Deconstructing Hollywood’s Ark

What happens when a famed, Oscar winning director undertakes his 13-year passion project of bringing a famed Bible story to screen?  A lot, including controversy well earned.

Over the weekend, Paramount Pictures released Noah, a film directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe as the title character whose responsibility it is to preserve a remnant of humanity and animals through a flood sent by the Creator to wipe out all life on earth to arrest the wickedness of mankind.  Awash in controversy, few films have had the buzz going in that this film did because of it’s biblical source material.  I’ve been following Darren Aronofsky’s attempt to bring Noah to the big screen for a long while.  Following it closely enough that I actually struggled in deciding of I was even going to see it.  It was difficult for me to comprehend how an individual who identifies as an atheist would be able to portray this story properly or would even want to spend millions  of dollars and thirteen years trying to bring this story on the silver screen.

While the controversy surrounding the film is mulcti-faceted, theologically and ideologically,  the things I focused in on prior to viewing it were the supposed environmental message and some of the liberties taken with the story.   Early on there was talk of this film portraying Noah as the “first enviromentalist” and religious audiences often reacted negatively (which led to various re-edits of the film, none of which were actually used as the theatrical release).  I wondered if this was going to end up much like the re-make of The Day the Earth Stood Still, where Klatuu and Gort come to Earth to stop humanity from harming the environment (and threaten to technologically retcon human civilization to do it).  Wherein the original film from 1953 highlighted the value of human life, the 2008 remake focused on valuing plant and animal ecosystems over humanity.

Unfortunately, there was an aspect of that to the Aronofsky film.  It seemed as if the Creator’s judgement was going to rain down because of human wickedness against the earth, for things like mining, desolation, and eating meat.  While there was an aspect of showing violence and mistreatment by humanity of humanity, this seemed to be the side-kick reason to the flooding judgement juggernaut.

The other thing that seemed out of place were a group of rock beings called The Watchers.  These were said to be angels that were judged by God and trapped within earthen elements because they took pity on humanity and wanted to help them flourish. I’m not sure if the Watchers are considered the same as Old Testament references to the Nephilim, considered to be giants. Nevertheless, these Watchers assist in the construction of the ark in the film, which aids in giving the impression that it took less time to build it than the 70+ years that tends to be deduced from the text when the ages of Noah and his sons are considered.  I basically saw them as stone Ents and thought it was just odd.  It should probably be noted that long before this was a major motion picture, this interpretation of the story was a graphic novel written by the director; that hasn’t really been addressed.

Criticisms aside, I did appreciate how dark the mood of the film was, and how pervasive the sense of judgement for sin came across; this is NOT a world you wanted to live in.  It’s far different than the flannel-graph board version of the story you’re taught in Sunday school and I thought that was a GOOD thing.  I also noticed that the portrayal of this flood was was global, and not a localized incident via the shot of the whole earth covered with hurricane type events.  The telling of Creation, by Noah on the Ark to his family, was also fairly strait-forward and accurate.  I couldn’t help but see similarities between Crowe’s portrayal of Noah and his Jor-El from Man of Steel – two characters who are aware doom is upon their planets and no one will listen, with the future only saved by his actions.

I went into the film actually excited because one review claimed that “if you love Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, and Braveheart you’ll love Noah“.  I love all those movies and large swaths of Noah just bored me.  Was it beautiful? Yes.  Did I appreciate the level of detail and care in set building for the ark and getting the specs right from the scriptural text? Yes, but I was still bored.

Despite my boredom, I still consider this to be a worthwhile portrayal of wrath and mercy, judgement and grace.  Wrath for sin, yet mercy and grace through the preservation of humanity.  It was Greg Thornbury’s  review of the film that got me in the door and I still think his thoughts holds up.

In the end, this film is getting people thinking, talking, and going back to the text to see what’s really there in a way few mediums could.  It if takes someone who doesn’t believe the source material to get that to happen, I can accept it.  As Paul said “Be it by false motives or true, Christ is preached and in this I rejoice”; I think the same applies here.

It’s best for folks who actually believe the source material to see the film and use it as a jump-off point for further discussion of what’s really in Genesis.

Update:  Earlier this week I came across a piece by Dr. Brian Mattson that is causing quite a stir, wherein he takes other theologians and Cristian thought leaders to task for promoting and endorsing a film that is heavily influenced by Gnosticism and Kabbalah (a Jewish mystic sect).  Having never seen any other movies the director is involved in, I was completely ignorant of such influences (that supposedly influenced his film Pi).  The article is a worthwhile read.  Nevertheless, I am still optimistic that the film is generating worthwhile discussion and asking questions that lead to encounters with the actual account in Genesis (I’d love to see the actual numbers…)


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About Aaron

Author, Speaker, and Super Nerd. Aaron Welty speaks and writes regularly connecting the dots of life, faith, and science fiction. Originally from Michigan, he now lives and works in the Washington, D.C. Metro area.

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