Exclusive: Darren Aronofsky: ‘Everyone Believes in God’ in ‘Noah’

There has been some talk about whether or not God appears in the movie Noah.

When I talked to Darren Aronofsky, he could not have been more clear. Speaking of the villain Tubal-Cain, he said:

What’s interesting is most of the time when you make a bad guy in a movie, if it’s a religious movie, you make the guy a nonbeliever or something. But that’s not the case. Everyone believes in God in this movie because God is ten generations ago. Adam is ten generations ago, creation was just ten generations ago.

Co-writer Ari Handel added:

In his genealogy, Noah is the first person born after Adam died. So the idea that God doesn’t exist in the universe, it nonsense. So Tubal-Cain has a relationship with God, it’s just a negative relationship with God. He’s angry but he’s also, in that scene, he’s also looking for more. It’s complicated.

Read the full transcript (with some spoilers, so beware) of our conversation here. 

Read my review of the film.

Read my letter to Christians: An Invitation to Listen, How Christians Should Think About Noah

The Salvation of Jesse Pinkman: Is There Room for God in ‘Breaking Bad?’

If you’ve been watching the most recent Breaking Bad episodes (recaps here and beware spoilers!), you know that poor Jesse Pinkman is a mess.

He’s addicted to drugs, wracked with guilt over murders he’s witnessed, consumed with rage toward his evil mentor Walter White, and desperate to somehow make amends. He’s so desperate that he drives around town in the wee hours like a demented tooth fairy, tossing bundles of cash to sleeping neighborhoods.

He’s got what we would call demons.

Any person of faith knows this moment, this recognition that things aren’t the way they should be, that I myself am not what I should be, that there is no way to fix the mess I’ve made and yet that it’s vitally important that it be fixed. In fact, fixing it is the only thing that matters.

We call it a “come to Jesus moment.”

And we see it, too, in real life: In the convicted murderer who dissolves in tears, in the addict who surrenders, in the white collar thief who gives up his wealth and heads for the mission field, and ordinary adulterer who hits bottom and calls out to a God, only faintly hoping there will be an answer.

It’s so common as to be a cliche. Life brings us to our knees. The results of our own misdeeds bring us to our knees.

Why not Jesse?

Series creator and head writer Vince Gilligan has made a pair of profoundly human, neo-Shakespearean story arc contrasting Walt’s descent into depravity with Jesse’s desperate clinging to something – anything – good. I am in awe of Gilligan’s storytelling prowess, and that of his team. I am in awe of the acting: Aaron Paul as Jesse and Bryan Cranston as Walt.

And yet – so far – they’re missing something so primally human, so common that it hides in plain sight: The desperate man’s desperate plea to his Creator.

As writer Anne Lamott has said, there are only three prayers: “Help me, thank you, and wow.”

Jesse is certainly at the “Help me” stage.

The final episodes are written and filmed, so Jesse’s future is set in stone, a future I doubt will include God, but I can see it so clearly in my mind’s eye: Jesse wandering into a seedy, beaten-down Catholic innercity mission, talking to a priest who’s seen it all but still doesn’t know how to handle Jesse’s confession. Or, maybe, Jesse falling in with a Pentecostal black church whose members have seen the insides of prisons and love Jesus – and aren’t afraid to show it by rolling in the aisles. Or maybe Jesse slipping into the back pew of the church of a televangelist, a showman who doesn’t even believe his own show, but whose disingenuous words still strike Jesse with truth.

Someone who tells him God loves him, even him.

Man, it could be good, so….interesting.

The conventional wisdom is that Hollywood avoids faith in general because they don’t want to rule out any part of their audience. But I think it’s really because there’s a lack of imagination and experience in the people writing these stories. Evil they know well. But redemption tends to be boring. It’s terminally nice. It’s yawn-inducing in its vanilla blandness.

But Jesse is way beyond a boring future, isn’t he? He’s ruled out the picket fence and the Lutheran church on Sundays and two towheaded kids.

If I were writing the end of Breaking Bad, I’d follow the old mantra:

Go big or go home.

Jesse is a desperate man in need of redemption. So I’d give it to him, blown up large, exploding off the screen.

As a Franciscan monk, sweating in the war-torn wastes of Sudan, digging wells and risking his life to bring former enemies to peace.

