Noah, by Darren Aronofsky, is a movie that is going to divide people of different sensibilities. I have heard Christians of all different stripes be passionate in their praise and condemnation of this movie. I am going to share why I believe this is a powerful 'biblical' film but not a literal one. I am going to suggest that the thematic core of this movie expresses the most important of spiritual principles that reoccurs all throughout Scripture: namely, the relationship between God's justice and mercy. Sadly, many people are getting hung up on the artistic liberties that the director has taken in his telling of the story. I would argue the biblical literalists (aka, fundamentalists) begin with the wrong question when assessing the value of this biblical movie. They start with, "Does the movie follow the biblical text faithfully and accurately?" The problem with this question is that it is based on a major false assumption about the Bible. This is going to be news to some: the Bible is not a newspaper. The Bible is not a history book. If I were to pick up a newspaper, the question regarding perfect accuracy an faithfulness to the details of events would be very important, for the very purpose of a newspaper is to report events accurately and completely. The Bible is the Word of God passed down orally and eventually in writing. It is a collection of different writings with different purposes and genres. The Bible is really not a book but a library of writings that were originally passed on orally within community. So to demand of the Bible something that it had no intention of doing displays a deep unfamiliarity of the Bible's intentions and its history.
Returning to the movie Noah, I will say that the main bullet points of the story from the book of Genesis are all found within the movie. These are how I would breakdown these basic points: [[Mankind becomes exceedingly wicked. God communicates to Noah he will destroy the world with water. God communicates to Noah the mission to build an ark to save all the creatures of the earth and his family (the confusion of Noah on whether man is worth saving I will speak on in a moment.). Noah obeys God and builds the Ark. God draws the animals to the Ark. God floods the world. God allows waters to recede. Noah and creatures leave the ark. Noah gets drunk and naked. Noah is given the sign of the rainbow that the earth will not be flooded again.]] So these story beats are all retained in the movie. But knowing these 'facts' does not transform you or effect you. The effect of God's revealed word is that it works its way into our heart and 'converts' us and turns us back to Him and away from ourselves. So the account of Noah portrayed in this movie is 'filled in' with some coloring and shading that urges the viewer to ask questions about God, on how we communicate with God, on what it means to be just and what it means to show mercy. I have no problem with angels encased in rock and becoming misguided in trying to help humans. I have no problem with having one daughter being saved and adopted by Noah and having Methuselah heal her barrenness through his patriarchal blessing. I have no problem with Noah spending a time on the Ark in confusion of what God spoke to Him. I'd encourage you to think about how this truly relates Noah to our own experiences in our encounter with God. Also, think of all the times throughout all of the Biblical writings where people are not given the full story from God and initially misunderstand the full picture of what God was revealing. The Bible is saturated with this theme. If you go to this movie and you love the Bible, you will not love the Bible any less after seeing this. But you will need to take off your western/american lenses and look at how the account of Noah fits into the context of the larger story God has told throughout history in a million different ways. This is the question that you really need to ask before both reading the account of Noah in Genesis and watching this movie on which it is loosely based: "Why did God want to tell us this story? What is He trying to communicate through its telling?" That is a better way to approach God's word. He is not trying to tell you 'just the facts.' He is trying to grab your heart and awake your soul. The movie Noah can do this if you see it properly. It can awake your soul to ask the questions Noah had to face. 'What is justice? What is mercy?' 'What does it mean to be a person made in God's image?' Aside from the special effects and the story's large scale, there is a very personal journey taken in this movie by the character of Noah and it takes him to the depths to understand the love, mercy, and justice of God. What you need in watching this movie is a Jewish sensibility. We come at Noah knowing the end before it arrives. This movie has Noah confronted with questions that he may not want the answers to. I can guarantee that Noah didn't have all those answers in an instant. Read the Psalms and see how many laments there are in being frustrated with not understanding the ways of God. Look at Abraham, Moses and David. All of these people were given partial views of God and his Will and their trust was deeply challenged throughout there whole life. Here is why I ultimately like the movie; Noah comes across as a real person and not some Sunday school flannel graph figure. Everything the character does makes sense to what we experience as human beings. I love the artistic touches and the rich symbolism used to convey the creation story, the violence of Cain toward Abel, and also the whole vision of what the world could have possibly been like before the flood. I actually enjoy that it is more mystical and has a touch of fantasy. I like how God uses more physical things to bring about miracles and reminders to the characters such as the snake skin, the relics from Eden, and the powerful fiery substance that is simply called zoar. I believe people like C.S. Lewis and Tolkein would have loved this telling. Lewis understood that God's interaction with us in this world is something amazing and mysterious. Lewis conveyed it in his Narnia stories and Tolkein with his tales of the Hobbits. God used the account of Noah to tell us about Himself and the state of sinful humanity. Aronofsky understood this and that is why since the age of 13 he has wanted to bring the story of Noah to film. There is a lot that is done very well here and there are a few things I would have done differently. But those are things I reserve to discussing in personal conversation. I do not desire to make sweeping condemnations or overgeneralizing my criticisms. Anyway, go see Noah and then keep reading the Bible!