It appears to me that Christians are judging the movie as bad while ignoring its good doctrine.
“It’s blasphemous,” said one friend of mine. “Don’t waste your money seeing it.”
Then I went to church the next day and I told people I was going to see it.
“You’re going to see Noah?,” said another skeptically. “Well, let me know how it is…”
One Christian movie review called it “brilliantly sinister anti-Christian movie making.” After all, the director is an avowed atheist.
Being that it has been a year and a half since my wife and I have even been to a theater, and my mother was in on the plans, we were going and nothing was going to stop us. Any movie that teams up Russel Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, the same duo from A Beautiful Mind, can’t be all that bad.
So, I entered the movie theater thinking that the movie would be a theological mess, but it would have a bunch of stuff blowing up, which would compensate for it. To my surprise, Noah was excellent. It was doctrinally sound (by some miracle I suppose) and entertaining.
Most importantly, the movie made explicit that mankind was universally depraved and sinful, and that only those that God elects are saved by His mercy. That, in a Hollywood movie? Yeah!
I honestly don’t think any writers could have done more with the movie and the Scripture than what was actually accomplished. That’s saying a lot. Pretty much, their treatment of Genesis chapters 4 through 9 is as good as you would get for any Hollywood Film.
Being that it is easier to tear apart the movie for where it took artistic license (which, honestly, it really was not unbiblical at all, just very creative), I will cover the good parts first.
1. The movie presumes a literal interpretation of Scripture.
The movie reflects an early creation of the world, as the daytime sky of the pre-flood world shows galaxies forming and the characters take events such as the Fall as literal history.
2. Total depravity and grace are presented crystal clear.
My wife and I were astonished how a secular movie would get it more right than many self-avowed Christians. I speculate that when you are working with the Scripture, if you stay true to the material given and don’t want to make a lame movie, almost against your will these things will force their ways through the screenplay.
As God said to Noah, “[T]he intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). The way man from the line of Cain is portrayed in the movie raping and killing men, women and the environment visually makes it clear.
It would have been all to easy to make the line of Cain totally depraved, but the line of Seth (Noah’s family) angels. But, they didn’t! In fact (spoiler alert) the whole conclusion of the movie is based upon Noah’s realization that he and his own family are no different, and if they survive the flood, they will pass down the same sinful proclivities to all mankind.
Then, when Noah in an Abraham-Isaac sort of way seeks to do God’s will in the judgment of mankind for their sinfulness, Noah finds through a specific, God-ordained course of events that He wishes mercy in spite of their sinfulness.
Now, being that Noah is said in the Scripture to be a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5; Heb 11:7) and condemned man for his sin, he also in the fullest sense possible before the incarnation of Jesus Christ understood his own election and God’s mercy. The movie very tastefully conveyed some very vague, obscure sections of Scripture…perhaps totally by mistake. But, it did.
3. The artistic license taken in the movie carefully did not contradict Scripture.
Movies take artistic license. Christians regularly watch Christian movies with made up characters, events, talking vegetables, and etcetera. Even though the movie presents a world that in many ways is much different than much of us view pre-flood times, because the Scripture is so vague there is a lot of room for artistic license. And, surprisingly enough, they went as far as they can go without contradicting anything really important.
So, in my mind, the makers of the film were able to make it as accessible as possible to non-believers, while believable and acceptable to believers. How can you ask for anything more from a Biblical blockbuster?
4. God is portrayed respectably.
God is called by three terms in the film. He/Him, God, and Creator. Creator is used most often. Some take issue with the term Creator, even though it is a title for the Lord from the Bible (Ecc 12:1, Is 27:11, Rom 1:25, 1 Peter 4:19). If the movie would have called God “mother” (like the liturgy of the ELCA Lutherans) then it would have been blasphemy. Instead, the movie upheld traditional names for God.
The “bad” stuff defended
1. Nephilim/”Rock People” are not as zany as you think.
One reviewers said the movie was trash because of the “Rock People.” Most Christians probably already privately hold a pretty zany interpretation of Gen 6:1-4. In fact, the Epistle of Jude quotes the apocryphal Book of Enoch which contains many such speculations on “Watchers”/angels, Nephilim and the like.
My own personal interpretation of Genesis 6 is much plainer: the sons of God were the line of Seth intermarrying with the daughters of men, the line of Cain. Hence, Israel’s warnings against intermarriage throughout all the Old Testament stand on a firm foundation. However, Jews for a long time took a much more extravagant explanation believing that there were fallen angels that slept with women, and they had children.
The Watchers (the term from the Book of Enoch) in the film come from the latter interpretation. Unlike the interpretation of most people, that all of these angels are demonic, the film actually shows that some of these Watchers die in their sin and the repentant ones who ask for God’s forgiveness are, gasp, forgiven! Being that these figures are all speculation to begin with, further speculation to me is not a big deal and I am in good company. Jude didn’t mind and he actually wrote Scripture.
2. Vegetarianism in the movie actually stands on a theological basis, though I dispute it.
The movie is pro-vegetarianism. The killing of animals is shown to be cruel and those from the line of Seth are strict vegetarians. While I disagree with this, most theologians speculate that men were such until God commanded that man may eat meat (Gen 9:3). So, the movie wasn’t catering to the hippies with this one.
For the record, Gen 4:4 and Gen 8:20 show that man killed and sacrificed animals to God, and implicitly ate them too, before the flood.
3. Environmentalism is not the movie’s big and important message, and does not distract from its point.
Noah has a pre-flood industrial society. Like all industrial societies, they keep using up all the world’s resources until there is nothing left. However, this is simply background information in the film and not its main message.
Further, I found it to be a very interesting interpretation of Gen 4:20-22. In the Bible, sons of Cain are the forgers of metal, musical instruments, and tent-making. Yet, all of these people, because they are not from the line of Seth like Noah, are wiped out. It’s a pretty vague and strange detail, if you think about it. All of this stuff had to be invented again after the flood.
So, Noah uses artistic license to make a cool pretext for the movie. These sons of Lamech did indeed use their talents, as the Scripture said, and those talents were pretty well developed. The movie also adds that the Watchers assisted them before man turned on them, which of course is speculative but not out of bounds for a weird interpretation of Gen 6:1-4.
Noah might be the most Biblical movie ever made behind Bible movies that literally quote the Scripture word-for-word in the script. Darren Aronofsky, despite of his own lack of belief and mission to make “the least biblical movie ever made,” did a superb job of portraying an imaginative and theologically sound portrayal of Noah. Four stars, two thumbs up, go watch it or Hollywood might not make more films like this.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to bring non-believers or the ill-informed (i.e. children) with you. It is a great conversation starter as it pertains to the nature of sin and grace. Very few movies indeed are or will ever be as good as this one at doing just that.
First of all, it’s “ELCA” not “ECLA” and there is no reference to God as “mother” in any Lutheran liturgy that I can find….
Thank you for pointing out the typo, I will correct that.
“Mother” was part of the liturgy in a prayer in my ELCA church. I remember them praying it and it is referenced here: http://www.exposingtheelca.com/1/post/2009/12/elca-and-mother-god.html
If you are in the ELCA I would ask under what consistent Christian basis you are sticking it out there.
Excellent review! I more or less agree. I gave a review arguing some similar points: