Will 'Noah' inspire viewers to read the source material?

Back when I was suggesting people of faith give Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” a chance before dismissing it, one of the ideas I floated in this forum was that viewers might be inspired to read the source material, which would be a happy development for Christians and Jews.  (By “source material” I mean the Old Testament, not the Gnostic claptrap that Dr. Brian Mattson makes a compelling argument for as the true storyboard for the skewed interpretation of Noah presented by Aronofsky.  It’s a fascinating read – check it out here.)

That possibility is raised by no less than Cal Thomas in his defense of the film (with support from Michael Medved, who he quotes in his article.)  There’s certainly nothing wrong with hoping that some audience members will read the original text and have an eye-opening experience, as they realize the movie has completely subverted the meaning of the story.  “You mean it’s not an environmentalist parable about the dangers of fracking?  It was all about man’s immorality and inhumanity?  God actually tells Noah and his family to treat the animal kingdom as a buffet at the end?  And where are the rock giants?”

There’s also reason for optimism that Hollywood decided to plunk down a $200 million budget on the religious audience, and perhaps a bit of cheer to be found from the movie doing fairly well at the box office.  (Thomas says it made $44 million on opening day, but that was actually the first weekend.)  But the rest of his case for the movie is unconvincing, and frankly more snarky than its critics deserve:

The main complaint from critics of the film “Noah,” which opened Friday with an impressive opening-day take of an estimated $44 million in ticket sales, is that it doesn’t accurately reflect the rather slim biblical account in Genesis. Here’s some breaking news for the critics: Noah didn’t speak English, as Russell Crowe does in the film, so right there we have a departure from biblical accuracy. One should not turn to Hollywood for theological truth.

Well, no, one shouldn’t, but the major complaint about “Noah” is that it appropriates the story and presses it into service for the official religion of the United States government, the Church of Global Warming.  Nobody’s really all that upset about Russell Crowe speaking English, Jennifer Connelly having improbably nice hair, or even the rock giants.  Artistic embellishments and creative license are one thing, and contrary to their pop-culture misrepresentation as nail-chewing humorless fundamentalists, Christians are generally quite tolerant of them.  I haven’t even really heard much grumbling about the movie deliberately getting the details of Noah’s family wrong, directly contradicting Biblical text, just to generate some soap opera drama and pad out the running time.

It’s not even just the environmentalist stuff plugged into the film, which Thomas breezily dismisses as one of the “subtle and not so subtle” messages packed into all sorts of movies:

As for the storyline (the real one), what we know from Genesis is that God considered Noah a “righteous man.” For that reason Noah and his family (and the animals) would be spared so they could repopulate the Earth after the flood. God’s reason for wiping out what He had created was because “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). From there we get a weather report of rain for 40 days and 40 nights, the opening of the Earth’s floodgates, a dove going out to see if the water had receded and God providing a rainbow as a sign of His promise never to flood the Earth again. That’s it at warp speed.

While dramatic enough, there are not enough additional details to sustain a movie plot long enough for people to finish their overpriced candy bars, tubs of popcorn and supersized Cokes or justify the obscene ticket prices ($16.50 in NYC). Some critics claim there is a heavy environmental message in the film, which undercuts the power of the real story. Aren’t there subtle and not so subtle messages in most films?

I’m weighing in here as something of an outside referee, because I don’t belong to any organized church.  I know that Cal Thomas is more devoutly religions than I am.  And Lord knows, I’m not one to raise objections to the injection of fantastic elements into a story.  The bad reviews of “Noah” made it sound more entertaining to me than the good ones.  I love monsters of rock.  I caught them on tour back in the late Eighties.

But I respectfully submit that Thomas is missing the point here.  It’s not just that environmental degradation was added to the list of sins that earned mankind a good stiff flooding.  Nothing wrong with getting the Biblical story right and adding the visual invention that the bad guys made the world look corrupt and ugly as a reflection of their evil.  

But Aronofsky almost completely carves out the actual meaning of the story and replaces it with the faith he really cares about.  In fact, as mentioned by Dr. Mattson (who is quite peeved at religious leaders for failing to notice the substitution of Gnostic mysticism for Christian teaching) the actual reasons God sent the Flood are offloaded onto Noah in the final scene… and he’s presented as an outright psychopath for taking them seriously.  As for the environmental stuff, it’s presented as a literal allusion to modern industry, with a villain who spouts re-purposed Gordon Gekko dialogue as he chows down on endangered species.

This is subversion, not embellishment, and while Thomas is right to conclude “the next time a rainbow appears might be the right occasion to begin a discussion.”  That would be an interesting discussion, but how many moviegoers are going to enjoy the company of a friend who knows the Old Testament well enough to initiate it?  The damage from this kind of subversion seems likely to outweigh the benefits, especially if “Noah” turns a big profit (still uncertain at this point, given the production budget) and studios decide the next big cinematic craze should be rewriting Bible stories to transmit politically approved messages.

Thought experiment: what do you suppose the reaction would be if an enterprising band of Christian filmmakers decided to remake an environmentalist story (oh, say, “The Lorax”) and subvert it to make the Biblical point about God giving mankind dominion over the flora and fauna?  If you want to see what full-bore blood-in-the-eyes evangelical fury looks like, give that a shot, and wait for the reviews to come rolling in.  Hint: nobody’s going to give the filmmakers any credit for their fabulous special effects, or fine performances from the cast.


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