Saturday, April 25, 2015

What If Aronofsky Had Taught Noah In My Sunday School Class?

Today I'm writing about Darren Aronofsky's film, Noah.
For production info and cast list, check out
the movie's IMDb page

Yes, it came out last year. So I'm late to the game (I only recently watched it on Netflix).  But maybe I made up for that by live-tweeting when I watched it?

Yes, it was hotly contested because many Christians of a more biblically-literal persuasion tried to boycott the movie because it was itself not accurate to the Bible (and I will point out a few of those inconsistencies with a rant). But that really only made me want to watch it more.

Yes, I am going to give you all the spoilers along with my commentary. But now I've warned you so you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to wade into these waters (that pun was not intended).

When it comes right down to it,  I thought that the movie was visually stunning and completely captivating, even if it was Biblically inaccurate. But it was also innovative. I've grown tired of all the kid-friendly, feel-good representations of this story; the watery account of divine genocide (yes, yes, that's right... you did just witness me firing shots at my deity).

But enough with the intro. We'll get started, shan't we?

Let's begin with the plot. There is a whole prologue sequence that sums up the story of Adam and Eve's three sons. It includes the death of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain. But it also includes a description of how this mysterious race of "Watchers" helps the descendants of Cain build cities and make weapons (where was this in Sunday school?). And in contrast to this, there are the descendants of Seth, Adam and Eve's third son. And these descendants are the only ones who still respect the Creator.

At any rate, when the prologue is done, we meet a very young Noah siting with his father, Lamech. It becomes very apparent from the words that Lamech is using that there is some kind of initiation rite going on between this man and his son. But up walks a man who announces himself as Tubal-cain. He says that this land Lamech is on is his and he cuts down Lamech. Just like that. This is all before the five minute mark and there's already death all over this movie. Definitely not one of the nice laundered versions that were used when I was little to tell the story of Noah.

Well, Noah grows up. We see him next gathering food with his two young boys, Shem and Ham (the third son is only an infant right now, for those of you keeping score at home). We see Ham picking a flower and he is gently scolded by his father, saying that the beauty of the flower is greatest when it anchored in the ground, where it has its purpose. Suddenly I can see a whole offshoot of the movie where it's a soapbox for environmental stewardship, but that doesn't happen because Noah and his sons are suddenly interrupted by a pig-wolf-looking animal that runs by, injured by some kind of hunter. Noah tells his sons to hide themselves while he goes to tend for the animal. I have no doubt that that is what he intended to do, but the three hunters arrive and say that the animal is theirs. Since they obviously don't want to share, they attack Noah with their spears! And Noah kills them!

I'm all thrown off by now because this is not my typical Sunday school movie (which I think I may still have been subconsciously expecting) but I do not think that I expected Noah to be killing people on-screen! Yes, he did it in a very grim sort of way, but he was still stone-cold, which made me think this may not have been his first time. I'm also thrown off because there are familiar elements so far in the movie (i.e. Cain's descendants, Noah's father, Noah's sons), but they're all mixed in with these new, very real and gritty situations that were never described in Scripture.

It was while I was in this mindset that Noah returned to his tent, where his wife (who has a name, un-Sriptural as it may be! And her name is Naameh) and smallest son were, and everyone went to bed. And Noah had a vision. Not like a nice hey-Noah-I'm-giving-you-instructions-from-the-clouds kind of vision but more of a here-are-some-crazy-disturbing-images-to-get-you-motivated kind of vision. As a viewer, I was entranced by the images. No words with them in the movie and no words from me because the images were so stunning.

All of this and we're barely at the 12 minute mark of the movie.

