Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah ... the Movie ... the Controversies - MORE UPDATES

I've been pretty excited about the upcoming Noah movie ever since I heard about it. Then I saw the trailer and got even more excited.

This looked like a classic Bible movie, the likes of which I loved watching as a kid. The Ten Commandments. Ben Hur. You know what I'm talkin' about. Eye popping special effects, miracles, heroic struggles, bigger-than-life stuff.

The fact that we were completely secular and didn't give God a second thought had nothing to do with it. These movies rocked.

I was ready for Noah to rock my world in the same way.

Then I began hearing swirling discontent coming from people who were afraid the movie wouldn't be purely Biblical enough.


This is a Hollywood movie after all.

Film makers have lots of other considerations and even when they've loved a story since their youth, they make trade offs. This was recently called to mind when rewatching all of The Lord of the Rings movies for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast recently.

Director Peter Jackson made some choices I agreed with and some I didn't. He mentions in the extras that he actually got lost down the wrong track a few times and was able to return to the original message only at the last minute.

In fact, that's not a bad place to start when considering how stories must be adapted to move from one medium to another. Since the Bible was originally oral and then written down, Jewish tradition often chose to keep everything even when it conflicted. They didn't want to throw something out in case it was important in a way they couldn't see at the time.

And from that arose the tradition of midrash. Midrash is a traditional Jewish way of trying to understand the underlying spirit of scripture, sometimes connecting it to modern life, by creating parables. This allows for some imaginative storytelling as rabbis look for interpretations that are not immediately obvious but are nevertheless held within the original text.

I figured that as long as we got a good, entertaining movie Noah would, at the very least, be an interesting modern midrash on the story's applicability to our times.

Steven D. Greydanus, respected movie critic for the National Catholic Register, devout Catholic, has invested a considerable amount of thought into the flap over Noah.
Whatever the movie looks like, I expect some pious moviegoers, especially biblical literalists, will be upset or angry about anything in the film that goes beyond the biblical text, or that contradicts their own ideas about the story, or that doesn’t dovetail with their conception of the message of the Bible.

Is this really necessary? I don’t think so. By way of providing some perspective, here are a few points that I think thoughtful Christians, particularly Catholics, should consider in evaluating Aronofsky’s film and others like it.

We all grow up with this version of the story, we read it to our own kids, and many of us never look at the text any other way. (For example, picture books invariably stick with the “two by two” motif, ignoring the verses that refer to seven pairs of “clean” animals.)

There’s nothing wrong with this familiar version of the story. But we shouldn’t mistake it for the canonical story itself — nor should we be too quick to reject interpretative or imaginative approaches to the text that challenge our assumptions. A retelling that defamiliarizes the story, that makes us rethink what we thought we knew, can be a valuable thing.
Greydanus hits the nail on the head. He's got several good pieces which I read with interest as they came along. If you are curious about why the movie is worth watching, despite not being what might be called "strictly Biblical" then these may interest you also. Heck, they're interesting no matter what.
Here's another piece (WSJ: Ark-itectural Digest) which has nothing whatever to do with controversies, but has everything to do with how the filmmakers combined digital and physical elements for the special effects. For instance they actually built the ark to Biblical proportions. The ultimate test was when Hurricane Sandy came along.
In a clearing within a woodsy arboretum on Long Island, on dry land, Mr. Friedberg's crew spent about six months erecting the front entrance and sides of an ark about 60 feet high, out of steel and foam designed to look like logs. For scenes in the ark's interior, they built a three-story set to the same scale inside an armory in Brooklyn.

"We decided that it would be built to biblical proportions," Mr. Friedberg explains. That means it isn't a seafaring ship but a large rectangular box intended to keep Noah's family and the menagerie afloat, specified by scripture to be 30 cubits high, 50 cubits wide and 300 cubits long (a cubit is the distance from human elbow to middle fingertip). Sunk in a cement foundation, the "ark" was framed in I-beams.

