Let me praise Aronofsky’s Noah for its fleshing out of an iconic thin narrative of Noah in the Bible and making it a story.
The story of Noah in the Bible is relatively sparse. Noah never says anything. God does all the talking. In the movie, well, God may be doing some communicating, but since the narrative is told more from the ground, from Noah and his family’s perspective, Noah is the main character, making choices.
Making choices. I think that’s an important thing to highlight. One of the strange ironies of religious life, it seems, is that the closer we get to our God, whomever that may be, the seemingly fewer choices we get–until we are the Hand of God, the Feet of God, the Puppet of God. I don’t think this is really the case. But depiction in movies and books sometimes have us think characters who are devoted to their god cease to think and act based completely on the commands of God. One should add “the interpretation of what they believe to be” between “on” and “the” in that last sentence. Because in many cases, believers have to do a lot of interpreting.
The movie holds out that question to answer. Certainly Noah has to decide HOW he is hearing God. He gets parts right—there is going to be a flood. God wants him to build an ark. The animals are going to come and get on board the boat. After that, though, Noah is subject to some speculation and extrapolation when he can’t really hear a clear answer from God.
Aronofsky is not afraid to make God a real entity; he is not afraid to represent things in the Bible as they seem to be—the angels cast out of heaven, the unbelievably old people like Methusaleh–close to 1000 years old when the film begins. These are fantasy elements, but Aronofsky plays them straight because believers believe them as fact.
(Full disclosure: As a Christian myself, I tend to believe most of the Bible stories as fact–since all the fantastical elements are explainable through communication and interaction with a god that I don’t fully understand or comprehend. Gods have powers. They can do whatever they want and it happens…so angels from heaven, eternal people, giant massive floods–I’m okay with that. It is my belief.)
Some Christians did not appreciate Noah. At least that’s what I heard. Over here the Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax does a good run down of comparing Christians who loved the film with those who hated it–and why.
I loved the Christianity Today response especially–thoughtful and positive. Not what I expected, but very happy.
My point: Depicting someone’s sacred scripture is never easy. When you are given such meagre bits of story that have been idealized, and in some sense, covered up, when the original sounds like a fable or a fairy tale to begin with, where characters are not that well-drawn, you invite interpretation and imagination. Always a good thing. But a dangerous thing. Where your imagination filled in Noah’s story with THIS, mine filled it in with THAT. And as we’ve talked about here before, interpretation differences fuel arguments when it comes to scripture especially.
What does Noah do right, though, as a film of a sacred story?