NOAH was an epic film. I throughly enjoyed it from start to finish. It has all of the elements I love in these types of movies. Action, suspense, romance, drama, magic (though a dash of comedy would have been nice). In fact at times I almost forgot that I was watching a movie “based on the Bible.” But I was, and that’s what I want to talk about in this post.
First, this Bible thumper (ah, that’d be me) gives this secular movie two whopping thumbs up. A solid eight stars out of ten. Loved it.
Second, spoilers ahead (duh!).
What Do You Mean By Biblical?
However one answers this question will determine whether someone thinks the NOAH movie is biblical. And contrary to popular opinion, that is not an easy question to untangle. By “biblical” do we mean (a) “it is word for word from the Bible”? Or do we mean (b) “it has all of the actual elements found in the biblical story with nothing extra?” Or do we mean (c) “it is thematically faithful to the biblical story even if it fails to hold to every jot and tittle”?
If you hold to option “a,” then one of the only truly biblical films ever created is by Visual Bible Series (the Gospel of Matthew, John and Acts). You’d have to discard The Jesus Film put out by Billy Graham and Campus Crusaders as being unbiblical. You’d have to throw out or protest the classic The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as being unbiblical. So I don’t know too many Christians who would hold to option “a” religiously.
But what about option “b”? Well the clincher here is that the moment anybody try to make a decent film based on the Bible, it becomes nearly impossible not to violate option “b”. Both the Jesus Film and The Ten Commandments have added elements – ways in which the producers and writers imagined events to play out. But even ultra conservative Christian films violate option “b”. Not long ago a new Ruth movie came out (don’t watch it! You’ve been warned). It is quite literally one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on film. But what’s more, you’d think Boaz (played by Carman) and Ruth were modern North American evangelical born again Christians. Not biblical.
So what makes a film “biblical”?
Most of the Christian reviews I read that criticize this NOAH movie based on the films unbiblical merits seem to be looking for a movie that sticks to the letter of the text (which, as I just showed is either impossible or would make for a short – twenty minute narrated film). That’s fine. But this is not that kind of movie. Still, the controversy continues to brew among Christians. So I want to go deeper. I think there’s something else that contributes to the controversy of whether or not the film is “biblical”? It’s roots run into more fundamental issues such as biblical translations (does a Bible need to be “word for word” to be faithful to God’s message, or does it just need to communicate the message, the themes, the intent) and on a base level, how and why one reads the Bible. How you approach those two questions will factor in to how you will view this NOAH film.
Only you can answer those questions, and I’m charging you now to take some time to think about them. But here’s my take.
When I look for a Bible I want something that takes God’s inspired word from a language I don’t know – Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – and to communicate it to me in a way that I understand. If a translation does not do that, than it is not a good translation. It has failed to accomplish its purpose and belongs in the dump. Period. For me, the NIV2011 is one of the best available today. Word for word translations like Young’s Literal Translation are – by their very nature – incapable of accomplish that. If God’s message cannot be potentially received by everyone – whichever language or culture they come from – than it has returned void. And since God’s word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11), I’m committed to accepting a translation that communicates His message and intent.
So my premise is that when we look at the Bible our goal should be to find God’s message and intent.
And though it came later for me, I eventually learned to apply this to my devotional life as well as my studies. When I read the story of Jonah, as a classic example, am I going to get by trousers all tied up in a knot like a bad wedgie over whether it’s actual history or a parable? There was a time when I thought it was worth the fight, but not any more. If Jonah is a parable it would make the story no less true than any other parable Jesus told. The danger of strapping your underwear up around your neck over this issue is that we can too easily miss the point, the message that God wanted to tell by inspiring it as a part of scripture (same goes when reading Genesis 1, by the way).
So I fall into option “c”. For me, if a retelling of a biblically story thematically captures the message, then even though it fails to hold to every jot and tittle, it may still fall into the category of “biblical”.
But What About This Noah Movie?
