Noah: To See or Not to See
Written by Jessie Polley. Media by Charley Phillips.
This article has taken me a while to write. I wanted to do more research before writing, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to write this article in the first place. Going to school at Greenville has taught me to be open minded, and the Film and Lit. class I’m in right now has taught me a lot about adapting novels/stories to film. Maybe that is why I actually liked the movie. Maybe it was because I saw it as an adaptation, not a literal, completely faithful adaptation (to everyone this “faithful” adaptation can mean different things), but there were a lot of good things in it. I think it was a good adaptation, because the message and themes of the Noah story are carried through to the screen. I want to respond, though, to the argument I hear the most about why Christians shouldn’t see the Noah movie. The argument is to not see it because it was created by an atheist.
I think it is safe to say that no one should tell someone to watch it or not if they themselves haven’t seen it. I don’t care if you are boycotting the movie because a devote atheist created it. That is your doing, but let others choose for themselves (just so people are aware, writer-director Darren Aronofsky “was raised with a Jewish education.”) I recommend to everyone that they see this movie. Some will like it, some will hate it, but you can’t give your opinion on something that you haven’t tried to experience.
No, it is not based on the canonical story of Noah, but on a graphic novel Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel created—also called Noah. According to Sandy Schaefer—a writer for ScreenRant.com—the Noah movie is Aronofsky’s “re-interpretation of the Noah’s Ark story.” Steven Greydanus—writer of “Everybody Chill Out About The ‘Noah’ Movie” article for the National Catholic Register—wrote of how Aronofsky, has been “obsessed with the Noah story since seventh grade…”. As Peter Chattaway—writer for Christianity Today—wrote in his interview article with Aronofsky, “Aronofsky sees his interpretation of the Genesis story as part of the midrash tradition, in which Jewish teachers create stories meant to explain the deeper truths of the Tanakh.” The movie was never meant to be a literal interpretation/adaptation of the Biblical Noah story. Aronofsky is a great example of, what I’ve been learning in my film class, an auteur. An auteur is the author of a film. They may take an idea or concept from a novel/story they have read, but the story they tell on screen is their version. The director “does not subordinate himself to another author; his source is only a pretext, which provides catalysts, scenes, which fuse with his own preoccupations to produce a radically new work” Peter Wollen writes in his 1972 published essay discussing auteur theory. It is from this understanding that someone can walk into the theater, and make a decision on this adaptation of the film.
In an interview Greydanus had with Aronofsky and Handel, Greydanus asked about the research done for the movie, and if they researched other versions of the flood story besides the biblical one. Aronofsky said, “Sure. The flood story is in every culture. …they had their own flood story and their own name for Noah…” He goes on to say, “… but , for us, I think there was enough in the Noah story to build on. I don’t think we pulled on other stories in anyway.” They built upon the Noah story. They took the concept of the flood, a family, a boat, and saving the animals, and made their own story. They also pulled material from all sorts of Noah stories, Handel said, “The book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, a lot of midrash. … Basically, we looked at anyone who had anything to say.”
Something else that we need to keep in mind is that most Christians know the story of Noah from the version they heard in Sunday school. This version is filled with cutesy animals, and makes it seem like Noah was perfect. The thing is, after reading the Noah story again, there really is no way to make an interesting movie while following the text word for word.
The story is Noah had three sons, God told him to build an ark for his family and “seven pairs of every kind of clean animal … and one pair of every kind of unclean animal … and also seven pairs of every kind of bird” (Gen. 7:2-3 NIV). Then the waters came, God shut them in the ark. After forty days Noah sent a raven out. It flew back and forth until all the water had dried up, then he sent a dove. The dove brought an Olive leaf back, and seven days later didn’t return. God told Noah to leave the ark (him, his family, and all the animals.) Noah built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed some of all the clean animals and birds. Then God blessed Noah and his sons telling them to “Be fruitful and increase in number,” gave everything into Noahs’ hands, and set the rainbow as the sign of the covenant; that God won’t destroy the earth by water again.
This is the Noah story summed up. A paragraph. There isn’t much action (yes, water covers the earth and every living creature dies, but we all know there is more to it then that…there has to be, right?) I think Aronofsky’s movie does a great job of depicting the struggle Noah goes through (making him seem more human than the stories seem to show us). We don’t get a lot of information on what Noah is thinking during this whole thing, but he is human. Yes, the Bible says he was righteous and walked with God, but he still had to have struggled with the fact that he couldn’t help anyone. I’m sure he would have heard the cries of all the people and animals that weren’t on the ark. How would that effect someone? I also think the movie does a great job showing the wickedness in the world (the reason God destroyed everything in the first place).
The story of Noah is a story of justice and mercy, a story of redemption. God was starting over with Noah and his family, though “… every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8:21b NIV). If you still can’t see anything good in this movie, or don’t see how God can use a movie created by an atheist to reach others (I just think this is a ridiculous view, and completely discounts God’s power), look at Billy Hallowell’s article “Here’s the Effects the Controversial ‘Noah’ Movie Is Having on Bible Sites” on theblaze.com. He writes about how popular Bible apps and platforms have noticed “a surge in public interest in the catastrophic flood story.” The YouVersion Bible app noticed a 300 percent increase in the U.S. And 245 percent increase globally of people accessing Genesis 6, after the film opened March 28th. Bible Gateway noted a 223 percent increase in people reading the Noah story, and The American Bible Society found 87 percent of their Facebook followers were reading the Noah story “as a result of discussions surrounding the film.” So can a movie created by an atheist still point people to God? I think so. People are going to scripture to read the story. People want to know. That is exciting!
As Greydanus writes in his article “The ‘Noah’ Movie Controversies: Questions and Answers,” “Noah is not a movie for everybody … At the same time, there is no reason all Christians, as Christians, should avoid seeing it. It is a movie with notable strengths and drawbacks …” And as Tim Chaffey and Roger Patterson write in their article for answersingenesis.org, “Just as Noah found grace in the eyes of God and was saved aboard the Ark, we can look to Christ for our ark of salvation.” The message of the Noah movie is the same message as the one in scripture. It is the story of God seeking justice for the sin on earth, and providing mercy to Noah’s family; allowing them to start over.
There is a lot more I want to say on this topic, but I know I’ve said a lot already. That being said, I want to say that if you are still skeptical about seeing the Noah movie, that is fine. Whether you go to see the movie or not, I think you should pray. Pray that God’s spirit moves in every theater showing the movie. Pray that people will continue to seek the truth in scripture, and pray that lives are touched and hearts are open.