Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Noah We Don’t Know: A Bible Teacher’s Movie Review and Commentary

© Paramount Pictures
by Rev. Bryan Hudson
(Click Here to Listen a Computer Generated Audio of this Article)

Luke 6:43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit….45 For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie has broken ground in unusual ways. It is the first “Bible-based” film marketed to Christians that is not based on the Bible. It is the first Bible-based film (of which I am aware), directed by an atheist. It is one of the biggest budget, most widely marketed Bible-based films ever produced.

I write as a pastor, Bible teacher, and community leader who feels the responsibility to speak out in criticism of this movie. Noah is remarkable in its departure from the spirit and letter of God’s word.

Noah director Darren Aronofsky famously made the following statement after a studio test screening that revealed low scores:
"Noah is the least biblical  film ever made," Aronofsky said. "I don't give a f**k about the test scores! My films are outside the scores. Ten men in a room trying to come up with their favorite ice cream are going to agree on vanilla. I'm the Rocky Road guy."

The day after the March 28 theatrical release of Noah, from Paramount Studios, I viewed an afternoon matinee screening of the film. I had seen movie trailers and read reviews. More importantly, I took note of Christian leaders who endorsed the film as part of the official movie “featurette” (an extended length trailer). The featurette is 7:45 long. Some four minutes of that length is comprised of Christian and religious leaders endorsing the film. The featurette seemed to "suggest" to viewers how they should think about the film before seeing it. Endorsers shown at the end of the trailer included:

Pastor Jon Tyson, Trinity Grace Church
Pastor Charles Jenkins, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church
Jim Daly, President, Focus on the Family
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Andrew Palau, Luis Palau Association
Karen Covell, Founding Director, Hollywood Prayer Network
Greg Thornbury, President, The King's College
Phil Cooke, Cooke Pictures and producer of the Noah featurette

Of course, this is typical marketing for a big budget film intended to drive Christian leaders and their constituents into theaters to put down their money and see the movie. Based on the promotional media, we were led to believe that the Noah film would be another good Bible film like Mark Burnett’s Son of God (2014) and Mel Gibson’s Passion of The Christ movie (2004). However, there is one BIG problem: Noah is no Son of God or Passion of The Christ!

Aggressive and coercive marketing was the first shoe that fell....

Passion of the Christ set a high standard for how creative/artistic license can be used to enhance a biblical story. The Noah film takes creative license to places we’ve never seen among Bible films intended for Christian audiences and the general public. Films like Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), which I’ve never seen, but comprehend from first hand accounts, was not marketed to Christians and therefore not in the same genre of “biblical films.”

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah belongs to the same genre of unbiblical films like Last Temptation of Christ and The Da Vinci Code (2008). Noah does not belong alongside great Bible-themed films like Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments (1956), the outstanding 1998 animated feature, The Prince of Egypt, Passion of the Christ, or independent films like Mark Burnett’s Son of God and Harold Cronk’s, God is Not Dead.

Rather than detail all of the problems with the Noah film in this post, I recommend four Noah critical movie reviews:

The Subversion of God in Aronofsky’s Noah Biblical Noah by Brian Godawa

Noah: The Emperor’s New Movie by Barbara Nicolosi, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/churchofthemasses/2014/03/the-utter-embarrassing-mess-of-noah-and-why-everybody-is-lying-about-it/

Sympathy For the Devil by Dr. Brian Mattson http://drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/3/31/sympathy-for-the-devil

The Real Issue by Dr. Brian Mattson

Mel Gibson’s box office success with Passion of the Christ likely motivated Paramount Studios to pursue a “best-of-both-worlds” strategy: 1) Produce a film that non-Christian moviegoers and critics would embrace by avoiding the Name of Jesus and Christian doctrines; by centering on the environment; and using big time actors like Russell Crowe, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Jennifer Connelly. 2) Promote the film to Christians by obtaining high-profile endorsements, advertise with Christian media, 3) Create tension and controversy about the film. (Which I am aiding!)

Well, it seems that their marketing strategy worked. The first weekend of the movie reaped $44 million, a lot of it from Christians...including yours truly.

Then, the other shoe fell....

