I’m sure people are starting to get tired of reading “reviews” on the movie Noah but let me offer a few thoughts. I have to be honest though, I’m a novice at critiquing film in the form of a “review”. But I do have a deep appreciation for beauty and the gospel so what follows are simply a few thoughts and not necessarily a review. This is the result of many conversations Kay and I had with two wonderful friends, Sam & Rebekah Rood after we saw the film together this weekend. The Roods minister with Jews for Jesus in New York City, so they are familiar with Judaism as well as Evangelical Christianity.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I would go see it only if you are willing to discuss it afterwards. If you watch it simply for entertainment value it will likely disappoint. My first thought is I recommend you at least have a “conversation” with the biblical text to see how the narrative arc flows in the text and how Aronofsky fills in gaps and deviates from it. Encourage others to go to the ancient text themselves! While it might frustrate you how much liberty the film takes with the text, it should motivate you to go back to the text itself.
My second thought is in order to understand the movie properly one must see it through a Jewish lens. The intricate additions, the “veering off course”, and the questions that are being asked in the story are all part of a Jewish storytelling method. This is I think one of the big reasons why many Christians have been disappointed with the film. The film makes much more sense knowing that the director’s (Darren Aronofsky) background is in Judaism and he is employing a particular style of storytelling. We all agreed that Aronofsky seems to be attempting to create a “midrashic” film that leaves you asking questions about man, about God, and the complexity of life.
Midrash was a way that the Jewish sages would teach people. The point was not to teach in a particularly linear fashion to quickly arrive at a moral principle. Instead, midrash was a way to interpret stories by using other stories to fill in gaps and clarify as well as get its listeners to ask good questions as a way to expound a principle or law. Think of the story line as not so much linear but more of a spiral intended to drop you off at a certain point. You can see Aronofsky employing midrashic elements when he brings into the arc of the story the Watchers borrowed from the Book of Enoch (a non-canonized Jewish book), Abraham and Isaac, and the story of Lot in Sodom. I can understand why some didn’t like the movie because it didn’t fit with the biblical text and/or what a movie should do. But the point is that he’s telling the story using a particular method that’s familiar to Jewish people.
I think it’s safe to say that Aronofsky does not share my particular view on neither the Scriptures nor the Messiah. That said, here’s my third thought: not all of the movie was as “anti-biblical” as some have suggested. For instance, the picture of the universality of sin is more biblically nuanced than many movies I have seen. There is a darkness to sin, an ugliness to it that is more animalistic than actually human. But sin is not just depraved actions but rather an internal heart condition that affects everyone, including Noah and his family. This condition of sin demands judgment from God. One of the most starkest and memorable pictures is seeing Noah standing in the middle of a pagan village, the righteous man in the middle of the wicked. You can now understand why many Jews understood the importance of separating themselves from the pagan Gentiles (read the book of Jonah). While I certainly don’t agree with everything in the movie, I do want Christians to look for ways to find commonality as a means to talk about the gospel rather than trashing the whole movie.
Third, I’m not convinced that I was supposed to “like” the character of Noah. I understand that in good film, one must identify with the protagonist or at least feel sympathetic to him/her. But who can really understand and identify with a guy whom God told to build an ark? If the point of the biblical narrative is “Be obedient like Noah” who really can fully identify with Noah? What would it be like to identify with the person who was chosen by God to escape His judgment while the rest of humanity drowned? It seems to me that even the point of the Biblical narrative is that Noah is not the hero of the story. That said, the problem Aronofsky faces is if Noah is not the hero than who is? That’s why the ending is a bit problematic in my estimation and how it was resolved in somewhat of a superficial way.
Last, the picture brings up questions and tensions that are hard to avoid but are worth discussing with people. Is sin really universal? Why is judgment consistent with the presence of sin? How is God full of both justice and mercy? If God loves everyone, why is it that He seems silent at times and to certain people? We had lengthy discussions about the film and my suggestion is this is the purpose of Jewish midrash (and not just “I liked it”, “I hated it”).
Ultimately, when you think about the questions that arise from the movie, reflect on how the gospel addresses these questions with not just a surface answer but in fullness (don’t get hung up on “rock people”). For instance, how does the gospel answer the question of both God’s justice and mercy? In what ways do we see the justice and mercy of God exemplified on the cross? How does the seeming silence of God in the end (not the subtle message of “it’s now up to you to choose good in your own power”) lead you to Christ who suffered ultimate silence from God?
As we were driving to the airport, Sam said something that stuck with me. As I mentioned earlier, there is a compelling scene where Noah is in the midst of a pagan village. Wickedness is all around him as he’s trying to make sense of it all while trying to figure out how to find and rescue his son. The religious response in history has been to live isolated from those who are wicked. We don’t know what to do with “them” (notice the “us vs. them”) and they seem so far beyond rescue that it’s best if we just left “them” to their own broken practices. The gospel tells us of the One who not only set up shop (“tabernacled”) in the midst of wicked people (John 1) but gave His life for them in order to secure the rescue of those who placed their trust in His efficacious work. This Savior then sends us to be “in” their midst on His mission of rescue because the walls of Greek, Jew, Sythian, barbarian, slave and free have now been broken down because of the gospel. In the end, I would rather have a movie that makes me think, reflect on the tension that certain questions cause, discuss with others, and then critique in light of the gospel rather than simply remake the story in a flannelboard kind of way.