A flood of reactions to Hollywood’s ‘Noah’

YouTube Preview Image

DAVID SAYS:

(Regarding the feature film “Noah”) I would love to read your personal reaction.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Personally? The Guy is no fan of science fiction or slam-bang special effects. Those hulking stone monsters with flashing light bulbs for eyes didn’t thrill and otherwise Hollywood’s puzzling ark-aeology seemed, so to speak, all wet.

But who cares about The Guy’s taste in movies? “Noah” is a conversation-starter so let’s survey the conversation.

Preliminaries: There are well-known literary parallels between the Bible’s famous Genesis chapters 6-9 and other flood narratives from the ancient Mideast. Skeptics use that to debunk the Bible while traditionalists say that only undergirds Scripture’s authenticity. The movie’s phantasmagoric visuals present the story as fiction without even a kernel of primordial fact. Whether viewed as total myth, literal history or some mixture, both Noah and “Noah” raise deep questions about the Bible and, more, about the Bible’s God.

Given past scorn and ridiculous mistakes, believers are understandably apprehensive when showbiz folks get their hands on religion. The director of this biblical blockbuster, Darren Aronofsky, is a self-described atheist apt to drop F-bombs.

The wary National Religious Broadcasters got Paramount Pictures to state in publicity that “while artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.” That disclaimer seemed like an implicit endorsement from conservatives.

Others bestowed outright hallelujahs. Blogger Billy Kangas, a doctoral candidate at Catholic University of America, thinks the film takes “every single word of the text in Genesis seriously.” President Robert Barron of the Catholic Mundelein Seminary says “God, creation, providence, sin, obedience, salvation: Not bad for a major Hollywood movie!” He sees the God of “Noah” as “personal, active, provident, and intimately involved in the affairs of the world that he has made.”

President Jim Daly of the evangelical Focus on the Family says much the same.

The Bible’s account says God raised the flood to destroy much of what he created due to unbearable human sin and violence. One of the most perplexing sentences in Scripture is Genesis 6:6: “The LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (RSV). Seeking to comprehend this, Kenneth Mathews of Beeson Divinity School writes that “the making of ‘man’ is no error; it is what ‘man’ has made of himself.”

The biblical scenario is certainly unnerving, especially for a culture that prefers a user-friendly God without moral absolutes or judgments. But alongside death, Scripture offers rainbow-like hope. God preserves Noah’s family and thus the human line and vows never to enact such destruction again. Noah’s three sons and their wives repopulate the earth, and eventually their descendants escape through the waters into the Promised Land and join the Messiah’s family line of salvation.

SPOILER STUFF – You might not want to read the following plot details if you plan to see “Noah.”

Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel (also non-religious) strip away hope and redemption and turn the Bible inside out. Noah (Russell Crowe) has a wife too old to give birth and of his sons, Japheth is a young single, Ham is unmarried thanks to Noah, and Shem’s wife is thought to be barren. The humans’ only value is to preserve the animals before homo sapiens dies out forever and frees nature from industrial development, mines, and people who eat meat.

But then Shem’s wife bears twin girls aboard the ark. The “Creator” (the movie doesn’t use the word “God”) directs Noah to murder both granddaughters to make dead sure humanity will be exterminated. But at the last minute Noah disobeys the Creator and chooses love and mercy. Noah, not his Creator, directs people to be fruitful and multiply. In other words, humanity is in control and saves humanity by defying deity.

Andrew Bolt, a religious agnostic writing in Australia, finds all this “freaky.” He notes that the hyper-environmentalist Noah doesn’t want even a single flower to be plucked, and kills men who hunt animals for food. Bolt says the message is “killing animal, bad. Killing men, not so.” That reminds him of Dave Forman of Earth First who said “phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth.”

Apart from such devout environmental religion, what else inspired all this? Scholars and analysts spot a mélange of the Bible bits with medieval Jews’ Kabbalah mysticism; the Books of Enoch and Jubilees (ancient Jewish writings excluded from Scripture except in Ethiopia); and ancient Gnosticism, whose secretive and elitist spiritualities spurned the “Creator” of Judaism and Christianity.

Charlotte Allen, author of “The Human Christ,” finds “Noah” a “quintessential example of the kind of biblical story you get, and the kind of biblical ‘hero’ you get, in a secular culture that has lost all connection to what the story means.” Theological blogger Brian Mattson thinks Hollywood is selling a “thoroughly pagan” retelling of the Genesis story.

Aronofsky himself? He says he has created “the least biblical biblical film ever made.”

(Footnotes: The U.S. Catholic bishops’ film office gives “Noah” adults-only status due to “direct contradiction” of the Bible. Some Muslim nations banned the movie because Islam forbids visual depictions of Noah and its other prophets.)

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR THE GUY?

Please leave your questions for Richard Ostling in our comments pages or go to his site and leave them there!

Print Friendly

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    When will we have a movie on the Life of Mohammed?
    Probably never. Noah, like it or not, is an example of freedom in the West.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/filmchat Peter T Chattaway

    “The ‘Creator’…directs Noah to murder both granddaughters…” Really? That’s certainly how Noah sees it, but the other members of his family offer alternative interpretations of the “signs” they see, and there’s no reason to assume that Noah’s interpretation is right and all the others are wrong. See my post on ‘The silence, justice, mercy and love of God in Noah,’ and all the posts linked there in which I dismantle Brian Mattson’s efforts to find “Gnosticism” in the film. (I am not aware of anyone who has asserted a “Gnostic” element in the film without Mattson first planting the thought in their minds. The film itself simply doesn’t support such a reading.)

  • G. W. Brown

    Your take on the film seems remarkably shallow, particularly when another Patheos blogger, Peter Chattaway, is among the best observers/readers of the film. Here’s a link to Chattaway’s ‘second thoughts’ on the film: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/03/second-impressions-noah-dir-darren-aronofsky-2014.html Or check out my own brief observations: http://noteandquery.com/2014/04/29/redeeming-aronofskys-noah/ I expect better from GetReligion.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X