For many of us, actually seeing the movie confirmed all our concerns about Darren Aronofsky’s film! Noah is no Passion of The Christ!  Said another way, and using the words of Malcolm X from a different, but ironically similar context:

You been had! You been took!
You been hoodwinked! Bamboozled!
Led astray! Run amok!

A lot of us left the theatre feeling this way. One of my friends refused to sit through the whole movie. This film, from a biblical perspective, is a disaster and offensive for those of us who love and teach the Bible, the Word of God.

My strong reaction against the movie (even before I saw it, based on pre-release media) has been challenged by some fellow believers in online forums. I have been encouraged/admonished to “understand” that Mr. Aronofsky used “creative license” to embellish and extend the Bible narrative about Noah and the Great Flood. Others say, that the movie is an evangelistic tool and presents an opportunity to discuss the Bible with unbelievers.

Well, the same is true for almost any film or event! This is a shallow justification in my view. Explaining the Noah film to unbelievers will involve addressing all the weirdness in the film such as the “Stone Monsters” (my term), the “magic” fire rocks, Noah’s temporary obsession with killing his granddaughters, and a multitude of things that either contradict the Scriptures, or are simply made up and presented as truth.

The Passion of the Christ was a film that was actually based on the Bible. Noah has as much in common with the Bible as Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark! The difference is that Indiana Jones was a better movie!

I cannot overstate the importance of The Passion of the Christ, and its positive impact on the genre of modern-day big budget Hollywood-style biblical film done right! If it were not for Gibson’s film, there would have been no willingness to “green light” and produce the Noah film. The problem is: I think that the good will among believers and economic box office drawing power of Passion has been wasted on the Noah movie.

But wait, there’s more!

The mind and creative force behind Noah is Darren Aronofsky, who is a “rock star” movie director and an atheist. I concede that Aronofsky is a great artist and film director. I only have a problem with his atheism as it relates to directing a Bible film. On this point, I have also been rebuked by some fellow Christians. Some have said, “If he is a good director, that’s all that matters.” That argument might have held some water, until I saw the movie.

Returning to Luke 6:43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit….45 For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

The Noah movie is the product of Aronofsky’s heart, in large part. For people who believe the Bible, there is a crystal clear scriptural principle here: Everyone will say, do, and produce from his core values and world view (“abundance of the heart”), not only from one’s mind and skill. To suggest that someone’s beliefs about God have no bearing on one’s work is self-deluding, at best.

Despite all the hyperbole and propping up of his movie by its Christian supporters, the way Mr. Aronofsky used the Bible story of Noah, shows a lack of insight and/or concern for biblical truth and accuracy. As an artist, Mr. Aronofsky simply used the Bible as just a starting point for his own text and vision. The Bible was not his text. He did a great disservice to the Scripture text and to the whole narrative of Noah and God’s purposes related to the Great Flood.

What Mr. Aronofsky did with the Bible would never be done to the likes of George Washington, the American Revolution, the Constitutional Congress, Frederick Douglass, and other great events and people in history. Why is the Bible taken so non-seriously? How can Christians surrounding this director and his film not express their disagreement in the film and strong support for the Bible? Instead, a lot of believers are pushing this film onto fellow believers and non-believers as something worthy of our money, as well as our prayerful, philosophical, and theological consideration. This film is not “deep,” it is  nonsense.

Noah is such a bad film that I can only venture a guess that Christians who support it and enjoy it maybe for one or more of the following reasons:

