There is no doubt that the absolute worst Noah movie of all time was the 1999 television film Noahs Ark directed by John Irvin. Not only did Irvin amalgamate the story of Sodom and Gomorrah with the story of the flood but he was extremely cheesy. I still remember Noah and his family purchasing pots and pans from a man on a makeshift raft and then, several scenes later, using those pots and pans to fight off a band of pirates who attacked the ark. Sound horrendous? Well, it got worse. The leader of those fearsome pirates was none other than Abrahams nephew Lot.
But what about the latest theatrical portrayal of Noah? Yesterday I took the time to write my first review on Aronofsky's Noah and focused mostly on the aspects of the film that I appreciated. Today, I would like to take the time to evaluate its questionable facets. As I said yesterday, every story has a macro-narrative, which focuses on large themes, values, and philosophy, and a micro-narrative, which focuses on the small details pertinent only to the story itself. It goes without saying that Aronofsky paid little attention to the micro-narrative of scripture and instead constructed, to a large degree, his own micro-narrative. While all biblical movies take historical license to fill in the blanks left by the Hebrew writers Aronofsky takes this to another level. The end result is a micro-narrative that is not only historically inaccurate but highly improbable. In addition, Aronofsky's disregard for the clear details of the story is evidence that he had no intention of making a biblically sound movie. However, while the micro-narrative makes this obvious I would like to once again turn my attention to the macro-narrative. Far from fretting over minute details, as many critics have done, I prefer to analyze the philosophy behind this movie—a philosophy which ultimately speaks volumes about the character of God.
Before I start I would like to break down today’s analysis for the sake of simplicity. Today I will analyze the aspects of the movie I did not like. However, that analysis will be sub headed into two separate sections. The first will deal with what I did not like artistically and the second will deal with what I did not like theologically and philosophically.
What I did Not Like Artistically
In the first post I mentioned how I appreciated the cinematography of this film, especially the scenes on the ark. Unfortunately, Aronofsky was not consistent with his artful use of the camera. The very beginning of the film feels like the introduction to a film from the 1990’s and the scenes depicting the serpent in the Garden of Eden are horrendous. A friend accurately described the serpent as “that fake paper mache green snake”. But the worst part of the movie (artistically at least) has to go to the Watchers. Now analyzing the Watchers is going to be tricky because they have aesthetic and philosophical elements. For now I will stick to the aesthetic. The Watchers look, for lack of a better phrase, like characters off of a low budget Lord of the Rings movie. Their characteristics were so ridiculous it almost seems like a 3 year old drew them. If that were not bad, their animation looked like something out of Gumby Adventures—poor, shaky, and unimpressive. I wondered how the same director could produce such impressive art in one part of the film and such unimpressive art in another. However, remember I am not here to criticize but to analyze. While I didn’t like the way the Watchers were portrayed I propose their visual offensiveness has a deeper meaning behind it.
What I did Not Like Theologically and Philosophically
Now we get to the meat of the pie—the part everyone has been waiting for. Unfortunately, many of the critiques I have heard about this movie focus too much on the micro-narrative. Others are hyper sensitive and bemoan the way in which the viewer was offended by Aronofsky's blasphemy. While I do not deny the points these critics make, I believe that many of our criticisms have prevented us from analyzing the true meaning—or message—of the movie. In other words, many of us have been so offended by the fact that Methuselah had "magical" powers that we have not taken the time to critically analyze the philosophical foundations of Aronofsky's film. As an artist I recognize the sheer impossibility in divorcing my art from my heart. In other words, my art is and always will be a window by which my heart can be understood. I suggest that Aronofsky's Noah says more about Aronofsky than it does about Noah. The film speaks volumes regarding the picture of God Aronofsky has. So what exactly is this picture of God? In order to analyze it lets go back to the Watchers.