Or as a soft-spoken man slaving away in a innercity mission, tenderly wiping the blood and spittle off raving addicts, like a modern day John Newton (a slaver trader who wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace”).

Or as the founder of an Indonesian orphanage, cleaning and feeding and loving children left parentless by the ravishes of drug use like a modern day Mother Teresa.

Go big or go home.

No revenge on Walt or tragic denouement would be as satisfying as if Jesse found real salvation and real atonement.

Read More:

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 1: Blood Money.

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 2: Buried

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 3: Confessions

Vote on how the series should end here.

Why the Shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown Make Me Believe in God

After a crisis of faith three years ago, I found that I did, indeed, believe in God.

The way I got there surprised me. It starts with the existence of evil.

Heartbreaking and inexplicably evil events like the shooting of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School bring us face to face with the reality of evil.

There is much evil in the world, but somehow those sweet little children have pierced our hearts like few other events have.

Perhaps it’s because it’s easy to believe young children are innocent and good.

They’re not, of course. Any parent of a toddler can tell you babies come equipped with selfish desires, the twisted urge to dominate those around them, and murderous rages. If a two year old had any real power, no parent would survive their toddlerhood. A two year old would gladly murder Mom or Dad for nothing more than a denied cookie.

It’s the process of maturing and building empathy that allows humans to overcome their inherent willful selfishness, or at least channel it into socially acceptable vices. A distressing number never do.

But looking at the little victims of Sandy Hook, nonetheless, we are moved. Perhaps because they knew so little of the world. Perhaps because they were so unformed. The pathways in their mind and soul were unshaped, pathways that would eventually lead to character or cowardice, love or hate, grace or nature. They were question marks still, a bundle of possibilities waiting to be expressed.

So we rail against an evil that would shoot that question mark and take away its potential for an answer.

We rail because somehow, independent of us and society and shifting values and debates, independent of whether you believe in God or not, the child matters. There is something good there, something undeniable.

In order for evil to exist, something good must be violated. Evil does not exist on its own. It is only a destruction of good.

Evil is the flip side on the coin of good. Without good, there can be no evil. Something intangible, something ineffable,  something beyond you or me or that child was violated when a young man took a gun to that school.

This is true, of course, of families killed in Syria, children starving in North Korea, or a young criminal gunned down on the street of Chicago. In all of them, something good existed and was extinguished. Something evil happened.

But it’s easier for us to see that contrast when twenty fresh young children are senselessly murdered. We feel the disturbance in the force, as Obi-Wan Kanobi said. The disturbance is always there, but we sense it now.

Nor does evil require our knowledge to be evil. An unknown and unmissed child murdered, the crime never to be discovered, is equally a violation of that ineffable, sacred thing that matters so much to the fabric of the universe.

If there is something sacred and good about each human, despite all the drudgery, want, and evil that constantly violates the sacred on the earth, that something must exist independent of us, our knowledge, our opinion, even our existence.

There must be a an ultimate Good from which all other good flows, a wellspring of goodness that fills the universe, that exists outside of us, above us, beyond us.

And so, to my surprise, I found I did believe in God. And this, initially, was only because I knew evil to be true in my heart and in the world. Evil was the one thing I could never deny existed.

Either the children of Sandy Hook matter or they don’t. Either their murder shakes the universe or it doesn’t. Either they are meaningless animals evolved in a cold, impersonal universe, or they are images of God lovingly sculpted by a Creator.

And if they matter, every human being on earth does.

Review: ‘Prometheus’ a lot of Gorgeous Emptiness

There’s no denying that the long awaited  prequel to the sci-fi Alien franchise Prometheus is pretty.

Sadly, like a sorority girl just finished with her first semester of Psychology 101, it’s all lip-gloss and profound-sounding pronouncements with no real substance.

It will catch your eye and entertain for a while, but it’s nothing you want to take home to mother. [Read more...]

Ridley Scott talks God, Prometheus and his next (Biblical!) Project

When you see Prometheus this weekend, if you pick up on themes about God, faith, religion, and creation, well….they’re all intentional, according to an interview with director Ridley Scott in Esquire Magazine. (warning, some explicit language)

ERIC SPITZNAGEL: I got kind of an Old Testament vibe from Prometheus.

RIDLEY SCOTT: Great. Then I’ve done my job.

ES: So that was intentional?

