Friday, April 11, 2014

Noah: A Christian Filmmaker Review

I saw the Noah movie recently, and I was thoroughly impressed. Both as a Christian and as a filmmaker.

I believe in storytelling. Stories are an immensely powerful contribution to the cosmos; in fact a solely human one. I believe narrative is more valuable than facts when it comes to retelling history, and I don't see this as a negative thing at all. We humans are very intelligent. We have the capacity to extract symbols, lessons, and patterns from our history and this separates us from any other created being we're aware of.

Noah is a perfect picture of this. Ancient Mesopotamian flood stories concern the epics of Ziusudra, Gilgamesh, and Atrahasis. Yet Moses retells these polytheistic tales as an amalgamated monomyth.

With regards to the Bible and Noah's story in particular, adaptation to film is a daunting and laudable task. We need to recognize this first and foremost. We have four short chapters in Genesis from which to draw from unless we visit extra-biblical texts, so thank God they did just that. The rabbinic literature gives us a fully fleshed character of Noah, tells us what the land was like, and paints a cinematic backdrop picture of despair. From this we can see the protagonist too troubled by doom to provide wives for his children. Our hero in this epic is about as equally stupid as he is wise.

What we also get from the rabbinic literature is a sense that Noah had the power to change God's mind all along. This is certainly a question we all ask about Noah's faithfulness, whether his faith was virtuous or lacking. This causes us to question whether God was wiping the creation slate clean of corrupted humanity, or if all this was done in vain due to Noah's obstinance.

What a proper movie about Noah needs to remind us of is that Genesis is a Jewish text. We typically forget this by interpreting and then translating while ethnocentrically cleansing ancient Jewish narratives. Christianity has neutered the world in trying to recast an untenable law, and this becomes problematic when we try to look at our human selves in the mirror of history. A filmmaker's role is to show us humanity, and let us ask questions without resolve. The Bible writers already do a great job confounding the wise and stumbling the prude. Christians can and should see this adaptation as a unique opportunity to revisit the Old Testament with the revelation and fervor that the New Testament writers had. We have a unique opportunity to discover signposts to Jesus inside Jewish storytelling, and this is a wonderful thing.

From a Christian perspective, it's really great to see a film that does not shy away from, but successfully captures the essence of Biblical themes. Barrenness, child sacrifice, ancient cosmology, birthright, tabernacle, God's silence, fallen (and fully integrated) human nature, and misguided zeal. Inside Aronofsky's Noah we can also see Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Jonah. I also saw some New Testament parallels as well: Inverted Saviour, baptism, incense, grace, and mercy.

For anyone looking for a literalist interpretation of Noah, this movie should rightly question your current ideas about reading the Bible literally. This film captures the world the ancient writers lived in and wrote about. Living in the 21st century, we have airbrushed some of these ideas out, and we need to recognize that. Their earth was flat. The only thing sphere-shaped was the sky. Their whole world was flooded. We need to enter this world and embrace it for the pre-scientific logic that it has. Of course we now recognize that stars are billions of light years away, that only the Mesopotamian basin probably flooded, and that the earth is a sphere revolving around a much larger sun. We can't pick and choose some of these facts while dismissing others, and we can't succumb to cognitive dissonance to inform our theology.

If liberties like giant rock-encrusted fallen angels bothers you, and the plausibility of Nephilim skeletal remains does not, then let's be honest, Aronofsky's film is not based on a comic book – our faith is. We need to celebrate and embrace liberty in narrative as a larger vehicle for truth, because that's exactly what Noah's story is: a liberating adaptation of stories from surrounding cultures.

Other noteworthy reviews:
16 Random, Non-spoiler, Thoughts on Noah

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