The heresy of Noah, and why it’s still a good movie

What happens when you take the Messiah out of the creation story.

Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah has been analyzed and debated ad nauseam by critics and bloggers in Christian circles. I suppose given its biblical source material, everyone felt a need to weigh in. Normally I wouldn’t presume to try to add another voice to a subject so thoroughly flogged (and now approaching ancient history, in internet terms). But there’s a simple way of framing Noah that I have yet to see presented.

It is this:

The film tells the story of Noah without Jesus.

Of course Noah takes minor liberties and debatable interpretations from a handful of verses to fill in a two-hour story, but it gets the major thrust of the biblical narrative correct. It places all the blame for death, evil, and abuse squarely on the shoulders of mankind. We are all depraved, Noah recognizes. He sees that the seeds of evil in the sons of Cain outside the ark dwell within him and his family too.

One critical omission, however, stands out most – the promise of a Deliverer. Notice that when Noah tells his family the creation story, he ends it before God expounds on the specific ramifications of the curse – man must work by the sweat of his brow, enmity is placed between man and woman, and God promises that Eve’s offspring will crush the serpent’s head. Noah leaves out God’s Messianic promise to undo and conquer the wrong that the serpent and mankind have done. He leaves out Jesus Christ.

This has profound ramifications for the philosophical trajectory of the film. Aronofsky’s Noah shows us that when you strip the Messiah out of the biblical narrative, only two options remain: despair (read: suicide) and humanism. If humanity is hopelessly depraved and fundamentally bent toward evil, as Crowe’s Noah understands, there’s nothing for it but to let the human race die out. Life has no point – better to cut it off now and avoid the future suffering that we will inevitably cause. So that is what he intends to do. As horrific as this plan is, part of me empathizes with him. Even in the ark we see how Ham nearly murders his father out of resentment, and it seems that Noah might actually be right in his bleak projection of the future should humanity continue.

In true Hollywood blockbuster fashion, the film is not cynical enough to leave us with the demise of the human race according to Noah’s plan. Sans the idea of a Savior capable of both forgiving and removing a person’s sin, it turns to humanism. Noah cannot strike down his daughters in the end because all he feels in his heart is love. He cannot help giving in to this righteous impulse. He concludes that God is giving humanity a new chance to rebuild and do better. And so we end in the hope that through love and cooperation and a renewed dedication to the Creator and creation, humanity will do better this time – we will do better this time.

It’s a rather ironic conclusion, because if you keep reading Noah’s source material, the tower of Babel is just a chapter away.  Even in the film itself, the way Cain and Able are portrayed in Noah’s story – flashing to silhouettes of soldiers with increasingly sophisticated weapons – suggests that the same impulse that drove Cain to murder his brother continues in the hearts of humanity until this day.

All of this makes for a heretical retelling of Noah, but the heresy occurs in an emotionally powerful and theologically instructive fashion. We should expect nothing less from Aronofsky, who knows how to craft a good story and understands a thing or two about human nature. Stripped of the promise of a Deliverer who will save mankind from its sins, he strings us out to the existential extremes. He shows us how without Christ, not much remains of the hopeful, positive themes of any Bible story.

Consider the biblical stories within the context of human literature. Out of all the stories ever told, the Bible’s depiction of humanity, from Genesis to Revelation, stands as one of the bleakest. It paints a sick, brutally realistic picture of mankind – even of many “heroes of the faith” – which Aronofsky’s Noah captures well. The problem in this world is us, and Noah presents us with the only human solutions.

If we’re honest with ourselves, neither of them is satisfactory.

Advertisements

Film Review from Wandering the Vault at RedFence: Lawrence of Arabia

Read the latest on my classic films blog, Wandering the Vault, at RedFenceProject.com:

It’s a pity that the term, “epic,” has suffered so much overuse and degradation of late, because Lawrence of Arabia (1962)is one of those films that lives up to the word in all of its fullness. You liked Braveheart, Gladiator, and Lord of the Rings? Meet their granddaddy.

