I am still trying to figure out the fire sword. Was it the angel’s fire sword from the Garden? Does God have a host of fire swords that he handed out to people who really needed them? Can I get one?
Last week we took a staff outing to go and experience the film Noah. In the middle of a very busy season it was a welcomed respite with all sorts of thought provoking ideas and theology. Four days later I have spent enough time reflecting on the film that my thoughts may now have a bit of coherence and connection. Here are my thoughts on the controversial (seriously?) movie Noah.
First things first, I didn’t go into this film with any expectation that it would be Biblically accurate. I have intentionally stayed away from most of the reviews on the film but I have read some interviews with the director. I knew that this film was his attempt at a Midrash (a form of Rabbinic teaching) and not an effort to show exactly what Genesis says occurred. Darren Aronofsky created a film that wrestled with his questions and insights from the story of Noah. This is why I wanted to see the film, I wanted to experience someone else’s reflection and insight into the story.
The story of Noah is not a children’s story. One of the great disservices we have done to scripture is taking this story and making it a tale for Sunday School. There are few stories in scripture that are less appropriate for our children. The story of Noah is a huge tale with massive theological implications. It is apocalyptic. It is not a cute story about animals. It is a scary and difficult tale of God deciding to wipe humanity from creation and ultimately a story of God’s love and salvation. I was hopeful that the film would at least capture that reality of the story. Mission accomplished, Aronofsky created a massive story with huge scale and really important questions being asked. As a preacher and story teller I was thoroughly pleased by his treatment of the story from that perspective.
Ultimately Aronofsky with his mixture of themes from Kaballah and extra-Biblical material was pretty hit and miss with his theological interpretations of the story. That isn’t unexpected and frankly isn’t really a mark against the film. I love a film that makes me wrestle with God’s relationship to humanity and creation.
Here are the things he captured well. The point of the creation story is the role of humanity as those who are created in the image of God. We are created to be God’s representatives on earth and to take care of creation and become co-creators with God. I thought that stood out well in Noah and his family tree. Noah loves creation and surrenders himself to his service of it. The struggle of what it means to have dominion over the earth is also well captured between Noah and his nemesis Tubal-Cain. Noah serves and cares for the earth, Tubal-Cain represents humanity’s efforts to subdue and control creation for our own benefit.
The images of Adam and Eve in the garden, radiating light, was also a nice theological touch. Creation, before the Fall, reflected the glory of God. The resurrected Jesus shone forth the light of God. Moses’s face glowed beautifully after he beheld the glory of God. I thought it was a nice cinematic touch. This was also captured in the somewhat strange snake skin that was passed down to Noah. It was a reminder of their original calling and their responsibilities.
Other things I liked – God speaking through dreams. dark and brooding Noah struggling with why God chose him for this task, the actual Ark, weird animals I have never heard of or seen before, and the picture of the flood storm from space.
Things I didn’t like – The fallen angels imprisoned in rock were kind of lame looking, Noah was a bit too tough and Gladiator like, and the uncertainty about God’s salvation of humanity through the flood.
The real struggle of the film was that it left the purpose of God in the flood too uncertain for too long. Noah’s desire to end all of humanity because he felt like this was God’s judgment was a bit off base. It is a worthy question to ask of an apocalyptic story, but it left me wanting a bit. The Biblical account of Noah is a complex story written with the literary form of a chiasm. The whole point of the story is the Genesis 8:1- But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded. God remembered Noah. That is the point of the story.
Even when humanity’s sin was so great that God had to hit the reboot button on creation and start fresh, his love for humanity compelled him to preserve them. Noah and his family become the new Adam and Eve and restart the people of God made in his image. The film hinted towards this in some ways, but I thought it missed some opportunities to make it clearer.
So in all I enjoyed the film. From a merely cinematic experience I would give it a B+. As a film asking important theological questions I would give it a B. There are some great questions asked, but the answers were a bit lacking.
As to the controversy surrounding it – well that part is just stupid. Have some imagination people! If there is any tale in scripture that needs some poetic license to help us understand or at least reflect on its meaning, it is the story of Noah.