In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit like some kind of cosmic message and flooded parts of New York. "The ark did fine," says Mr. Friedberg. "It enjoyed its chance at some real weather. It did better than some of our own houses."
I can't wait.

Other Christian reactions to Noah, all via Brandywine Books.
  • Phil Cooke: Why I'm Recommending Christians See The Movie Noah
    He's got many good reasons, but this was my favorite:
    9) Do we as a Christian community really need to “protect” ourselves from a movie that isn’t 100% Biblically accurate? Would the Apostle Paul have run from the challenge? Rather than withdrawing from the discussion, I suggest that we seize the moment, turn the tables, and use this to our advantage. Pastors should be preaching messages on the Noah story. Let’s use the film to share our faith with friends and co-workers. Like the Old Testament’s Joseph, who rose to remarkable heights in an alien and hostile culture, let’s not shy away from these opportunities, rather, let’s use them to demonstrate the power of God’s Word.
  • Gregory Alan Thornbury: Darren Aronofsky's Noah.
    It's a long, thoughtful piece that you need to go read for yourself, but let's let this give the overall tone:
    Aronofksy's Noah is a way of putting ourselves before the Bible's "dangerous question" as Barth put it. The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.
Steven D. Greydanus is turning into quite the authority on the Noah movie. He's being interviewed everywhere, asked tons on questions, and has a couple more pieces written. I'm not reading either of these until I've seen the movie, but wanted to share these links.

  • The Noah Movie Controversies answers the many questions he's being asked. If there's a misconception out there, he's addressing it.
  • Noah: A Theological Reflection. Here's the description of the piece: Darren Aronofsky’s controversial film is sometimes divisive and divided, but is also deeply serious about Scripture and essential questions.
  • Father Barron's take on Noah ... What is significant is that Noah remains utterly focused throughout, not on his own freedom, but on the desire and purpose of God. God, creation, providence, sin, obedience, salvation: not bad for a major Hollywood movie!
  • Darwin Catholic's review ... which comes down halfway between Greydanus' enthusiasm and (as Darwin put it, taking the words from my mouth) "Barbara Nicolosi's bizarre rant." (Note: Nicolosi's piece made me long for Roger Ebert's witty, erudite reviews of movies he hated. Nicolosi is no Ebert.) At any rate, Darwin is always worth reading and I'll go past his spoiler alert once I've seen the movie.


  1. Well, maybe, but is there a car chase?

    1. Three times round the inside of the ark.

  2. Thanks for your excellent comments, Julie. I always have a high appreciation for Stephen Greydanus' reviews, even when I don't entirely agree. I'm very discriminating about seeing films in the theater-I don't think I would have even considered 'Noah' worthwhile until I read this post. I love how you mentioned midrash...I do think that sometimes, in our quest to be orthodox, especially in regards to scripture, many Catholics become a bit dodgy about using their imagination when it comes to biblical stories, and as a result, cut ourselves off from a lot of the richness, drama, and adventure inherent in scripture, letting the stories become like sterile myths. Humans have made sense of things through stories since the beginning of time-it's part of our nature. Now I'm itching to watch 'The Ten Commandments' and another favorite, not-quite-true-to-scripture biblical adaptation, 'The Prince of Egypt'! :D

    1. Oooo, how could I have forgotten The Prince of Egypt! One of my very favorites! :-)

  3. The movie was horrible. Not only was it blasphemous on numerous accounts, but deeply biblically inaccurate in many areas as well.

    1. They say it isn't for everyone, no matter what your faith is. In Bruges is one of my very favorite films but I am the first to warn people that it can be kind of rough, although it deals with salvation and redemption in very meaningful ways. I'll be curious to see what it's like.

  4. There has never been a movie 100% accurate to the book.


    There never will be, either. It's simply not possible.

    1. Odd statement... This is hardly just another book ala LOTR.

      No interest in seeing this movie. Too many oddities that I've read about. Rock people building the ark. Stowaways eating the animals raw.