*overt spoilers ahead*
To say this story embellished the biblical narrative would be an understatement. The role the Nephilim(?) play is clearly not inline with the biblical text, even from a cursory reading (there’s no hint in the movie of rock monsters sleeping with women in the film). Noah’s three sons were married going into the ark whereas in the film only one was, while two baby girls were born on the ark. Melchizedek seems to have magical powers. Tubal-Cain makes it on to the ark for one final showdown. In fact the movie reached such embellished heights that during the scene with all of the people fighting to get on the ark, and being warred off by giant rock monsters, I thought for a moment I was watch the final attack on Mordor in The Lord of the Rings.
But none of that makes the film, for me, unbiblical. Because NOAH captures the big picture, ties in all of the major thematic threads of the narrative and really does communicate the message of the text. At least it did for me. The mega-narrative told in the script goes like this:
God (the “Creator”) created the heaven’s and the earth climaxing in his prize creation: humans.
Human’s disobeyed God (the “Creator”) and where cast out of Eden.
Human’s became overcome by murder, rap and pride. We are all corrupted by sin.
God (the “Creator”) called Noah to create an Ark so that He can start again.
“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22).
By the way, I’m not at all bothered that the film refers to God as “Creator” rather than “God.” Because that is most likely exactly how Noah would have spoken about or prayed to God. In any case I think it more accurately situates the film in its ancient context, which is where it needs to be situated.
The Worst Part For Me
I suppose the worst of it for me involved the explanation of the “Watchers” only because it portrays them as beings who merely wanted to “help” humanity, and the “Creator” who punished them for doing so. God was, in that sense unless I missed something, portrayed as pointlessly mean.
Throughout the story Noah does what he thinks God wants him to do. Noah is all about “justice” and “obedience.” But it’s important to note that we were watching the film from Noah’s point of view, not God’s. At least that’s my interpretation. God only spoke to Noah twice (maybe three times) in the film. Beyond that, Noah assumed things about what God wanted that God did not necessarily want. God does not send Noah a sign for every question and struggle he has just like He doesn’t sent us a sign for every question and struggle we have today. Noah was interpreting God’s actions one way when he could just as easily interpreted them another (like when the rain stopped – Noah’s wife Naameh probably interpreted that correctly – God’s approval of the children’s life – while Noah interpreted it incorrectly – God’s approval of the children’s death). So Noah portrayed the Creator as someone who was out to bring Justice by slaughtering all humans – including Noah and his family. A mean, ruthless God.
There was a struggle between justice and mercy in Noah, and in the end he chose mercy and punished himself for thinking he disobeyed God. It was only when talking with his daughter-in-law, Ila, that he realized maybe God placed the responsibility in his hands because God knew he would make a merciful decision.
The Best Part About The Film: Flesh
What I loved about this film is that it put flesh and blood and sweat and mud on all of the characters and events that we’ve grown accustomed to beautifying. Let’s face it, the “biblical” account of Noah takes up about four chapters of the Bible. And we’ve lost it folks. We’ve buttered it up, put dandelions all about it, packed it gently in little picture books and for Sunday School classrooms.
In short: we stopped feeling the text.
This movie makes us feel it again. What must it have been like to hear the screams of all the people outside the ark? What must Noah have felt? What about his family? The screams, the crying, the mud, the pain. You are the last few people on earth, while everybody else shrieks for help as their bodies smash up between the rough waters and the sides of your boat. Did Noah second guess himself? Did he make all of the right decisions? The responsibility must have been overwhelming for any human – even Noah. And what about his wife? What about their sons and their sons wives? What was the experience like for them? And what about sin and evil? How bad was it? Just watch this film to get an idea. Seriously, watch how humanity’s depravity is portrayed in this film, then go back to read it in your Bible with fresh eyes.
I think the Bible – no matter how sacred we think it is – is little more than a rule book for most of us. We scour the text (often randomly) in search of the big do’s and don’ts. God help us feel the stories. God help us “get” your message again. And I think a film like this one – embellishments and all – is a God-sent.
Go see it. Enjoy it for what it is: a Hollywood embellishment of a biblical story. And most of all, feel it. Get into the narrative. Let it impact you. Then go back and read it in your Bible and tell it the way it was meant to be told. Flesh and all.
Next up: Moses played by Christian Bale.