Noah: A Theological Reflection

Noah: A Theological Reflection March 28, 2014

by Steven Greydanus, one of the most honest and thoughtful critics writing today.

I’m going to go see the film.  Why?  Because of Steve’s thoughtful work covering it.

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  • Gail Finke

    Let us know what you think! Thought I’d encourage you because I know how reluctant you are to share your opinions…

  • Noah Doyle

    Just saw it, and I’m going to be a while mulling it over. It has flaws, both theological and cinematographic, but overall I thought it was a good recounting of the story. Steven’s reflections made me decide to go see it, too. The environmental message was strong, but not at the expense of faith. Creation is not Gaia, but a ‘jewel in the palm of the Creator’s hand’.

    Yes, Noah does believe at one point that all humanity must perish, to leave Creation undisturbed, and a lot of the conflict derives from that…but a point the film makes is that killing people to protect Creation is wrong. Noah is given a choice between justice and mercy, and chooses mercy.
    ***END SPOILERS***

    Theological: there’s plenty of non-canonical things, but they didn’t bother me at all, as I don’t subscribe to Sola Scriptura, and the Book of Enoch is pretty neat. The only thing that really jumped out at me was putting some of Genesis in the mouth of Tubal-Cain, later in the film. But that could very well have been Tubal-Cain twisting those words to his end.

    Cinematographic: it felt long, too long. I’ve no idea what I would have cut or shortened, but it really felt slow, especially once the flood-a-palooza was over (and that was a very powerful sequence!)

    • “The only thing that really jumped out at me was putting some of Genesis in the mouth of Tubal-Cain, later in the film. But that could very well have been Tubal-Cain twisting those words to his end.”
      I definitely took that scene as a case of the devil quoting Scripture for his own purposes. Looking at the conclusion he draws from the Biblical premises, Tubal-Cain’s argument is clearly meant to be a non-sequitur.

  • chris-2-4
    • chezami

      No quarrel with Barb’s right to hate the movie (though I distrust her judgment on anything with a fantasy element due to her dislike of LOTR). What I object to is her suggestion that anybody who likes the film (by which I think she very obviously and pointedly means Steve) is a liar and a whore. That is way out of line and I think the contrast between his sobriety and her accusatory hysteria only makes Steve look good and her look terrible.

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        I found Ms. Nicolosi’ review sadly snide and juvenile. She has many strengths as critic, but a love for imagination and fantasy is not one of them. She is struck in the rut of reality.

        • I love Barbara (I know her personally), but yes, as a critic she has many faults. She has somewhat narrowly conceived ideas of what a good story is (i.e. the rules we were taught in Act One) and woe to any film that violates them. Yes, she has no taste for fantasy and is unwilling to try to understand it. And then she has other prejudices as well.

          The mere mention of environmentalism as a theme is enough to send her off the rails. A few years ago, the wonderful, charming animated film WAL-E drew her ire because it had an environmental theme. Barb went on and on as if the movie had preached extreme global-warming doom, but in reality the idea could be reduced to “don’t leave your trash lying around” (and it wasn’t really stressed that much). Naturally, a film like Noah isn’t going to have a chance with her. She decries the film’s “liberal” preaching about vegetarianism, forgetting that God’s permission to eat meat came only in the covenant with Noah after the flood. From what I’ve been able to glean, the film’s emphasis on care from the environment is always related to the divine command in Eden.

          And then one of her main objections to the LOTR was that everyone was so dirty. Well, long epic tramps through the uncared-for environment tend to do that to people! Not a very serious approach to reviewing the film. And her hysterical over-reaction to the “ROCK PEOPLE” in Noah also strikes me as silly.

          Steve Greydanus is a really intelligent and thoughtful reviewer and even when I disagree with him, I can understand his clearly stated reasons. I’d suggest giving any film the benefit of the doubt on his say-so. So I’m looking forward to seeing Noah

          • Adolfo

            I agree with you about her somewhat constricted view of what makes a good story. She relies on Aristotle a bit too rigidly for my tastes and many times out of context. That said, I do respect her opinion on film overall. Lately, she’s just been so touchy, though.

            • Yes, not even so much Aristotle as modern Hollywood’s distortion of him. . . But Barbara’s writing is brilliant when it comes to describing how Christians should interact with culture, how imagery adds to a story, the significance of “haunting moments” and a good many other things. Just don’t put her in front of certain kinds of movies.

              • Mark S. (not for Shea)

                Well said.
                And there’s nothing wrong with that. You can put me in front of the best version of the best musical ever made, and I won’t enjoy it. Unless maybe Lee Marvin is in it. I guess I’m too American male.
                But I recognize that about myself. I’m not about to try to justify that there is some Objective Truth that “Musicals are silly” and mock those who disagree.

          • Dan C

            She hated Wall-E for the environmental message? Perhaps she is missing out on the subtext of the trouble with finding the missing Malaysian flight is all the trash that is out in the far reaches of the ocean.

