In Defense of “Noah”
by Kyle Durbin
By now, if you’re a pastor or a parent of a youth that went to the movie, “Noah”, you’ve already been riddled with questions about “rock monsters,” “fallen angels,” and “Hermione giving birth on the ark.” If you are an adult that has, or has not, seen the film, you’re opinion has already been biased by an onslaught of reports from the Christian community lambasting the film for its biblical inaccuracy. To say I have been “disheartened” by these reviews is to put it mildly at best.
So let’s get on with it. Before the movie was even released, many in the evangelical church were writing scathing reviews simply in offense to the fact that the film was directed by an atheist and a Jew. For starters, lets remember that “Noah.” the biblical story, is from the “Hebrew Bible,” and was told long before the Gospel ever came into being as Word and flesh. The story of Noah is a rich part of the Jewish tradition, and to have the insight of a director who shares that experience should be considered a blessing. Furthermore, if the director is an atheist, and he fully invested himself in a film called, “Noah,” does that not mean that he would have needed to have spent countless hours pouring through the text of the Bible, not just the few chapters where the story of Noah is concerned, but at least the entire book of Genesis? Shouldn’t Christians be celebrating this exposure from a self-described atheist experiencing one of the means of grace?
Then there’s the community criticizing the film for its financial success. Seriously!? So Roma Downey and Mark Burnett can film a ten week series called, “The Bible,” market it through Christian franchises more than the actual Bible itself, and then simultaneously create a film called, “The Son of God,” that uses the same script, the same location, and the same actors, send that to the silver screen, and they aren’t trying to turn a profit!? What’s more exploitative? A film produced by a Christian company making money off of the Gospel, or a secular film by a secular producer trying to make money in a secular market?
Let’s back up, “The Bible,” that ten week mini-series on the word of God, was produced on “The History,” Channel, the same show that has series about “Ancient Aliens.” However, unlike “Noah,” it was marketed as if it was a literal account of the writings of the Bible, and because it was on a channel that explores historical fact, was intended to be regarded as accurate. However, my Sunday School class, which is studying this film, has already witnessed that this account skips over the stories of Jacob and Joseph in entirety, gives no mention of Judges such as Deborah or Gideon, and somehow combines the prophet Samuel and the priest Eli into the same person. I’m not saying there aren’t biblical truths still present, I’m just saying it’s no substitute for the actual Bible. Meanwhile, the directors of “Noah,” from the start, have said that it was intended to be an artistic interpretation of the account found in the Bible, with considerably liberties taken in filling in the gaps vacant in the book of Genesis (an account, which, by the way, was written by two separate authors, creating a single story told simultaneously from two [sometimes conflicting] perspectives). So which is a bigger threat to our understanding of Scripture, an inaccurate telling claiming to be faithful, or a fantastical interpretation admitting to be an exploration?
Oh yeah, another thing I heard over and over again was how there was no mention of the word “God” in the film. Well, about halfway through the story, Noah’s son, Ham, says, “The Creator is God.” So…there’s that. And what’s really so wrong with God being referred to as “The Creator?” Don’t we do it all the time? And in truth, what had God done up until this point in the Bible? God created! That’s one of the primary ways people of this time would have understood God! Remember, the divine name isn’t revealed until Moses in the book of Exodus, quite some time later.
Speaking of God creating, there is a moment in the film, while on the ark, that Noah tells his children the story of Creation. His lines, like many others in the film, are pulled directly from scripture. So why does Noah tell the story of Creation while on the ark? Why is God referred to as “The Creator,” in the film? Because, finally, a film told the story of the flood for what it is. As Noah says in the movie, “fire destroys all, water cleanses.” There is a baptismal message in the biblical flood story. The story of Noah is not a story of death and destruction as it is so often portrayed (and yes, there was plenty of that in the film), but it is a story of “Re-creation,” and new life. The juxtaposition was explored beautifully in “Noah.”
Now for some things I didn’t like. There are no “rock monsters,” in the Bible. There are, however, Nephilim (i.e. celestial being, “fallen angels), or Giants, referenced in 6:2, and there is a clear relation to the necessity of the flood indicated, but I’ll go ahead and say creatures from The Lord of the Rings voiced by Optimus Prime is a bit of a stretch. Let’s see…Methuselah was an old guy but there’s no reference of any conversations with Noah. In the biblical account, God spoke directly to Noah, there was no deep internal struggle, and Noah was considered “moral and exemplary,” (Genesis 6:9), so I’m going to guess he probably never desired to kill any members of his own family, born or unborn. Also, the only people on the ark were Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives (Genesis 6:18), so, even though it makes for a nice romantic aside, “Hermione” was already married to Shem when they boarded the boat, and any children wouldn’t have been born until after the floodwaters receded. Noah was also never concerned with “justice,” as he declared in his best Bruce Wayne imitation in the film. But then again, Moses never said anything about proclaiming “liberty throughout all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof,” like he did when Charlton Heston quoted the Liberty Bell (not the Bible) in “The Ten Commandments,” but I don’t hear anyone complaining about that! However, that part where Noah gets drunk, Ham sees him naked, and Shem and Japheth cover him up with a robe? That’s straight up biblical, and no, it doesn’t make any sense to me either. So all the Christian communities that are upset about that scene too, you don’t have to like it either, but go check out Genesis 9:18-29 and see if you change your tune.
There is an ancient, Jewish, rabbinical practice known as thought pertaining to the pages of scripture that discusses “black fire on white fire.” The thought is that the pages of the Bible were written with “black fire” and “white fire.” The “black fire” is the ink that goes on the page that forms the words. The “white fire,” then, is the rest of the page. Anyone who looks at the pages of the Bible can see that there is a lot more “white fire” than “black fire.” Out of this thinking came the tradition of midrash, where the ancient rabbis literally filled in the blanks, doing their best to interpret and explain the “white fire,” in a way that was faithful to the text, conveying the deeper messages of truths of God, while taking any liberties they felt necessary. This is, essentially, what we have with “Noah.” It’s a film that takes artistic liberties, some better informed than others, at filling in the gaps left out of the biblical account. Let’s be honest, it would be hard to stretch out a few chapters in the Bible into a three hour epic movie without doing a little midrash. And so, while we have some elements that are not present in the Bible, we can better understand the intent of the director who was trying to create a world that was very “real” in the minds of the authors of the book of Genesis and the accounts of Noah, things like maniacally violent rulers and supernatural giants, even if these things were not real, factual, or historical.
So, was “Noah” a biblical film, so far as it adhered to the strict confines of the short Hebrew text where it is found in the pages of Genesis? No. But was “Noah” a biblical film, insomuch as it explored some of the deeper truths about God and human nature found in the in the flood story of the Bible, themes of “re-creation,” “mercy and love,” and “free will vs God’s will?” Absolutely. Besides, I’d rather have a far-fetched interpretation of a biblical story cause me to read my Bible for verification rather than a bad re-telling of a biblical narrative leave me simply thinking that’s what actually happened in the Bible. Seriously, if all “Noah” does is get people talking about or reading their Bibles, I don’t think Christians have much to complain about. And for those who don’t like it, they can go eat “Crowe!” (Hehe, see what I did there?)