I am a believer. I grew up in church, left church and found my way back to church. I can’t count how many times I’ve read about, heard sermons on or saw children’s productions of the story of Noah. It is a fundamental story for us Christians. Then, having left the church for a time, I was exposed to things like “outside opinions.” You know, thoughts on my faith from a perspective different than mine. From people I genuinely love and respect. People who don’t believe. This has helped me be a less judgmental person and to see things from multiple angles. All this is a long way of saying that I had a pretty open mind as the lights dimmed and NOAH started. I can’t really talk about it in technical terms (though, it is beautifully shot) because, as a believer, it actually affected me on a deeper level to great degree. I was floored by this vision of a story that I had relegated to Sunday School understanding for the bulk of my life. Well, this is no Sunday School take on the material. I want to believe Darren Aronofsky wanted this film to challenge believers to dig into the “why” of their belief a little harder. I can’t say I was entertained by it, but, I sure was enthralled. Great art has that effect on people. And make no mistake; Darren Aronofsky is one of this generation’s great visual artists. Like how looking up to the roof of the Sistine Chapel once Michelangelo finished his work, is how you have to view this film. I found myself thinking an awful lot during, and even more so after watching this film. Not quite how you spend the bulk of the running time on summer(ish) blockbusters. After it was over, I ran home and reread the story in Genesis, just to get a sense of what elements were true to it, and surprisingly, there were many.
So, we have a fantastical take on a story that millions of people have read and accepted one particular way from probably the beginning of church as we know it. What could go wrong? Why do so many believers call it garbage? Why are they so offended by an artistic interpretation of something we just can’t know the specifics of? They don’t call it faith because we rely on facts.
This is a mythological story, set in a time so distant, Pangea was still around. You could see stars in the daytime. Unknown creatures roamed the plain. Giants were in the earth. Noah is a good man who finds favor with “The Creator.” That sentence is ripped pretty much right from the pages of Genesis. He has been commissioned through disturbing and confusing visions to take on a task like the world has never seen. Build an ark, save the innocent, start clean again. That sentence is the story in Genesis boiled down to its elemental points, but Aronofsky is not content to tell a friendly children’s story of how one man and his family built a boat and took care of all the animals except unicorns. No, this film targets more adult themes like choice and burden and sorrow and duty and stress and redemption.
All told through the arc of Noah.
Sin is a word that gets tossed out very casually these days by believers and non alike. Some evangelicals want to condemn this world with it and use it so frequently that it loses its meaning. It becomes nothing more than a talking point. Well, if you want a visual representation of how a world consumed by sin might appear, look no further than Man in NOAH. Sin destroys us. It’s really that simple. That is the message that Aronofsky drives home with this film and it makes me shake my head why any believer would accuse him of being a stooge for the “liberal climate change agenda” or whatever. This film does more to paint sin in its correct context than any TV evangelist I’ve ever seen. And, while the Bible says Noah is a good man, as any self respecting Christian will tell you, we are all tarnished by our own sins. Noah admits this very thing to his wife, Naameh in one scene. And, let’s not forget that this is an Old Testament story. Jesus hadn’t come to save us yet. So, even finding favor in the sight of God does not make you blameless. This is fundamental Christianity. How it has been lost on some fellow believers shocks and astounds me. Yes, this is a very Christian movie. But, you have to dig for it. On the surface it may seem like Noah is just crazy and I admit, the second half of this film made me very uneasy. It served its purpose, though. It brought me into a discussion with myself about convictions and faith and how they can be tested. And regret. By the closing act, Noah is a broken man. He feels he has failed God. But, God has other ideas. With Ila, Noah has a conversation that brings perspective to the madness. In fact, it brought up another central theme to our faith: choice. We get to choose. We are not mindless. God created us to think and to have faith that is built on trust and love and not judgment and conviction. All of this is very deep, theological stuff. Much deeper than you find in most “Christian films” these days. While they are content to scratch itching ears over themes of perceived persecution, NOAH asks, “does it diminish Jesus’ truth to look at this story and have several interpretations?” Because, we do, you know. There are “Great Flood” myths from around the globe. Science can’t tell us if it ever really happened. But, the ideas presented in this story prevail. To serve as a warning for being terrible to each other and as foundation for Commandments like “love God with all your heart, mind and body, and love people as yourself.” NOAH is very much worth seeing, if you can get over any expectations you have of it and allow it to challenge your thinking a little bit. In the end, it will leave you asking one question: is there room in my faith for mythology? I would submit that yes, there very much is room for mythology in any religion. Sacred, universal truths are the point, not specific stories. Films like NOAH can reveal these truths if we are simply willing to look for them. The choice is ours.