'Noah' Cashes in on Faith-Based Trend, Misses Big Picture

'Noah' Cashes in on Faith-Based Trend, Misses Big Picture

If a Christian man marries an atheist woman, and they name their child Noah after the Biblical hero, is Noah a Christian?

It takes a great deal more than words to be a Christian, or even to truthfully call oneself religious; but in Hollywood, where superficiality rules, spirituality is like an all-access pass, no Biblical understanding required.

Apparently, Paramount Studios caught wind of all the hullabaloo about how the American public is clamoring for faith-based films. They got a Christian producer and a first-rate, albeit atheist, director, and the project was quickly green-lighted. However, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details! Director Darren Aronofsky is a fan of science fiction and fantasy who apparently sees the Bible as a fanciful collection of scary bedtime stories, so they added a back-story that he had always had a fascination with (only) the story of Noah. The result is a movie about an environmentalist vegan during apocalyptic times, complete with a full-on homage to Transformers, some Greek mythology, magic, and a lot of non-biblical gobbledy-gook, including some action scenes unfortunately reminiscent of Waterworld.

I went to see this movie with my husband at a special screening for a local Christian group. The Christian producer addressed the crowd beforehand, mainly to reiterate the disclaimer that the movie was “inspired” by the Bible, though in all honesty the hairs on my neck found him a bit too apologetic. Couldn’t any movie make the very same claim?

Like morality in Hollywood, Noah’s message knows no bounds and derives a great deal more from the author’s own imagination than what is actually found in the Bible.

Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post argues the movie “…does not presume to encourage religious conversion, disrespect a prophet or evangelize a snake, though it does glorify virtue in the highest.”

Here is what the film’s creators hoped for from their accomplishment: “We want conversation,” Aronofsky explained, “because I think there’s a lot of nervousness about Hollywood, but this is not a ‘Hollywood’ movie. This is something that I’ve been passionate about my entire life. This is something Ari and I spent a decade studying and thinking about and trying to think about a way to bring it to life. There is no, like, agenda of some, you know, people trying to make money off of Bible stories.”

Yet the movie stands in defiance of many of those assertions. It is most certainly a “Hollywood” movie, of course. What else is a $130 million dollar action film? The most disingenuous and misleading of the claims is that people will talk about the Bible. They will talk only of the superficial issues they have with the movie, not about anything spiritual or meaningful (much like this article and the myriad others out there either criticizing or lauding its masterful CGI). And dare I even address the director’s attempt to persuade us that he did not intend to make money off this film? (What kind of snake-oil salesman would do that?)

The woman to my right enjoyed the film, citing the “something for everyone” quality it had. For spiritual types, there is enough magic to satisfy. For the casually “religious” (the hedge-betters), there is the Creator, referenced and revered by Noah and his family, though cursed by the others. (Is a refusal to name Him God tantamount to ridicule of those who do?) For action lovers, there’s violence quite inappropriate for young children. And it certainly has the Mad Max type of science-fiction element. For the vegans, they were well-represented, as Noah eats no meat and “only take(s) what is needed” from the earth. For the carnivores, well, there’s the film’s main antagonist (of course – that is the way environmentalists quietly condemn “consumers”) who devours a lizard, live, head-first.

Yet many in my audience seemed to expect something meatier in the way of spiritual understanding, which was sorely lacking for a film “inspired by” the Bible. Like my grandfather used to say about his canned lobster bisque, “The lobster walked through this but he didn’t stay long.”

Noah does turn to “The Creator” but doesn’t get any answers, until his adopted daughter levels with him during the most powerful but overdue scene in the film. This bit was more frustrating still because the drama that surrounded Noah’s misunderstanding of God’s will was so melodramatic as to make the audience cringe and even moan. It continued for far too long in the almost two-and-a-half-hour movie, making Noah appear daft, thick, and unheroic, and thereby losing the audience’s support. I wonder if that was an egotistic actor’s choice or more the director’s choice to make the Biblical Noah seem somewhat less-than-human, (i.e. less believable?), but that may be reading too much into it. The powerful antagonist was more compelling as a doubter than Noah by the end of the movie.

The final question someone in our audience asked the producer before they showed the film was this: “With the recent success of God’s Not Dead, starring Kevin Sorbo, a low-budget film which just showed a $9.24 million dollar opening weekend, do you think Hollywood will be inspired to make more truly faith-based films?” The producer’s answer was telling. With a shake of his head, he said that Hollywood does the one thing well – the blockbuster – and the producers of the faith-based films do theirs well (because they know the Bible), and basically, ne’er the twain shall meet.

I guess that’s why, although the Bible was the inspiration for Noah, you’ll ne’er meet the Bible in this film. They really should have called it Noah’s Wild Ride instead.

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