For a sense of what I mean, take a look at this trailer. It begins with Noah's vision that I mentioned:

Watch the trailer at this link if the embedded video gives you problems

So since I've already written more than I anticipated about the plot of the movie, I'm not going to keep on summarizing it (though you can take a look at my live tweets for something of a summary!). If I did not make it self-evident, I do want you to go watch the movie; it's still on Netflix streaming as of this being published. But a word about the Biblical accuracy of the movie: the accuracy of this movie is complex. I mean, everything that has to do with the descendants of Adam and Eve and what defined them is very accurate. Seth's line was faithful and all of them lived to be very old, Cain travelled east of Eden after he killed his brother... the scriptural genealogies were all accurate, all the way down to how Tubal-cain was a worker of bronze and iron. I don't think that it's those baseline facts and themes that objectors of the movie are starting with (which is really unfortunate; I think that a lot of objectors to the movie make the whole thing seem like a fabrication).

The pieces of the movie that are harder to swallow are things like the Watchers. Where were they in Scripture?!? (but no, really, if anyone knows what the origin of these Nephilim are, please let me know in the comments...) Another thing is that Shem is the only one who has a "wife" on the ark; her name is Ila, she's not a proper wife... and she gives birth while they're all on the ark. And speaking of the ark, this Tubal-cain fellow gets himself on board, too! And he starts sowing seeds of deceit in Ham, which I'm sure is something the biblical-accuracy critics have had a field day with.  Meanwhile, Noah has decided that his family has to be the last humans alive, so that creation will remain clean. To that end, he vows to kill the children that Ila gives birth to.

I mean... holy cow... this is a lot of really heavy stuff... and I don't resent it being in the movie.

I know that this post has been somewhat snarky and cynical. But really, deep down, I really liked this movie and I think it has a lot of value. It's not holy writ itself, but it reads between the lines in such a way that breathes new life into lines of scripture that are sometimes dismissed as irrelevant and old-fashioned.

I'm coming to a place in my own life where I've begun to realize that biblical stories are not powerful because they happened. I feel the power of biblical stories because they are true. But please do not confuse this with a sense of happening-true. People have been debating the happening-truth for far too long (although it's still a recent development, having been a mostly United States thing and having become popular in the 70s). The story-truth of Bible stories is such that they still resonate within the human psyche. The drama and the struggle of biblical characters is still fascinating, if you can get past the lines on the page and get into the story, like I think Aronofsky has done with this movie.

I mean, think of it this way: there are very few characters from the bible that we can hold up and paragons of virtue. If you read enough of the story, each character messes up and is redeemed. For example, as I was growing up in Sunday school, Noah was always depicted as a serene man peeking out from a window in a boat. He also looked unusually Swedish, for a Mesopotamian guy. But if you read the story long enough, you know that Noah became a bit of a drinker and was seduced by his daughters-in-law. So when I'm watching the movie and I'm seeing things and think to myself "this was totally not in the book," I then go back in and tell myself that this is another story that speaks to the human psyche. The struggles of Darren Aronofsky's characters are epic in scale, while still sympathetic. I think that the movie stays true to the real, human emotions of the story, which does mean that it's character-driven and not God-driven. But I think that character-driven is what is needed today. People are skeptical of God. Heck, I'm definitely skeptical of all these systems that have been set up in God's name... or at least set up in the name of a god. But drawing on this common story, we see highlighted the same struggle that so many of us have today. Who the heck is this far-off deity? What does it want me to do? Why doesn't it answer when I call on it? But at the same time, what do I do when I want to live a good life, especially when I look around at the world around me and all I can see is evil and viciousness?

For me, the movie represents a worldview that suggest you choose your path. It's a simple charge with so many complex implications. But as I choose my path, my prayer can be that I am making a life which is pleasing to God.

Yes, humans are broken creatures. We live according to our own wills, regardless of whether or not our will is pleasing to God. But in choosing and willing and persevering, I think there is still room for a savior. I do get that sense from the movie, that there is room for salvation.

So there it is. I highly recommend you go watch the movie. Make up your mind about it. Let me know what you think. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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If you've seen Noah or if you haven't; if you liked the movie or if you didn't, please let me know in the comments below! I would love to start a conversation with you. Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Twitter or Facebook! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!