The Watchers, as I mentioned before, appear to have a philosophy behind them. That philosophy transcends their poor design and may in fact be the cause of it. Noah begins with the tale of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. After the fall a company of angels decide to enter the world and help the humans out. God forbids them from doing so. The angels, concerned as they are for the lot of humanity, defy Gods command and proceed with their plan. As a result God punishes them severely. When they arrive on earth they are immediately encrusted in stone and banished from heaven. The Watchers repent and beg for God’s forgiveness but he does not listen. Nevertheless, kindhearted as they are, they continue on their mission, though severely handicapped, in helping fallen man. These Watchers help Noah and his family build the ark and when the wicked lost arrive to take over the ark, the Watchers fight to protect the ark. Because of their selfless sacrifice in protecting Noah and his family, they are forgiven and allowed to reenter heaven.
As ridiculous and offensive as this may appear to us Christians allow me to analyze the philosophical underpinnings of the Watchers. First, let us be clear that the Watchers are not demons—at least, not in the biblical sense (as a matter of fact, demons are entirely absent in this film). These Watchers did not seek to rebel against God and overthrow his government; they simply wanted to help mankind. God did not want them to help mankind and punished them for attempting to do so. Their punishment was the most severe and cruel imprisonment. These beautiful and soaring angels were locked within stone, barely unable to walk, with no mercy offered. Their crime? They tried to help humanity and most of all they disobeyed God by showing mercy to a race God did not want to show mercy to. However, the biblical story is quite different in that is portrays God as offering mercy and hope to the fallen race from the moment of their first sin, a mercy and hope that he prepared long in advance of their betrayal.
What kind of picture does this paint of God? Is it no wonder Aronofsky is an atheist? If this is how he pictures God then I don't blame him. Such a God is cruel, arbitrary, and tyrannical. This is Aronofsky's picture of God and sadly, our world is filled with Aronofsky's both within and without the church—some of them atheists, some of them preachers. Ellen White said it best when she wrote, "...those who are deceived by Satan look upon God as hard and exacting. They regard Him as watching to denounce and condemn, as unwilling to receive the sinner so long as there is a legal excuse for not helping him. His law they regard as a restriction upon men’s happiness, a burdensome yoke from which they are glad to escape" (CSA 13.5).
The substance of the Watchers grows bleaker as we see them beg for forgiveness and none is offered—that is, until they perform an act of selfless sacrifice and are admitted back to heaven. The message here is clear, God is an arbitrary dictator who will forgive only if you perform well enough to impress him. This kind of thinking is not only rampant in the world but also in the church. It is the philosophy of paganism, or works-based religion. This type of worldview assumes God demands his creatures meet a certain standard in order for him to love them and ultimately save them. God is portrayed as an angry being that needs to be appeased. Every religion in planet earth is built upon this presupposition. It has been called by many as the religion of “do”. Do this, do that, don’t do the other, and make sure you do, do, do and perhaps the deity will be kind enough to pardon and allow you into his eternal bliss. But the foundation of Christianity, that is its very substance, is built upon the word “done”. There is no need to “do” in Christianity for God has “done” all necessary in order for man to find pardon and salvation. All that is left for man is to respond, but no amount of self-sacrifice, no amount of good deeds, and no amount of obedience can impress God. His forgiveness is a gift and must be received as a gift. It cannot be earned and is freely available to all. While some may argue that the biblical account of Noah says nothing of God’s grace and free pardon, we must remember that Noah is part of a macro/meta-narrative. As such, the story of Noah cannot be taken as a solitary tale for it forms a solid part of the meta-narrative of scripture. That narrative is consistent, from Genesis to Revelation, that man can do nothing to save himself and that salvation is, and always has been a gift of God. Noah forms a part of that narrative, and as such, must be understood within this interpretive framework.