Lawrence of Arabia is epic first in pacing, length and subject, dragging on for more than 200 minutes and divided into two feature-length parts. The first half nearly put me to sleep, but if you can stick with it, it pays off. The film recounts the World-War-I-era story of a young British soldier named Thomas Lawrence. Widely regarded by his superiors as useless, Lawrence is dispatched to Arabia, with its largely irrelevant and feuding Arab tribes under Turkish rule, to assess the situation. He soon recognizes that the clans could have great potential as a military and political force if only they would stop fighting among themselves. Lawrence’s status as an impartial outsider, soft-spoken and respectful of the Arab way, makes him the ideal man for the job.

Director David Lean tells the story beautifully. For a film half a century old, the cinematography is stunning. In the age of CGI where filmmakers can conjure any army in any place, I was wowed by some of the vast, panoramic shots of hundreds, if not thousands, of men on horseback performing all sorts of maneuvers. The filmmakers pulled out all the stops to produce this one, and they don’t shy away from showing it off. Lawrence of Arabia treats us to many lengthy, sweeping shots of the Arab desert, drawing us into another world and another era of civilization.

(to continue reading, please click here)

My Latest Film Reviews at RedFence

Earlier this month, in celebration of 20 years of Quentin Tarantino filmmaking, I attended the one-night theatrical screenings of Tarantino’s first two films, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. The reviews are up on my “Wandering the Vault” blog at RedFenceProject.com.

Check out my review of Reservoir Dogs here.

And my review of Pulp Fiction.

My New Movie Blog: Wandering the Vault

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I’ve starting writing weekly movie reviews for RedFenceProject.com. These reviews will come in three categories: Currently in Theaters, “Flicks You Might Have Missed,” and “Wandering the Vault.”

My blog, “Wandering the Vault” recently premiered. Here is the introduction so you get a good idea of where I’m coming from. I will be focusing on the classics–great and/or influential films that you should probably see sooner or later.

And what better classic to start with than a true all-time great: Casablanca! Check it out at RedFence here.

New Side Project Of Mine

I’m excited to announce that I’ve just started up a weekly Film Review Blog over at Redfence Magazine. This certainly won’t be replacing ACwords, but I’ll be sure to highlight my work there over on this blog too.

We start things off with a review of the new Bond movie, Skyfall. You can read it here at RedfenceProject.com, so check it out! I know they would appreciate the traffic (and so would I)!

Film Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

In case you didn’t noticed after the trailer and advertising campaign, the Snow White of vintage Disney is gone. Instead, director Rupert Sanders now offers us a compelling new spin on the old fairy tale in Snow White and the Huntsman. This time, the wicked queen seduces and kills Snow White’s father as part of the backstory; there’s a love triangle between Snow White, the huntsman, and the prince; Snow White dons armor and leads an army against the queen; and, in a deliberate step away from campiness, the dwarves don’t have adjectives for names.

On the surface, Huntsman wasn’t a half-bad concept. It had many of the pieces for a good film: lots of action, a seductive villain, a solid cast (well, minus Kristen Stewart), and an entire fantasy world to create. Unfortunately, however, the execution is sorely lacking. This is a fantasy film that can’t decide whether it wants to be a fairy tale, an epic, or an allegory, and as a result it never quite manages to do well as any of them. It lacks the history and grand scale of Lord of the Rings or Braveheart, the charm of a Disney princess film, or the profound theological underpinnings of Narnia. It mixes worlds: Snow White recites the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the film, but she soon finds herself confronting trolls and exploring a magical forest full of musical plants and shape-shifting fairies. The queen has all sorts of supernatural powers that are never explained aside from a spell cast on her at childhood. Granted, those are pretty high standards by which to measure a film, yet Huntsman falls so woefully short in each of those categories that it sinks into the easily-forgotten “flick” category. Continue reading →