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.

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 →

Edwards Scissorhands and Suburbia

Again, another long drought in posts. But don’t worry, I refuse to let this die. Here goes:

I was excited to open my spring break by watching “Edward Scissorhands“, a film that has always intrigued me even though I knew very little about it.

I mean, just look at the poster. Who wouldn’t wonder what some creepy pale guy with wild hair and scissors for hands is all about? I understand it left quite a mark on the film scene, and it stands out among Tim Burton films as one of his masterpieces. No doubt many great film analysts have waxed eloquent on the nature of the isolated Edward character (Johnny Depp) or Burton’s brilliant ability to walk a fine line of crazed creativity. But even above these, something else about the film drew me in and rankled my heart with a righteous indignation. The inciting incident comes when Edward leaves the castle where he was created to go to the suburbs.

And the cast of suburbanites that Edward falls in with in his new life, well, I despise them.

(SPOILER ALERT: I’m not filtering my writing for spoilers at all, so I may say some things that give away the plot. You have been warned.)

Apparently Burton did not intend for his portrayal of suburban American to be so harsh. He said he wanted to depict suburbia as “not a bad place. It’s a weird place. I tried to walk the fine line of making it funny and strange without it being judgmental. It’s a place where there’s a lot of integrity.”

I do not want to condemn suburban America either, because it isn’t a bad place, per se. I grew up in a decent suburban neighborhood in Bakersfield, California–same home for 21 years and counting. My upbringing was about as stable as they come, and I’m very thankful for it.

That said, Burton may not have wanted to be judgmental, but “Edward Scissorhands” judges the suburbs, and it judges them pretty accurately. As someone who has spent most of the past four years in Santa Clarita, the city that Burton allegedly patterned the suburbs after, I saw a world in Edward Scissorhands eerily reminiscent of my own. Continue reading →

Book Review: Meaning at the Movies

I’m sure many of my readers will agree that Christian books about movies–and culture in general–are a dime a dozen. Especially now, with all of the blog posts and sermons that evangelical Christians have delivered on the subject over the years, few bring much to the table. Professor Grant Horner of The Master’s College, with his humble contribution, “Meaning at the Movies,” realizes this. He takes a different tack toward movies by trying mainly to help readers understand and appreciate films in light of what the Bible says about being human.

And he succeeds.

“Meaning at the Movies” stands out because of a simple, yet powerful, thesis. Horner builds his book on the notion that culture, and especially the arts, are fundamentally a result of mankind suppressing the truth of God. As he says, “We all know, deep down, certain things, and we all, deep down, have certain expectations about the world and the ways we think things ought to be.” Some things, Horner would say, we know and refuse to disbelieve, other things we know and refuse to believe, but in either case, certain truths about ourselves, as image bearers of God, tends to come up in the movies we make.

This happens because mankind was made to be in relationship with God and worship Him, Horner says, yet we have sinned and fallen away from God. The result is that we are left seeking to fill a void in our souls. His key support for this comes from the first chapter of the book of Romans. Verses 16 through 23 in particular are worth quoting here, where St. Paul writes:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

This is a direct, open, evangelical approach rooted in the Bible. Horner believes that the Bible is God’s word and therefore the only pure truth we have. As divine revelation, we can trust what it says about God and about humanity. Therefore, it ought to shape the very fabric of how we think about and analyze film.

As “common” as this approach may be–pretty much every Christian book on movies would purport to go by “biblical principles”–the idea of suppressed truth that Horner appeals to over and over again throughout his book strikes me as pretty unique. Horner isn’t out to say which movies are good and which ones are bad. He’s not out to give us a guide to what we should and shouldn’t watch, even though he does have a sizable section on discernment. Rather, he’s out to teach us a radical theory about human nature and cultural production.

Continue reading →

A Few Words on Cowboys & Aliens

I’ll say this up front: I really, really wanted to like this film–so I did. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but I enjoyed it.

Yet the more I think about it, the fewer good things I can think to say. At the end of the day, “Cowboys & Aliens” has two basic things going for it.

One, awesome genre-busting absurdity. It has all the fixtures of both a western and an alien invasion flick, from abductions, spaceships, and hypnotizing lights to stick-ups, damsels in distress, and a lonely hero who rides off into the sunset. And of course, it all comes down to a big fight over a gold mine. Who wouldn’t want to see an alliance of cowboys and Indians take on green guys from Mars: six-shooters, dynamite, and spears versus Alien’s cousin with laser guns?

Two, a solid cast. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford make good cowboys. Craig as the outlaw Jake Lonergan is almost (but not quite) too cool and hunky for his own good. Ford does well as Woodrow Dolarhyde, a seasoned military veteran and proud father, and thankfully his part does not involve pulling any stunts outside of his age-range (*ahem, Indiana Jones 4*). And love-interest Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) is pretty and mysterious but not too sexy for the genre.

However, by and large, the film was not executed well. The script seemed like something I would write–more of an observation than anything else–and the dialogue in particular tended to be minimal. Generally that’s a good thing, but we needed more from Jake. He is so mysterious and standoffish that at times he comes across as more of an individualist jerk than the intended B.A. hero with a wry, ironic side.

For example, all he says is “I don’t know” when people ask him where he came from and what’s on his wrist. It saves time to leave it at that, but it stretches the believability of his character. He could have at least talked to people a little bit more; I sure would if I woke up in the middle of the desert and couldn’t remember anything. To make matters worse, I spent most of the film trying to figure out just what it was that he wanted. For most of the movie, his goal is never clear.

As for the rest of the characters, the filmmakers had all the right pieces in place, but for some reason they couldn’t string together a tangle of minor plot threads in a clear and compelling manner. If anything, they tried to get too emotional. A boy’s coming-of-age story works well in westerns, but when the title of the film is “Cowboys & Aliens”. . .

Let’s just say the subplots seemed a little forced, like something tacked on to add emotional depth when no one is going to come to the film wanting that.

“Cowboys & Aliens” also suffers from one of the great ills of all alien movies: the more you reveal, the less interesting it gets. The more we find out about the aliens and what is going on, the less intriguing we find the film. As such, it struggles to keep the tension rising. The first half is great, but by the time we get to the end, we pretty much know what to expect.