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Friday, November 28, 2014

Well, I Finally Saw the Movie Noah

Posted by jlwile on May 12, 2014

noah

It was particularly awful. Honestly, the only reason I sat through the entire movie was that I kept thinking it had to get better. It didn’t. Now please understand that I am not talking about how wildly the movie differs from the Biblical account. Hollywood has a reputation for taking a great moment in history and destroying many of the facts related to it. Consider, for example, The Ten Commandments, which was shown on the silver screen in 1956. There were all sorts of things in that movie (Moses as a war hero, the Nefretiri love story, Moses being arrested and exiled, etc., etc.) which had no basis in the Biblical account. There were also all sorts of things in the Biblical account that were left out of the movie (six of the plagues, manna, the celebration of Pharaoh’s death, etc., etc.)

Despite the unBiblical nature of The Ten Commandments, however, it is an amazing movie. All of the leads, especially Charlton Heston, give great performances, and the dialogue is mostly believable and very meaningful. Watching the movie is, quite simply, a great experience. It can also be a great critical thinking exercise. I suggest that you watch the movie and then re-read the Biblical account. Try to write down the major differences between the two and think about why a filmmaker would want to introduce such differences. Is each difference a result of a philosophical agenda, a desire to make the story more enjoyable, problems with illustrating the details well, or some other issue?

With that in mind, despite the fact that I had read about all the inaccuracies in the movie Noah, I still wanted to see it. Like The Ten Commandments, I expected things that were in the the Bible to be left out and things that weren’t in the Bible to be put in. However, I also expected it to be an enjoyable movie. As a friend of mine who is a pastor wrote:

When I go see a movie “based on a Biblical story” and made in Hollywood…I don’t EXPECT it to be accurate…however, with a budget and cast as this one had…I DID expect it to be good…it wasn’t.

——- Spoilers Below ———

What made it so bad? Where do I begin? The story starts out so outlandishly you think you are watching a movie based on a comic book. Supposedly, Cain and his descendants quickly learned to mine an ore called “zohar.” It has all sorts of magical properties, such as being able to make light, being a power source for weapons, and being an important ingredient in an early pregnancy test. Cain and his descendants start spreading out across the world, mining the zohar and raping the land. This is why God wants to bring destruction to man – he is pillaging the earth.

How did people learn to mine this zohar in the first place? Well, there were angels that really wanted to help them, so they left heaven and went to earth. For the sin of leaving heaven and helping mankind, God punishes the angels by transforming them into rock giants called “the Watchers.” They taught people about how to use the earth, and that led to most people misusing the earth.

As if the cartoonish nature of the movie’s beginning wasn’t enough, the characters are given comic-strip personalities. The “king” of the descendants of Cain, Tubal-Cain, is purely evil. He spouts lines you would think came out of the mouth of Cobra Commander from the Saturday-morning cartoon “G.I. Joe,” and he eats live animals. There is actually a scene where he bites off the head of a live lizard and eats it. Really? Of course, the descendants of Seth (including Noah and his family) are just as cartoonish. They live off the land, never taking more than they need, and they are strict vegetarians.

When Noah is forced to watch the pure wickedness of those who follow Tubal-Cain, he decides there is no hope for man at all. He concludes that the Creator wants to kill off man completely, leaving only the truly innocent – the animals – to enjoy earth. At that point, he instantly switches from being a man who is unwilling to eat animals to a man who wants to kill his son’s daughters when they are born. He goes from a man who is willing to do anything for his family to a man who is willing to alienate every member of that family to “protect the earth” from the evils of mankind.

This unbelievable transformation is further made absurd by an over-the-top scene between Noah and his wife. She is desperately trying to stop him from carrying out his plan to kill his granddaughters, so she attempts to make an impassioned speech about how no one (including her) will ever forgive him if he does what he intends to do. The scene could be incredibly powerful, but it turns into a shouting tear-fest that Noah watches impassively. At no time during that scene did I ever sense real feelings from either actor. It was as if the writers just wanted buckets of tears instead of real words spoken by real people.

And, of course, the whole idea that the family just had to watch helplessly as Noah tries to kill babies is absurd. Noah’s family could have easily stopped him. To be fair, the movie tries to have Shem be heroic and defend his children, but in an absurd way. He leaves them to go fight Noah. Of course, his fighting is inept, and he gets knocked out after a couple of wild swings of his harpoon. What would real people have done in that situation? They would have stayed with the babies and waited for Noah, forcing him to kill all of them in order to get to the babies. Of course, the characters in the movie didn’t do that, because they aren’t portrayed as real people.