The grace of God is entirely absent in this film. Gods character is maligned with the fact that not all of the wicked lost were in fact wicked. Many of them, particularly the women, were victims of human trafficking and abuse. Therefore, the impression is given that God destroyed thousands of innocent lives that could have been saved. However, the Bible tells us that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness”. While in the ark, Noah’s wife asks him if there is anything they can do to save some as she endures the horrifying shrieks of those left behind, many who may have been innocent. Salvation was not free in this movie even though it is portrayed in the story of Noah. In his article “Noah the Evangelist” Paul F. Taylor says,
In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is described as a “preacher of righteousness.” In what way was he a preacher? The Greek word kerux (κηρυξ) refers to a herald, or “one who announces.” Even when he wasn’t saying anything, his labor on the Ark would have been his witness. However, some Jewish scholars maintain that Noah did indeed leave some words, too. John Gill, in chapter 22 of the Pirke R. Eliezer, quotes Noah’s words according to Jewish tradition: “Be ye turned from your evil ways and works, lest the waters of the flood come upon you, and cut off all the seed of the children of men.”
The tradition shows Noah giving both a warning and a means of salvation. If this extrabiblical source has any truth in it, then Noah is asking for people to repent, which would certainly fit with his own source of salvation through Christ.In her book Patriarchs and Prophets, Ellen White portrays the same picture of Noah when, just before the flood, she says, “…the servant of God made his last solemn appeal to the people. With an agony of desire that words cannot express, he entreated them to seek a refuge while it might be found. Again they rejected his words, and raised their voices in jest and scoffing” (98). According to scripture, tradition and Ellen White, Noah preached a message of mercy to the wicked world and not one responded. This is a much different picture than what Aronofsky paints, one in which Noah is silent, never once offering a morsel of mercy, and even willing to let an innocent girl perish despite her desperate cries. The real Noah, I believe, would have welcomed her with open arms and the true God of the scriptures would have smiled upon the scene.
The philosophy of the Watchers sets the tone for the rest of the film. God is portrayed as vindictive and distant. While the depravity of man is eloquently portrayed one wonders if God himself is depraved. A friend who came to see the movie with me commented that God appeared just as wicked as Tubal-cain, the king of earths wicked men. Since God is never seen or heard in the entire film, the viewer automatically accepts Noah as a sort of representative of God, but Noah is an arrogant psychopath who lets an innocent girl attempting to enter the ark die under the crushing heels of the wicked stampede rushing to get inside. God also appears to torture Noah with silence which appears to be the cause of Noah’s psychotic break. Noah then assumes that God only chose his family to complete the task of saving the animals—as for his family, they are to die off until mankind is no more. When the wife of his son falls pregnant he attempts to kill the newborn children (if they are girls) thinking it is Gods will. When he is unable he looks to heaven and tells God he cannot do it.
Another aspect of the film that was troubling is that "during a scene where Noah explains to his family how the world was 'created', the film displays visuals depicting Darwinian evolution". This concept that God created the world through a Darwinian evolutionary scheme portrays God as one whom uses death and survival of the fittest as his means for creating life. As such, death is not the result of sin but Gods own tool to create the world. How then can a God who uses death and survival of the fittest to create turn around and destroy mankind for continuing in the same pattern he initiated? We are, once again, left with a cruel and irrational being.
The God of Noah seems little better than the god of the Agnostics—a distant, uninterested God. The only difference is that the God of the Agnostics never enters human affairs, whereas this one does. Only he does so in a dictatorial way, offering no mercy except to those he considers worthy. If this was the true picture of God I, like Aronofsky, would be an atheist. But thankfully, the God of scripture is a loving God, wonderful, kind, slow to anger, and abundant in mercy. Tomorrow I will write my final reaction to this film and will provide, what I believe, are the challenges and opportunities we have as Christians in its wake.
Image Source: http://christiannews.net/2013/11/17/new-noah-film-starring-russell-crowe-flooded-with-controversy/
Image Source: http://christiannews.net/2013/11/17/new-noah-film-starring-russell-crowe-flooded-with-controversy/