6 Things To Appreciate About Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that prolific film director Darren Aronofsky was releasing “Noah,” or that it would garner such controversy. Despite conflicting views on the film, it took in a solid $44 million in the opening weekend box office (March 28, 2014), higher than expected. Clearly, people wanted to see it.

image credit: CNS/Paramount

The filmmaker behind such films as “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler,” and “Requiem For A Dream,” everyone should have expected a dark, graphic story. The cast was fitting, with Russell Crowe playing the titular role, with strong performances by Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson and others.

Aronofsky had been thinking about it for 16 years, co-wrote a graphic novel of the same name with Ari Handel, and even wrote a poem about it as a seventh-grade student.

A self-proclaimed atheist, the director also made it clear what audiences should and should not expect from the film:

He called it “the least biblical biblical film ever made.”

He’s not claiming this is the exact account of Genesis 6-10. He doesn’t say this is the definitive interpretation of the biblical story.

“Biblical” Films

Is anyone surprised that the film isn’t air-tight locked into the exact details the biblical account of Noah reveals? Are all Bible stories adapted to other media required to conform to all details (as interpreted) originally in the story?  If that’s the case, I’m afraid none of the “Bible-based” or “Christian” films ever produced meet the requirement, because there’s always some level of assumptions to fill in the gaps of Scripture’s stories.

Perhaps there should be a discussion about the intent of the Bible and its stories, how they should be told, and how they can be artistically rendered. But that’s another subject for another post.

As with many other cultural displays of anything remotely religious, Christian audiences especially pounce on filmmakers and artists even if they’re not trying to make a film for Christians. Alas, some find it more important to critique and deconstruct and tear apart anything resembling a story or theme or character found in the Bible.

Brothers and sisters, need we be so harsh and judgmental in this way?

What if we simply sat down to watch a 138 minute film to enjoy a story well told? What if we walked away from it appreciating the good, recognizing the worldviews and ideas presented in the movie, and neglecting to throw a fit if something didn’t fit our expectations because the story and character was based on a historical, biblical character?

6 Things To Appreciate About Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”

1. Creation’s beauty.

Honestly, as opening titles flashed across the screen, I wasn’t as confident in Aronofsjy’s vision of the story. Some of the graphics and text were a little clunky. I didn’t envision heavily-CGed fallen angel rock monsters (which was later explained in the plot). But my suspension of judgment was soon propped up by the daunting primeval wasteland, nearly post-apocalyptic scenery and wardrobe that seemed quite fitting for the story.

Some of the best visual parts of the film are stunning sequences of the progress of Creation, landscapes, animals and then humans. Some have criticized the sequence as a representation of macro-evolution, but it doesn’t seem to be a statement on evolution as it is a rapid-fire chain of images displaying the growth of different parts of the created universe and world.

2. Sacredness of humanity and vitality of the Earth.

The pinnacle of that Creation was shown totally separately from the rest of the process, intentionally showing how man and woman were special beings, not just another part of the ecosystem. Russell Crowe as Noah and his family were careful to see the humanity of other men and women (though it was not always mutual, and self-defense was required — you’ll see if you watch it).

Aronofsky described Noah as “the first environmentalist,” which is a bit of a stretch in the way we think of environmentalists today. However, if we want to be accurate about how God designed humankind and the planet to interact as the Bible suggests, it’s not outlandish to say that even from Adam and Eve, God placed high value on caring for the Earth and nurturing it because it’s His good Creation. [Christians, let’s be a little more aware of how God calls us to responsibly steward the planet and animals, not abusing and destroying it.]

3. Reverence of the Creator.

The film notably doesn’t feature any characters ever mentioning the title “God” at any time, which many Christians are in uproar about. However, let’s first remember “God” is only a title for our heavenly Father (whose actual name is YHWH). Before we get mad at Aronofsky, we can notice the very reverent use of the title, “the Creator” as characters referred to Him. It worked quite well, and reminds viewers that God isn’t just a far off deity; He’s an involved, caring, artistic Creator who is very near to people.

There was also a strong inclusion of blessings, which litter the pages of Scripture. “Noah” opens and closes with blessings between various characters, and includes a (rather silly but plot-progressing) blessing from Anthony Hopkins’ character, Methuselah. It was a refreshing, heavily biblical practice I didn’t expect in the film.

4. Vivid depravity and grace.

Humankind was shown to be exceedingly wicked, as Genesis tells us. Aronofsky did a fine job showing terrible oppression, madness, godlessness, mistreatment of people and animals and the Creator’s world. The carnal appetites of man really are horrendous, and sometimes it takes scenes in a film to remind us just how broken and selfish we are, and how much we need redemption from our fallen state.

It’s impossible to miss the grace of the Creator in the story of Noah. That God would involve Himself in the life of a human and his family, to give them a way to be saved from impending doom — this is all the stuff of the Bible. God graciously gives Noah the idea of the ark and how to build it, provides for his family, brings the animals to be rescued on the ark, and all the rest. This story is drenched in grace of a Creator who had every reason to give up totally on broken humanity but instead offered redemption out of His love for people.

5. Faith and doubt.

Noah may have been chosen by God, “blameless in his generation,” but the man was still a degenerate sinner. The Creator chose him to complete the task of building the ark and leading his family into a new world, but it was by His grace alone.

The film centers on the dramatic, interwoven wrestling match of Noah’s faith and doubt. He fully expected God to protect and provide for them through the Flood, but he was driven mad by the intensity of the circumstances and seeming unraveling of his family. Yes, Noah gets drunk and naked after surviving the Flood (that’s in the Bible!). It’s a dance of faith and doubt like few other films with such religious or “biblical” themes even hint at. A life following God is messy, confusing, complex and nuanced, never tidy, perfect and containable. But that shows God all the more gracious with us.

6. An atheist made a faith-oriented film.

A talented atheist made a good film about part of a sacred text we hold dear. Why aren’t we happy about this, Christians?

I gladly paid for a ticket and sat in the theater to see Aronofsky’s interpretation of “Noah,” without being angry that an atheist wanted to make a movie that didn’t completely line up with what we see in the biblical text. Big deal. He used artistic license, as does every single person who retells a story from the Bible in some way. Especially if you’ve told the bedside children’s story of Noah and the ark, you’ve manipulated the narrative into something that it originally was not.

Regardless of adaptations and interpretations of Bible stories and themes, we can at least acknowledge good art and furthering conversations in a way that displays both the grace and the truth with which Jesus interacts with us.

Christians, let’s aim to be known not by what were against, but by what we’re for.


Did you see the movie, “Noah”? What do you think about Aronofsky’s adaptation of the story?


2 responses to “6 Things To Appreciate About Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”

  1. Finally a more positive/neutral post about the movie. Thank you for pointing out some aspects that are hinting on the biblical.

    I haven’t watched it yet but I’ve see so many people tearing it down. I kind of just want to give them a blank stare and say “duh, it was a hollywood movie”, we as Christians should not judge so harshly what was never meant to be a “holy” production anyway. It’s a bummer, but to be expected.

    Kind of like when Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars a year or two ago, even hollywood was in an uproar about his vulgar humor when they already knew full-well what was to be expected. Even so they still complained.

    Maybe I’ll post some blog thoughts after watching it.

  2. Great points John. I was actually impressed at Aronofsky’s display of the radical depravity of the generation. In a culture that embraces existentialism I would not have expected the biblical representation of fallen man to be so well portrayed in contrast to Noah and his party.

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