But Noah didn’t end up killing his granddaughters. Why? Because in another completely unbelievable scene, Noah’s wife is unwilling to try to stop him, so he easily finds his son’s wife with her two babies, both of which are crying. She convinces him to let her quiet the babies before he kills them, and of course, the madman agrees. She sings them a song that Noah tried to sing to her when she was young (and yes, he sings just as badly as he did in Les Miserables). Once they are quiet, Noah tells her she doesn’t have to see this, but she insists on watching as he kills them. That moment once again completely turns Noah around, transforming him from a baby-killer into a baby-lover.

Now…despite the fact that Noah was a thoroughly awful movie, there were two good scenes, both of which are carried by Emma Watson. In an early scene, her character tries to convince Noah to find another wife for Shem, because at that point in the movie she is barren. She wants Shem to have children and thinks she can’t give them to him. Noah tells her that she is a precious gift to the family, and it is a very touching moment. Later on, Noah’s grandfather (Methuselah) uses magic to make her able to have children, and she ends up having the daughters that Noah tries to kill.

Late in the movie, there is another scene between Noah and Emma Watson’s character, where she tries to convince Noah that he is not the failure he thinks he is. Once again, it is touching, and it almost makes Noah look like a real person, if only for a moment.

So…would I recommend that you see this movie? No, but not because it’s unBiblical. Seeing an unBiblical movie can be a great exercise in theology, if it forces you to read the Biblical account closely and compare the two in a serious manner. I wouldn’t recommend it because it is simply an awful movie. If you want to watch a good unBiblical movie, get The Ten Commandments.

Comments

15 Responses to “Well, I Finally Saw the Movie Noah
  1. kennethos says:

    Jay:
    I had a different experience seeing the film in theater, for a simple reason: I read a number of scholastic reviews (by theol/phil PhDs), most of which pointed out the Kabbalistic sources of the film’s beliefs. This was also readily available from the Wikipedia entry on Aronofsky (Pi, The Fountain, among his previous films). Once you know what to to expect, the film becomes more palatable.
    It’s an enjoyable, Kabbalistic take on the Noah story. I wouldn’t view it as “biblical”, as much as “inspired by”. (I found Brian Godawa’s Noah Primeval novel much better, researched, and believable in its Ancient Near East context).
    This film had divine communicating via dreams (very big in the middle east), the Watchers (straight out of 1 Enoch!), and an amazing “creation” sequence that was visually astounding (not commenting on its biblical authenticity). Sadly, it was much like Esther, with no actual voice from God. That probably wasn’t Aronofsky’s point, though.
    I, too, wasn’t thrilled with the take on Noah. Not very believable. There’s so much drama in the actual account, but not as much Kabbala, so…. (Incidently, the “zohar” is out of Kabbala, so some stuff IS accurate, it seems.)
    If you haven’t already seen it, check out Dr. Brian Mattson’s Noah review. You may find in enlightening.
    http://drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/3/31/sympathy-for-the-devil
    As always, thanks for sharing, and some good reflections.

  2. jlwile says:

    Thanks for the link, Kennethos. Even if I had known that information before seeing the movie, it wouldn’t have made me like it any more. As I said, the problem I had wasn’t the unBiblical nature of the movie. I expected that. My problem was that the movie was just really bad. Regardless of what was used to inspire the movie, the way it was brought together was simply cartoonish.

  3. kennethos says:

    Agreed. There were too many places where an issue could have been resolved by a simple line of dialogue. 120 years to build the ark…plenty of room for story, character development, drama, tension, etc. Sadly, it wasn’t there. The text of the story alludes to a more advanced civilization, where “every thought” was evil. The [primitive] world we saw wasn’t exactly evil, as much as brutal. So Aronofsky spent lots of money on A-level cast, special effects, and location shooting. Story (which should have held everything together) was incredibly lacking. Makes me wonder what any “deeper” purpose of such an awful film may be…

  4. Jacob says:

    Noah was awful. But my real purpose with this comment is to say I’m happy to find you don’t think of unBiblical movies in general as needing to be censored, and/or only seen by trusted reviewers. It bothers me when Christian leaders seem to think the public can’t sort spiritual issues out for themselves.

    I think you can probably tell who I’m talking about.

  5. jlwile says:

    I agree, Jacob. There seems to be a mentality among some Christian leaders that people need to be told what to think and what to do. I personally believe that people can think for themselves and that they can lead much better Christian lives if they do so. In my mind, critical thinking is a better spiritual tool than blind obedience to a popular Christian leader.

  6. Scott C says:

    I believe many Christians cannot think for themselves. They blindly immerse themselves into all sorts of unbiblical media without having the first clue what sort of worldviews are being promoted. They don’t know their Bibles well; they don’t know theology well; nor do they have critical thinking skills by which to discern truth from error. As a pastor I find Christians have no ability to discern truth from error unless it is pointed out to them directly and specifically. Of course this is expected, it is why God gifted some as teachers to help build the body in sound doctrine and critical thinking.

  7. jlwile says:

    I think your last sentence is the key one, Scott. If there are Christians who cannot think for themselves, the solution is not to tell them what to think. It is to teach them in sound doctrine and critical thinking, so they learn how to think for themselves when it comes to their faith.

