Directed by Darren Aronovsky
Starring Russell Crowe
One of my pet hates is the dinky sort of ‘Noah’s ark’ you see in toy shops and children’s books. The ark in Paramount Pictures’ film Noah is nothing like that. It is a hulking great thing, and when the animals come into it and it floats on the surface of the water in a worldwide flood, it is a great sight to behold.
However, that is probably the best that can be said for a film that most Christians will be very disappointed with. The fact that I need to use the term ‘spoiler alert’ here gives a hint at how far from the Bible account Darren Aronovsky’s film strays.
Turning biblical narrative into a cinematic experience is fraught with difficulties. Indeed, the film’s own ‘health warning’, ‘12A: Contains moderate violence, injury detail, threat’, alerts us to that.
We know too that a feature film will never simply follow a narrative, but needs to build in its own dramatic tensions, so we were pleased not to have to hear an actor giving the voice of God and not surprised to see Noah’s wife (Jennifer Connolly) given such a big part.
We were willing to allow a large part to Shem’s wife (Emma Watson, famous from the Harry Potter films) and can see that there is some room for argument on how Methuselah, Lamech and Ham might be presented, and on whether Noah became a grandfather while on the ark (the film takes us from Noah’s childhood to his drunkenness and repentance, with backward glances to the earlier chapters of Genesis).
We can even overlook inaccuracies, such as ignoring the 120-year gap between the command to build the ark and the flood.
What is much harder to stomach is the blatant rejection of the biblical narrative, in favour of a wholly fictitious presentation of Noah (Russell Crowe) as a man with a death-wish against humanity; and an ark containing seven people not eight, one of them a villainous Tubal-Cain, who stows away for months, only to be murdered before the Ararat denouement!
One of the problems with suggesting, as the film does, that Noah wanted to kill his own grandchildren and so leave the human race with no future is that, far from creating dramatic tension, anyone who is thinking about the plot will be utterly unfazed by all the drama that those playing Noah, his wife and daughter-in-law pour into their parts, since the very fact we are here watching the film dictates the eventual outcome!
Perhaps we simply have to accept that, when those who are unwilling to treat God’s Word as sacred are let loose on the Scriptures, they will almost inevitably go wrong sometimes; or, as here, spectacularly wrong.
The theological problems with this film are there from the outset. We open with the hopeful words, ‘In the beginning there was nothing’. Everything in the believer cries out, ‘Actually, in the beginning there was God’, but you say, ‘Okay, this is as near as we are likely to get from such a source’.
A few frames in, however, we are introduced to ‘The watchers’, an angel-like race who are fallen and yet redeemable, and who help Noah build his ark. This is highly problematic, as is the film-makers’ inability throughout to distinguish between the miraculous and the magical.
Even when we get a countdown of creation, the idea that the sun and moon were made on the fourth day is firmly rejected, regardless of what Genesis may say on the matter.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is the way the Bible’s chief theme of Messiah has been completely removed. The main characters come over as clones of 21st century man, in all his ignorance and arrogance, not as antediluvians longing for Messiah to come.
I was able to see this film ahead of time, thanks to the efforts of an organisation called Damaris Media (http://www.damaris.org). Led by Nick Pollard, Damaris seeks to capitalise on the existence of films like this, by encouraging discussion of the gospel with people who see it.
The group’s aims are laudable and they have produced excellent materials to accompany the film. I just wonder if the task of getting from the outright fiction of Noah to the true Genesis story will be a step too far in most cases. We do not have to tie our hands behind our backs before we evangelise.
Of course, some people will see the film anyway, and Damaris may be a help in highlighting how to take discussion forward.