      I can find more approrpiate entertainment and ways of spending my hard earned cash...

    2. You don't think so? Interesting.

      As has been mentioned in the links I've got up, this movie isn't for everybody and, of course, that includes "every Christian." We've all gotta make those calls. I'm not ready to judge it until I've seen it, especially based on what I've read.

      For me it feels like a very appropriate way to spend cash. I'm going to see this one at the theater.

    3. The problem with seeing the movie before judging it, is you've already spent the money. And, that may be the only way to effect and influence how and what movies made.

      I just cannot accept entertainment that mythologizes any aspect Christianity or salvation history of which the Noah story is integral. I wouldn't read Anne Rice fictional books on Jesus. I wouldn't go to see Constantine (I know... I know... it's a graphic novel).

    4. I understand ... though that does make me wonder how you feel about The Ten Commandments. When reading Exodus lately I discovered that considerable liberties were taken with the story. Considerable. And Ben Hur? That's got fiction all over Christ's story. :-)

      I understand not wanting to see the movie for a number of reasons. The director is edgy and I myself haven't seen his other movies because he's rather dark. I suppose money is as good as any reason.

      However, your comment about mythologizing takes me back again, however, to an excerpt from above:Do we as a Christian community really need to “protect” ourselves from a movie that isn’t 100% Biblically accurate? Would the Apostle Paul have run from the challenge? Rather than withdrawing from the discussion, I suggest that we seize the moment, turn the tables, and use this to our advantage. Pastors should be preaching messages on the Noah story. Let’s use the film to share our faith with friends and co-workers. Like the Old Testament’s Joseph, who rose to remarkable heights in an alien and hostile culture, let’s not shy away from these opportunities, rather, let’s use them to demonstrate the power of God’s Word.

    5. Come now. I think you are being more literal than even I. And, in charity, a little to much of a pollyanna.
      I am capable of making right judgements on entertainment that while not perfect are acceptable forms of story when it comes to Catholicism and Christianity at large. I can certainly rightly judge between Ben hur or Quo vadis and Last Temptation of Christ. And, without having seen or read The last temptation.... Just because a book or movie has biblical "grounding" (as promoted by the authors OR producers) does not make them suitable or desirable for viewing.

    6. Well, your reply gave precious little reasons other than literalism for selecting a movie ... and money to Hollywood, of course. What else was I to go on?

      As for being a Pollyanna, I think you are misinterpreting interest in a possibly good movie for a desire to drink the koolaid. Make no mistake, I can think for myself. In fact, it is my ability to do so which makes me unafraid to see the film.

      And believe me, Biblical grounding has nothing to do with it one way or the other. I'm interested in a good story. There are plenty of completely "faithful" stories out there which are told terribly and in which I'm completely disinterested.

  5. The director isn't even a Christian and in his mind it IS a book like LOTR. Not really that odd of a statement.

    I don't plan on seeing it either way, but the way some people compare it with Last Temptation really makes me raise an eyebrow. I don't think the director's intention is that off base, he just clearly doesn't understand the material... because he isn't a believer.

  6. I should add that I completely understand the complaints, because some of those additions are totally off, but I don't agree with treating the director as pushing some sort of DaVinci Code, Last Temptation of Christ, or that film in the works by the Robocop director about how Jesus was "just a political leader" which is sure to be terrible. Those films clearly have nothing on their minds besides taking Christians down a peg and nothing else.

    From everything I've seen of this it seems that Aronofsky is making this to promote discussion and maybe also to understand the book itself better. You don't have to like his movie or his intent, but if a non-believer is asking questions in the best way he knows how I think it's good to give him answers instead of comparing him to Dan Brown and focusing on how he didn't get it. Of course he didn't get it, that's where the discussion comes in.

  7. Wow! The flamewar about this movie seems to be turning into a much more entertaining enterprise that the film could ever be. Still haven't seen it, but I'm fascinated by all the impassioned calls to arms, on every side :)