not mean that God was impressed with Noah. God made a choice that He could work with this sinful man, despite his sinful nature. After all, one of the last portrayals we have of Noah in Genesis is his drunkenness followed by his estrangement from his son Ham. The horrible moral dilemmas that ruled the final third of the movie were not really Noah’s… they are ours. Or do you really think the threat of killing unborn children is reprehensible? You can’t prove that by our society!

In so doing, Aronovsky actually put us in the biblical hot seat with Noah. We all have to make hard decisions at times in our lives, and face it: sometimes the heavens are brass. Have you seriously never guessed wrong? The story of my present predicament is: Did I hear God right? We are just fortunate that God is still willing to walk with us, even after we have gotten it wrong. But often God reserves the answer for the exact moment it is needed.

Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. Hebrews 4:16 HCSB

5. The film’s villain successfully sneaks onto the ark…

Yeah. Didn’t really happen. This was another scene which Aronovsky borrowed from Galaxy Quest. (The other was the death scene of the Rock Creature.) It was simply a plot device used to widen the chasm between Ham and his father. I tend to agree with most people: it would have been more prudent to stick with the Biblical text from Genesis and 1st Peter and make sure the boys each had a wife. When Ila (Shem’s wife) gave birth to her twin daughters on board prior to the Ark hitting ground, technically that would qualify as the eight people. But why so messy? We would have been much happier had Tubal-Cain met his end as goo underneath a rock monster’s foot.

I think the scenes aboard the post-flood ark were somewhat discomforting, but they did inject important moral conflict in this tale. I see this final third of the movie as a mirror that we would rather not look into. There’s a scene I mentioned earlier where Noah was “cruising for chicks” (for Ham and Japheth) in Tubal-Cain’s camp. He fixed his eyes on a man wandering through the havoc, his gaze following him until the man looked back at him, and suddenly Noah recognized his mirror image. As that realization hit him, the man’s face grimaced into a menacing growl. Noah turned and fled back to the safety of the Ark, shaken to his core. At this point, he became oppressed by the thought that evil was in himself just as surely as it had been in that man. This shaped the plot direction that most people have objected to so vehemently – his genocidal streak, his willingness to kill his own granddaughter if that were to be the product of his daughter-in-law’s pregnancy, his drunken despondency.

We don’t like our Bible heroes to look like this. But I would urge you to check out the ending of Noah’s story in Genesis 9:20-27. I’m not even going to print them You owe it to yourself to read it. See if you can’t visualize the Noah of the movie in these verses. God doesn’t owe you a Sunday School story. Real life can be messy. Your friend, your neighbor, your brother-in-law, your babysitter (without hope and without God in this world) are going to the theater. When they ask you if you’re going and you say, “no” because it’s not “biblical,” and they say “whadaya mean?” are you going to show them this?

family_ark

Because what happened in the movie may actually be much closer to reality.

Do we dare come alongside our friends and allow Noah to be a man who is nothing without the grace of God, or do we cling to our romantic notion that he should look and act like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments? I wager your friends will be helped more by discussing how faith looks with dirt on its face, instead of polished up and sitting on your shelf.

Attention, parents of young children… DO NOT TAKE THEM TO THIS MOVIE!  Save that for a DreamWorks or Disney version if that ever happens. Instead, take your co-worker. Watch it together, even if you’re squirming in your seat throughout it, then take them to Denny’s afterward and tell them how you had to struggle with your faith when the answers weren’t clear. You might even have to get down and dirty and tell them you are concerned for their salvation. Another flood is coming – just not water this time.

COMING SOON: A Comparison of What was Right and What was Wrong in the movie Noah

COMING NOT QUITE AS SOON: a series on the first 10 chapters of Genesis

AVAILABLE NOW: some websites for your investigation

This is the blog post that I used to organize my comments

Don’t let the title fool you; the author did not like the movie one bit. In fact, it was his “spoilers” that prompted me to go ahead and reveal some of details of the movie.

From Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Although he did not view the movie in the same positive light that I did, he made some of the same points that I have, and is not as histrionic as the other guys. Must be the wisdom that comes with age (hint, hint).

I highly recommend his commentary on Genesis 1 – 11 from a scientist’s perspective

A study resource to help you prepare for the movie Noah.

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