1.    They are discontent with their current understanding of the biblical account of Noah, the Great Flood, and God’s reasons for what happened. Many have commented that the Bible’s account of Noah is very brief.
2.    They are enamored or perhaps “starstruck” by the skills of the superstar director, Darren Aronofsky and the film’s “A-list” actors, Russell Crowe, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Connelly. I never heard of Darren Aronofsky before this film (that point alone will ruin my credibility with a lot of movie-loving believers!)
3.    Those in Christian media have received some kind of compensation or “promotional consideration” to support the film.  One writer admitted as much on her company sponsored blog, though she was critical of the movie. Some other fellow writers supported it. Certainly, blogs that address the film are getting increased web traffic, as one might expect.
4.    They believe this film will have a positive impact on believers and non-believers and that God will use it to change lives. We must remember that the “Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). The film neither presents the Gospel nor mentions the name of Jesus (or even God). Many suggest paying money to take people to see the film and having a discussion afterwards. This strategy just plays into the marketing/revenue plan for the studio. We can do better than hustling people down to the movie house.
5.    They simply enjoy going to movies...almost any movie! Many believers are serious moviegoers and film aficionados. Claiming to use the Noah film for “reaching the lost” could be just another reason to see the movie! And this would not be insincere. I remember a friend who was adamant about God speaking through the Matrix movie trilogy...yes the Matrix! People who go deep into movies sometimes mix reality with fantasy, or at least may sometimes have less appreciation for reality. The Noah film is a straight up fantasy, but a lot of believers are infusing spiritual reality into it.
Here are some of my concerns about the film:

1. The film misrepresents and disrespects the “real” Noah. We don’t know this Noah! Below are a few significant scriptures about the Noah from the Bible. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is altogether someone else. A lot of what the Noah of the movie did, does not square with the Bible––which is the only record of the real man, Noah.

Genesis 7:1, Then the Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.

2 Peter 2:5, ....And did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly.

Hebrews 11:7, By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

2. The movie contradicts the Bible. This film, like no other I’ve seen (and I have not seen many) diminishes the perceived (not the actual) authority and voracity of the Bible. Both Paramount Studios and Darren Aronofsky indicated in pre-release interviews that they would not contradict the text of the Scriptures. The following excerpt is taken from a Washington Post interview:
"Washington Post: You take some creative liberties; do you anticipate any pushback?
 Aronofsky: Where are there liberties? Find me a contradiction in there that can’t be explained..."

The film's co-writer, Air Handel, made the following statement in a pre-release interview:
"It was very important to us to do two things at the same time: one was to not do anything which contradicted the letter of the text, and the second was wherever we could – without contradicting Genesis – we wanted to break expectations. So we went very deep," Handel stated.

Despite these statements, the film is full of direct contradictions to the Bible. Here’s one example:  The Bible says, “On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.” (Genesis 7:13)

Mr. Aronofsky’s version of the Bible shows the following nine persons on the ark: Noah, Noah's wife, Shem, Shem's wife, Ham (no wife), Japheth (no wife), a stow away named Tubal Cain, (Who climbed up on the side of the ark and hacked out a hole to crawl into the ark), and Shem's twin girls.

Christians who overlook this and many other contradictions (not to mention significant alterations to the meaning of the scriptural narrative), say that Mr. Aronofsky used “creative license.” This is not creative license, it is direct contradiction. A director of Mr. Aronofsky’s ability could have easily accommodated the plain text of Genesis 7:13. I would suggest that a man who is an atheist does not respect the Scriptures...why should he? In truth, a lot of church-goers don’t respect the Scriptures either!

3. The movie asserts that the wickedness of people that caused God to destroy them was not mainly what people did to each other, but what they did to the environment. Here’s a quote from Russell Crowe’s Noah character,  "The Creator said that people will be destroyed for what they've done to the world."  "The innocent will be saved....the animals." Environmentalism and protecting animals from humans is a clear theme in this film.

4. The movie is mystical, spiritist, and portrays sorcery. It also includes elements from the Kabbalah religion (Read more about that here). Noah’s grandfather Methuselah is shown practicing mysticism and sorcery. During one sequence, he gives Noah a potion (I would call it, “dope”) that induces a dream state in which Noah receives his “divine” vision from the “Creator” about the coming destruction by flood.

5. The movie uses fantasy, not just “creative license.” For example, fallen angels are transformed (like the cartoon Transformers) from heavenly beings of light into “Rock Monsters,' cursed by being encased in stones. They help Noah build the ark, fight against the doomed hoard of Tubal Cain’s loathsome humans trying to board the ark, and are rewarded by returning to heaven in their original “light” bodies. Fallen angels cannot be redeemed. God does not want them back!