            She is one of the aggrieved haters of the environment. On this, she promotes consumerism, waste, and is not conservationist, which some have tried to read as conservative at one time when thinking and ideas were more a part of conservativism.

            Nicolosi has been a culture warrior and promoter of politics and phony catechetical approaches that end up hating on the poor.

            Others may have fond memories of her as a co-belligerent in the culture wars. I suspect they will find her as just belligerent in the future.

            • I don’t recall anything Barb ever said that was a phony catechetical approach or “hating on the poor.” About her feelings on environmentalism, I only know what I read in her reviews, and I don’t remember all of it. Yes, she does connect it with “liberalism.” I’ve no idea if she’s read anything by Pope Benedict or Pope Francis on the subject, or her exact beliefs on stewardship of the environment. My quarrel is not with these issues per se, just with the fact that she lets her convictions on some subjects get in the way of her reviews.

              Unfortunately, she was also willing to trash Noah in an interview on Relevant Radio before she even saw it. She adopted the lame criticism she had evidently heard somewhere that there is no mention of God in the movie. In reality, God is referred to often, but by the title “the Creator.” This was pointed out to Barb by a caller during the interview. She then said, “But it’s not a reverent treatment of God.” She said this before she even saw the film!

              None of this makes it acceptable to criticize her harshly or call her names.

          • Mark S. (not for Shea)

            Yeah, as I was reading her review, I kept thinking: “I’m really glad she wasn’t reviewing Shakespeare in his day. It would have been rants about WITCHES! and GHOSTS! and FAIRIES!”
            God bless her, but sometimes she goes out of her way to swallow the camel.

  • Noah Doyle

    It just occurred to me, reading Barbara Nicolosi’s review, that we may be missing an essential point:

    This isn’t a Christian movie. It’s not about Christ, and it’s not about Christianity. It’s not Biblical, per se. It’s a Jewish movie, about the events in the Torah and surrounding texts (Enoch, Jubilee, midrash, rabbinic commentaries). Pointing out that it’s not strictly Biblical is expecting it to be something that it’s not.

    • Chris-2-4

      I guess that’s fine in the same way that a knowledgeable Catholic who was into mystery novels might enjoy The DaVinci Code as a mystery but not a story about the Church. But a huge majority of the people who will see it are not that person…

      • Noah Doyle

        I don’t think that’s an apt comparison. The DaVinci Code is most certainly about the Church – the story would not exist without the Church, and everything in it hinges on the Church, and it is a deliberate attack on the Church. My point is that the story of Noah predates Christianity, and Arronofsky is working from a broad Jewish perspective, not Christian. Criticizing it for not being Christian enough, or Biblical enough, is missing the point. While the Bible embraces and encompasses the Torah, the reverse is not the case – nor should we expect it to be.

        (Edited to add:)

        I may have been focusing on the details rather than the meaning of your example. Yes, Joe and Jane Sixpack may be put off by some elements of it, but the movie is not the ‘typical Hollywood take on religion’ that I see it being called in some reviews, like Barbara Nicolosi’s.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I’m mostly hoping for an interesting fantasy-action movie inspired by the old accounts of Noah. I thought including ideas from Jewish sources makes a lot of sense, though.

      • Noah Doyle

        Oh, it is that – but most of the ‘action’ parts are done about half-way through the film. The rest is occupied with Noah’s struggle with trying to understand what God wants him to do.

        Please, don’t let the ‘hur hur ROCK PEOPLE’ reviews drive you away. It’s really quite good.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          I dig rock people. 🙂
          I love the idea of a distinctly earlier time, when the prelapsarian world is not totally forgotten by man or the earth. By sin we brought suffering and death into the world, and we changed nature through it too.

          • Noah Doyle

            I think you’ll like it. The visions of Creation, the Garden, and bits here and there (Noah’s family relic, appearing at the beginning and end of the movie, you’ll see!) all speak to that, the prelapsarian world.

    • antigon

      According to a review by Peter Rosenthal – in The Onion no less, but it was a serious review, not a parody – the film has profoundly Christian themes, with Noah as an archetype of Christ.

      • chezami

        I take Steve’s judgment seriously. I don’t get the ridiculous (and frankly hysterical) suggestion of some that he is a liar or a whore. Sheesh.

  • rd

    i watched “noah” today and i enjoyed it a lot. it’s thought-provoking, and i expect to be pondering about the film for some time to come.

    it even made my participation in sunday vespers more prayerful, along the lines of psalms 8:3-4. if the movie had that effect on me, i’d say that’s a positive, not a negative, effect!

    steven greydanus was spot-on with his review and theological reflections. kudos to him for writing those excellent pieces.

    and yes, this isn’t meant to be a Christian film, even though it does touch upon Christian themes. rather, this is more like a character study that happens to be based on jewish scripture, midrash, and other jewish sources, from a writer/director with jewish roots. in that regard, “noah” is like aronofsky’s “the wrestler,” which to me was another character study that happened to be about a pro wrestler.