  8. Scott C says:

    Yes, my point is most Christians need guidance. Few are self-starters, if you will. However, I do disagree with one point. In matters of sound doctrine, Christians do need to be told what to think. That is the whole idea behind preaching/ exhortation/ admonishment, etc. (See 1 Tim. 4:11; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:14-15, 23-26; 3:16; 4:1-4; Tit. 1:9). The point of preaching/ teaching however, is not slavish adherence to some dictator who determines every choice of the Christian, rather it is to build up sound thinking so as to produce discernment when it comes to evaluating what we encounter in the unbelieving culture.

    The truth of special revelation does not come naturally to the rational mind (i.e. via some kind of natural theology), but must come with the illumination of the Holy Spirit via study of the Scriptures. No one could arrive at the unique truths revealed in the Bible unless they are studied and rationally systematized. That is why some are gifted to study and teach the Scripture. In either case, a good Christian is always a good Berean (Acts 17:11). No Bible teacher is infallible, therefore it is important to test all things by going back to the source of Christian truth, the Scriptures themselves.

  9. Jacob says:

    I have to disagree, Scott. I think that virtually anyone who picks up a Bible and looks into its material with an inquiring mind on what it has to say about God and morality can discern fairly easily what He desires of Man. Critical thinking isn’t a terribly hard skill to develop if you really wanted to learn it. To be blunt, I believe the main thing that leads many to disobedience is their natural inclination to do what they want, when they want, how they want. I don’t think there are many other factors in play.

  10. Scott C says:

    Jacob,
    You are probably one of those sorts of Christians. But in many years of ministry, preaching, teaching and counseling other Christians, I find that maybe 5-10% of Christians are capable of picking up their Bibles with the ability to ascertain sound doctrine and develop discernment skills without any guidance. Most Christians (even seasoned ones in my experience) need a fair degree of guidance understanding sound doctrine and ferreting out truth from error in the culture at large. Many Christians have the abilities to do what you are saying, but they simply don;t do it. Perhaps they are lazy or unsure of themselves. But in either case, most don’t develop these skills without serious sustained help.

  11. Jacob says:

    Scott, your most recent comment has clarified your argument a good deal; I now find I don’t disagree as strongly as I thought. I was under the impression that you had a ‘Medieval Catholic Priest’ mindset, where you believed the Christian majority was more or less incompetent in understanding their faith without ministry. Now I get the impression that you only advocate for Christians getting a general sort of help from their pastors. Am I correct this time?

    Nonetheless, I still don’t completely agree. I believe that at least the supermajority of Christians (provided they don’t go in ready to ignore what they don’t like, in which cases I concede a point to your argument,) can easily understand God’s Word. It’s not as if it’s encrypted or anything. God didn’t put some special code on it you need special training to crack. He put in the common man’s language, and as such I think the common man is entitled to read it, and understand it for himself.

  12. Scott C says:

    Jacob,
    What you are describing is the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Indeed the Bible is not an obtuse book that requires a decoder ring to decipher – or something like a teaching magisterium (e.g. as in Roman Catholicism). This explains why the Protestant Reformers sought to get the Bible in the vernacular of the people. Furthermore, anyone can make grammatical sense of the Bible, even non-believers. However, only genuine believers can truly grasp and experience the spiritual transforming power of its truths because they have the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1-2).

    Nonetheless, God purposely gifted certain people in the body of Christ (via the Holy Spirit) to unfold its truths in a greater way for the rest of the body. Therefore, it would be foolish for any Christian to despise the teaching office God instituted (Eph. 4:7,8, 11-14). I don’t think we are in fundamental disagreement, I just don’t think Christians should take a ‘lone ranger’ mentality when it comes to ascertaining sound doctrine. First of all it is unwise, and secondly, it is unbiblical (Heb. 13:17).

  13. Jacob says:

    I don’t think a ‘lone ranger’ attitude about studying the Bible is very good either, I simply believe that the average Christian can understand the Bible fairly easily without instruction. Of course, I don’t think this is one hundred percent true of a freshly converted person. I believe that they do need some fair amount of instruction on their Bible study. Not so much on what to believe, but to give them a feel for how to do the reading – so they can discern things for themselves.

    I do also agree that it is unBiblical for one to avoid group study of the Bible altogether when it is accessible to them. We are told in the Bible to seek fellowship.

  14. Emily says:

    Usually, directors and actors and everyone involved in a movie are quite fussy about their characters being ‘real’. I wonder if the characters in Noah were purposefully made to be ‘unreal’ because no one in the world really believes in Noah and the flood any more… just a thought… :)

  15. jlwile says:

    It’s a good thought, Emily. The director himself called it, “the least biblical biblical film ever made.” One way to make it unBiblical would be to make the characters unreal.

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