6. There are no people of color in this film. I did not see a single African American, latino or Asian actor in the film. Most scholars agree that Adam was not a European white man. I don’t think Adam was an African American like me, but it is certain that white folks are not our only ancestors from the days of Adam and Noah. Some teach the “races” began with Noah’s three sons, but that argument only leads to racist conclusions. In fact, there is only one “race” (Acts 17:26-28), the human race. I will not indulge that topic further in this article. I will offer this: Black folks, minorities, and people who love and teach the Bible are in no way vested in this film, so why support it?

I will venture a guess that the lack of African Americans and people of color in the film may be attributable to Mr. Aronofsky and/or the studio not wanting the “headache” of dealing with the issues of race/ethnicity. Casting all-white crew of actors and characters makes the whole thing seem “generic.” Having one or two black folks would draw too much attention and criticism. Could they have made Ham black? ....Well, let’s not go there!  I'm not going to provide any cover for the producers on this issue, but one has to wonder. There HAS to be a reason. Perhaps one of my Christian brothers or sisters within the Noah film inner circle can ask that question.

7. I don't think it is an entertaining film. I have enjoyed the past work of Russell Crowe and Sir Anthony Hopkins. These actors are certainly an attraction for this film. The special effects are excellent. The film looks very good as a work of art. However, absent popular elements like British accents (even Jennifer Connelly tried it!), mysticism, the Transformers-like Stone Monsters, controversy, and big name actors, it is not a great film. 

What can we take away from this Noah movie travesty?

1.    Anything produced by Hollywood is not subject to the authority of the Bible or necessarily committed to honoring our Judeo-Christian faith and values.

2.    Free speech is alive and well in the United States, both for powerful movie studios and preachers like me who possess the power of the pen. Don’t just go along with stuff that is out of line. Speak up!

3.    Movies are not essential to Christian living. Feel free to pass up any movie, anytime. Just because a movie is “spectacular,” “epic,” a “blockbuster,” or recommended by other Christians does not necessarily mean it is useful to God’s purposes. In fact, the opposite might be true: A movie could be subversive to your Christian values and faith.

4.    Movies and media are among the most significant expressions of our current culture. Many people place as much confidence and credibility in what they see on the big screen as in the Bible...if not more. Not everyone, especially children can easily separate movie fantasy from real world reality.

5.    Avoid becoming more excited about movies, movie stars, noise, and special-effects more than the simple, plain text of the Bible. Value quiet time with God.

6.    Movies are really nothing special within the larger purposes of God. As a form of media, movies can be no more than a tool and a vehicle. Focus more on the Creator, than the creature (created things)---including movies.
      Romans, 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,

7.    Study the Bible. Learn about God’s word. Attend Bible studies. Engage in personal Bible study and reading. Be prepared to help people separate truth from error and come to Christ.

8.  Let's support media and films that show respect for the Bible, and use "creative license" wisely. 

9.    Remember: Many people and things that seem larger than life actually have no life at all. 

~ Bryan Hudson, Th.B., B.S., M.S.

_____________

UPDATE on April 5, 2014

It appears that Mr. Aronofsky is mocking Bible-believing Christians who endorsed this film while laughing all the way to the bank:

“The problems arose because the studio were trying to serve religious literalists,” says Aronofsky. “Because there is a big part of the population in America who don’t want anything to contradict their view of the Bible, and are never going to be open to this type of interpretation.”
For him, the Noah story is something metaphorical and mythic, a beautiful fiction that points towards truth, rather than simply reporting it.
“To argue about it as if it was a historical event is ridiculous. Which, by the way, goes for atheists, too – the people who do the math and say, ‘Well, all of the animal kingdom couldn’t fit into one boat.’ The whole conversation is ridiculous.”

From published Interview April 5, 2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/10739539/Darren-Aronofsky-interview-The-Noah-story-is-scary.html





7 comments:

  1. I could not have said it better...

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    1. I don't know Joanne, you're a pretty good writer!

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  2. Thank you pastor for your stand for righteousness! I agree wholeheartedly.

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  3. Thanks. I was so excited about seeing the movie. I appreciate your assessment. I don't want to support such a work.

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    1. It is unfortunate that the film betrays the letter and spirit of the God's Word.Good news! The Book is better than the movie!

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  4. Rock on, brother, Rock on! (Deut 32.31)

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