Sunday, April 6, 2014

Noah Movie Review: Sorry God, did you say something?

Well, I finally went to see Noah. After two hours and seventeen minutes of watching an atheist's interpretation of a book I base my life on, I thought a theological critique might be in order. Some who read this may have seen the movie already. Some may not have seen it. My goal is not to persuade you whether or not to see it. I think Christians should be willing to exercise their discernment muscles when the “secular” world of film takes a swing at interpreting their scriptures. My concern is that many will not go and see it with this kind of filter in place. Thus my writing of this blog post. Beware, spoilers were unavoidable.

I'll do my best to break this post up into two parts. The first will deal with the most basic changes that were made from the actual biblical story. The second will deal with the underlying theological assertions that the film made. While I will dedicate a good deal of space to the fist area, the second will be far more important.

First of all, let me be clear. I actually don't have a massive problem when a director takes certain creative liberties when dealing with biblical material. When it comes to the actual biblical account of Noah, the information given is limited. We don't get much insight into the individuals described in this story, nor do we get much insight into their family dynamics. Some rounding out of the characters and some speculation concerning their journey is inevitable. At least if we want to see a movie over twenty minutes long.

The question is, do these liberties ultimately contradict what the scriptures do include? Let me list off what I found to be the biggest additions/changes and whether I found them to be important. The points I've selected are far from exhaustive. The actual changes to the story are many. These are what jumped out the most to me.

First, there is an inclusion of what are depicted to be fallen angels throughout the story. The director seems to have chosen the “fallen angels” interpretation concerning the “sons of God/Nephilim” and has run with it to the point that they play a fundamental roll in helping Noah complete his task. In the film they are referred to as “the watchers.” It is explained that when Adam and Eve fell, the watchers took pity on them and helped them to survive. Because of this, God punished them and forced them to roam the earth as stone creatures. However, eventually their efforts in helping Noah lead to their redemption and return to heaven.

Aside from the fact that this somewhat ridiculous change takes one possible interpretation of scripture and stretches it to the breaking point, this depiction of the fallen angels contradicts not only scripture's view of demonic activity, but the nature of redemption. It depicts God as strangely capricious and cranky. Nowhere in scripture do fallen angels/demons “repent” or show any positive relationship to humanity. And if the “Nephilim = fallen angels” interpretation is correct (which it very well may not be), then it flies in the face of Peter's words when he says, “...God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4, ESV). For more information and research on possible gnostic connections in this as well as other areas of the film, This article is fascinating.

Next, God's communication with Noah is reduced to confusing dreams and visions. Rather than explicit explanations from God concerning his purposes, as well as instructions on how to build the ark (Genesis 6-9), Noah is left to speculate concerning just how to carry out his task as well as why God called him. I'll dig into this change more in the second section.

A final addition I'll mention before some theological reflection is the inclusion of a major antagonist. The evil human race that is on the verge of destruction is ultimately lead by a descendant of Cain. It is this villain who leads an army against Noah to take the ark when the flood begins. Certainly a very dramatic addition to the plot.

So, just what does this movie want us to think about God, his creation, and ourselves? A major point I should mention is that there is a clear environmentalist agenda underlying the story. While it does not overwhelm the plot entirely, it is strong and consistent. Noah's family is ultimately depicted as keepers of the natural world and therefore are repulsed when the rest of the evil human race eats meat or harms animals in any way. This holds true to the end of the film in spite of God's clear encouragement to eat animals at the end of the biblical account (Gen. 9:2-4).

In the end, I don't want to fully discount the environmentalist message included in the film. Caring for the earth was certainly included in God's commands. The film simply made far too much of it than the scriptures do. This is most painfully demonstrated when God's description of humanity's place over animals (Gen. 1:28) is quoted almost verbatim by the main antagonist and is depicted as vile talk.

Far more concerning to me are the depiction of God and the depiction of human nature. As was mentioned before, God's communication with Noah has no verbal element in the film, in spite of what scripture clearly depicts. One of the major dramatic elements of the film is Noah's struggle to interpret the will of God. I believe this is where the personal bias and spiritual views of the director come to be demonstrated most clearly.

By the end of the film, “the creator” as he is called, is felt to be distant and silent. He gives hints and clues as to the direction Noah should take, but ultimately, Noah has to simply hope that he is taking the right steps. He has to find assurance in himself that he is doing the right thing and that he is interpreting God's promptings correctly. Even the main antagonist has moments in the film when he longs to know the will of God, but is apparently ignored.

This is not the view of God that scripture presents. Not only does God speak clearly and specifically to Noah, but Paul the Apostle gives a very different picture of a fallen human race that apparently “longs” for the truth about God. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:19-21, ESV).

One of the great lies in our society that keeps people from embracing the truth of the Christian faith is the idea that we are all trapped in our own subjective experiences. None of us can ultimately speak with authority about God. If you believe that there is such a thing as an authoritative revelation from God, you are arrogant. Unfortunately, this message is given greater strength through the film's depiction of Noah. When he dares to be dogmatic about the will of God, his character falls into the greatest evil. We apparently all should know God would never speak that clearly.

While I can certainly say that the movie does not hold back in giving a biblical depiction of the evil of man, it still manages to muddy the water in many ways. The description of humanity prior to the flood is very clear in Genesis, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5, ESV). From Old Testament to New Testament, goodness and righteousness are always depicted as gifts from God, whether it is imputed through the finished work of Christ, or worked within us by the spirit of God. Even within the biblical account of Noah, it is the favor of God that precedes Noah being described as righteous in any way (Gen. 6:8-9).

In spite of this strong and unrelenting depiction of the evil of humanity in scripture, the film makes one of the primary struggles in the story whether humanity should be considered good or evil. This is where the addition of an antagonist was a dangerous one. The story of Noah is not a story of a good family vs. an evil ruler. It is the story of a good God who rescues a sinful family through undeserved mercy. While the film does not discount the evil of man, it attributes goodness to fallen humanity that is clearly not a supernatural work of God. Goodness is depicted as the thing that draws the favor of God and leads Noah to be chosen rather than goodness being a result of God's favor. It is at this point that the film foundationally and fundamentally leaves the Christian faith.

Where Scripture depicts God as just in his destruction of the world and worthy of worship because of his grace and mercy toward Noah, the film causes the viewer to focus on the innate, though damaged, glory of man and the glory of the rest of creation. This is the fatal flaw that will unavoidably be contained in a film based on scripture, but handled by an unbelieving world.

We as Christians should know that the redeemed sinner becomes a worshipper of the creator. Those who are still in the flesh will worship and serve the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever, amen (Romans 1:25).