The Lies (and Truth) of “Noah”: Realigning Christian Expectations

Much has been written of late about “finding God at the movies” or what it should look like for Christians to have a proper, God-honoring relationship with Hollywood. And rightly so. Ever since the inception of motion pictures, the church has had questions and debates as to how we should relate to them, and the conversation always leads to the broader discussion of what it means to be in the world but not of it.

On a fairly regular basis, the film industry will produce a movie that explores and represents biblical narratives, influential Christian figures, or other stories beloved by the Christian religion. And, more often than not, Christians approach these films with unhealthy expectations. In some cases, they feel guilty for loving movies as much as they do and are hopeful that a “Christian” movie will redeem the industry as a whole, and more importantly, justify their desire to keep going to the theaters. In other cases, there is the expectation that these films will act as a modern Midrash, filling in gaps where Scripture is silent and perhaps reigniting an interest in stories that may have lost their flavor to our de-sensitized palates. And perhaps the most typical expectation (or feeling) is that the enemy is taking a step into Christian territory, seeking to interpret or represent stories over which we should have interpretive, intellectual, and emotional rights. In such cases, we usually expect (or demand) strict adherence to biblical accuracy, a complete submission not only to Scripture, but also to our own interpretations of Scripture.

When it comes “Noah,” director Darren Aronofsky’s representation of the Genesis flood, all of these expectations are likely to go unfulfilled. Most of what I have heard from Christians in response to the film is a distaste for the lack of faithfulness to the biblical narrative, the result being that the film as a whole is discredited and dismissed as un-redemptive or dangerous. Because it does not fulfill our expectations, we end up missing what the film is really trying to accomplish. It is not the story we expected so we dismiss the story as it is told and as it is asking to be received.

Let’s consider for a moment, then, the story as Aronofsky crafts it. It explores a number of questions and themes, including:

–The wickedness of humanity and the guilt we feel as a result

–Man’s dominion over creation (does it entail ownership or stewardship?)

–The tension between God’s justice and God’s mercy

–Our inability ofttimes to discern the will of God

–The desire to be “like God” as the core of sin

–God’s unique capacity to surprise us with life, to create it out of nothing and in circumstances that seem completely contrary to it

–What it looks like for God to re-create what has been broken

I look at this list and I want to propose/assert a couple of things. First, these are great themes and great questions, and not only does Aronofsky lead us through them, he does so beautifully and powerfully and with an emotional gravity that is hard to ignore. And, while he does land, so to speak, on a few conclusions about these themes (sometimes in a scripturally sound place and sometimes not), for the most part he does not resolve the tensions for us. ┬áHe leaves the audience to deal with it. In my opinion, he is not alone in leaving these tensions unresolved. Moses, traditionally seen as the author of Genesis, also tells the story in a way that introduces tensions without resolving them. For instance, Moses tells the story of Ham being cursed immediately following the account of the flood (a narrative the film is very invested in exploring). God has shown mercy and granted salvation, but sin still exists. The earth has been re-created, but it is not fully healed or made new. When the story ends, there’s more story to be told.

In this sense the film has a rhetorical effect that adheres very closely with that of the biblical text, which brings me to a second proposal. When it comes to its larger themes and its rhetorical impact, the film is remarkably faithful to Genesis. I believe if people view both Scripture and the film honestly and openly, they would come to a similar conclusion, but many Christians who watch the film will miss this due to their unhealthy expectations. Paradoxically, it will be a commitment to “wooden, to-the-letter biblical accuracy” that will keep them from seeing the truth in the film that actually resonates with Scripture.

Coming to “Noah” and films like it with proper expectations will allow us to actually engage with them fairly. Obviously, there are lies in “Noah,” as there are in every film. We should expect that of anything and everything other than Scripture. But if we allow ourselves to engage with the truth that is there, the evidence of eternity in man’s heart, then we have an opportunity, not only to be drawn to and impacted by the truth ourselves, but to speak the truth to our culture in a winsome way. We have the opportunity to articulate for the people around us where we see falsehood and where we see goodness, truth, and beauty. And that is an opportunity we should not miss.

–Jonathan Allston