RS: Oh, yes. I’m really intrigued by those eternal questions of creation and belief and faith. I don’t care who you are, it’s what we all think about. It’s in the back of all our minds.

ES: In the Old Testament, God is kind of an asshole. [Read more...]

God and the Avengers

Over at the Christophers blog on Patheos, Toni Rossi has an excellent breakdown of the spiritual implications of the Avengers movie. He writes about a scene in which Loki (the villain) tells humanity it is their nature to kneel, to submit, to give up freedom:

As I was watching the scene in the movie unfold and the old man first stood up, I expected a comment from him about how human beings are never meant to follow, that we’re autonomous individuals who shouldn’t submit our own will to anyone else. That’s why the exchange surprised me. It didn’t say that at all. It just made a comment on the type of person – and perhaps unintentionally, the type of God – we’re supposed to follow.

It’s worth clicking through to read the whole thing.

Perhaps these underlying themes are part of why The Avengers is the highest grossing movie of all time.


More reading: Read our Avengers review.

Read why Iron Man is libertarian and The Hulk is progressive.

Interview: Director Joe Carnahan on God and spirituality in thriller “The Grey”

On the surface, “The Grey,” starring Liam Neeson, is a suspenseful and thrilling survival movie about a plane load of tough Alaskan men who crash in the wilderness.  Stalked by a pack of wild wolves, their journey towards civilization becomes an epic and harrowing battle between the human pack and the wolf pack.

However, the primal struggle takes on an almost literary quality, with both packs becoming metaphors for life, death, struggle, and spirituality. It’s like a Jack London story come to life, or perhaps a wilderness Flannery O’Connor, as the men find their beliefs about God and death, when challenged by the very real possibility of death, to be quite different than what they had believed before they boarded their doomed airplane.

I asked Joe Carnahan, the director and scriptwriter (it is an adaptation of a shorty story, “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers), if he saw echoes of Jack London or O’Connor. “I think in terms of the overall spirituality or notion of the mystic and mysterious, yeah,” he said, “There’s larger themes in play in what would otherwise be a genre or thriller, action thriller category. Those things were working hand in hand. Something like ‘Deliverance’ – I’m a fan of the film, but I’m a bigger fan of the novel – and the theme of masculinity, what it means to be a man.”

“There is that brutality in O’Connor’s work. The hostility of the world around them.  And what is your shelter, if there is a shelter.”

In one scene, Neeson’s character –who earlier denied belief in God – challenges God, demanding help or answers. It was Neeson’s idea, Carnahan says, to pause in something very like prayer and carefully arrange objects in what seems to be a cross.

That’s not to say the movie serves up easy answers. In fact, Carnahan is perfectly comfortable with ambiguity: “I think if you’re an atheist, you look at the film and you say ‘He didn’t believe in God.’ If you’re a Christian: ‘100% he believed in God.’ I like that. I that like those things coexist. I’m a hell of a lot more interested to hear people talking to me about the film than for me to be telling them about the movie.”

He also intentionally set up the wolf pack and the human pack, with their respective Alpha males, to mirror each other. Human natures is “unpredictable and as hard to map as the animal world. …Nature is wildly unpredictable and we are certainly part of that.”

How does one make a movie that so overtly examines faith and God’s role in individual lives without being preachy? Carnahan, who was raised Catholic, said, “Be open minded and available to everything and not just saying it’s Jesus Christ or bust. So much of the world will do that. I find it troubling …Don’t be dogmatic.  I don’t see how it would be possible for us to make this movie if we were closed down or myopic in any form.”

So what is the movie about? “I think it’s the contradictions that exist in all of us at times in reference to God or to spirituality or to religion in general. There’s a duality of a guy calling on God: ‘Where are you when I need you?’ and then at the same time ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I think that contradiction does exist in all of us, those of faith and those who profess to have no faith. I just thought it had to be something that was synonymous with the story itself and what we were trying to achieve and what we’re trying to tell. It wasn’t just a simplified view of life and death. Certainly, I ask myself those questions. What’s waiting for me? What will I be? My hope, my real hope, is that whatever you hold in your heart, whatever you truly believe, and you’ve put your faith in, that that’s what ‘s waiting for you. I think that’d be wonderful. You know what I mean? I think that would be the culmination of the life of the devout, or the believer.”

“The Grey” is rated R for bloody violence and opens Friday, January 27.