So I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but there’s a new movie about Noah. Social media has been abuzz with various reviews; some praising the film as a thoughtful meditation on an age old story, others skewering it as heathen vermin of the lowest kind. I’ve obviously not read all of the reviews; in fact, I haven’t read many at all. But I have seen the movie and several of my friends have asked my opinion so, at the risk of being simply one more voice lost in the fray, here goes.
First, a few disclaimers that are necessary for those of you who don’t know me. I’m a Christian. I have a high view of Scripture and I consider myself to be fairly fundamentalist in my interpretation of these texts. In addition, I serve as one of the preaching and teaching ministers at our congregation. The biblical text and the truth contained therein means everything to me, both personally and professionally.
Because of that, it’s hard not to be disappointed in the Noah movie. As you’ve probably already heard, the film strays quite far from the biblical “script” found in Genesis. In an interview I read a week or so ago, the producer referred to the film as a “midrash” on the Noah story, which is probably a better way to understand it. In Judaism, the rabbinic sages attempted to explain the biblical events through commentary and “fill in the gap” storytelling. If you’ve seen the movie, you can probably see how this definition fits with the film’s plot.
While fundamentalists (like myself) might entertain a certain degree of speculation when it comes to how these stories are interpreted on the big screen, the disappointment comes in places where the biblical text is outright ignored or changed. The filmmakers have publicly stated that they intentionally aimed to make a “provocative” film. To be fair, the film never claims to be a “by the book” interpretation of the Noah story found in Genesis. The movie begins with a statement noting that the film is a dramatic interpretation of the Noah story. All of which is completely within the purview of the producers. However, if that’s your vision for the story, you can’t be shocked when people object when such an “interpretation” glosses over important details in the biblical account.
In the event that you decide to see the movie, I won’t recount all of the places this happens in the film and there are a couple of reasons for this. One, I’m sure there are other reviews that are already pointing out those sorts of things. And, just as importantly, I simply can’t remember them all. But I will say this: my biggest beef with the movie is the lack of emphasis on God’s covenant with creation. In my reading of the Noah story, that’s the big takeaway. So, yeah, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed with that part of the film.
But I don’t want to imply that the biblical text means less to the filmmakers than it does to me. I absolutely can’t say that. It seems that we simply have different ways of thinking about and understanding the Noah story. And I think it’s important for Christians (and more precisely, Christian fundamentalists) to be clear about that. All too often, we shout our objections from the heavens without seizing the opportunity to also model humility and love.
That being said, there are definitely things I appreciated about the film. The production value is top notch: the visual effects are absolutely amazing and the score hits the mark. The filmmakers captured some of the mystery of the biblical account of both the Flood and the Creation accounts. In addition, the casting was stellar, particularly Logan Lerman as Ham and Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain. (Let’s be honest: when is the last time either of those guys came up in your Bible study group?)
I also appreciated the film’s emphasis on creation care. In American culture, “environmentalism” has been loaded down with so much political baggage that it’s nearly a useless term. To talk about being “pro-environmental” often implies an improper elevation of the preservation of the earth and its resources as an ultimate priority. Most of my Christian friends understandably consider such talk nonsense. Over the last decade, however, I have become quite convicted that the biblical account, particularly the first few chapters of Genesis, have much to say about our role as stewards of God’s good creation. I consider creation care to be a serious theological issue, which has redeemed the whole idea back to me from the realm of left-wing absurdity. As such, I can appreciate the care with which the Noah film approaches this subject. In my opinion, this is one of the places where the producers got it absolutely right.
Another takeaway for me, after viewing the film: I have a much greater appreciation for the courage of Noah. The film emphasizes the opposition Noah faces at the hands of Tubal-Cain and his minions and whether or not it went down exactly like the film depiction isn’t the point. The point is this: Noah was willing to act in faith, even at the risk of extreme ridicule and derision. Even in the latter third of the film, which felt a bit more like Genesis 22 than Genesis 8, Noah is steadfast in his faith. Though the film reaches its uncomfortable apex here, it also forces us to consider the true meaning of faith and whether or not it resides in you and me. For all its misfires, I can certainly appreciate a film that asks such hard, relevant questions.