Appreciating “Noah”

I remember seeing the “coming soon” poster for the movie “Noah” months ago in a theater. I remember looking at it with my husband, seeing it was not a “Christian” movie, and thinking, is this going to be okay? Is this going to be okay for Christians?

And then the previews started and the marketing and the interviews and articles. It wasn’t okay for a lot of Christians. It still isn’t. And the rebel in me– who gets sad when Christians cut themselves off from conversation– sided with Hollywood.

I love movies. I really love movies. I devoured movies in high school and studied film in college. I find myself thinking and dreaming in plot points and character arcs. Hollywood is magic to me, not an enemy.

And I think “Noah” could have been a Christian moment of grace. But it wasn’t in many cases. I’ve heard so many Christians say they walked out or cried or couldn’t believe what they were seeing on screen. And I’m sad for us as a community that we couldn’t have more grace than that, couldn’t have accepted this movie, even while critiquing it.

I read a bunch of articles about the movie, I watched a few interviews with the director, writers, and cast. And the more I read, the more I wanted to know. When the director, Darren Aronofsky, and writer, Ari Handel, talked about the Jewish midrash they’d read about Noah, I wanted to read it too. When Aronofsky said that the Hebrew word used for God “speaking” to Noah had an underlying meaning of dream-like communication– explaining why God’s messages to Noah in the film were given through dreams and not the voice of God– I thought, Aronofsky knows more about the Bible than I do.  And then I saw the movie.

It is not a perfect movie. And I’m not talking about the Bible here. [Spoiler] I’m not convinced the stow-away storyline was necessary or even interesting. I love a good internal struggle between a man and himself or a man and his beliefs, a man and his god. So I think the movie could have stuck with that powerful narrative of Noah struggling against what God’s told him to do and done without the external antagonist. But that’s me.

There were so many great things here too.

There is so much we don’t know about Noah, his family, and his story from those couple chapters in the Bible. I’ve said before, that oftentimes, we aren’t privileged enough to get a glimpse of the whole person. It’s easy to believe that Noah and Moses and Elijah and so many people from the Bible are heroes. But they weren’t. More often than not, they were simply obedient. They were not superhuman, they were trying hard to follow God despite their own sins and struggles.

Of course we want Noah to be good and blameless, but to say that he didn’t struggle with what God wanted him to do… That’s crazy to me. I think one of the greatest things this film did was to open our eyes to the grief of the flood. I’ve never heard a sermon or read a book about that. (Maybe I’m not listening to the right pastors or reading the right stories.) I’ve seen boat-shaped ark after boat-shaped ark filled with cartoony giraffes and elephants and a nice bearded Noah under a rainbow so many times. It’s enchanting and it’s full of the promise that God made to us that he would never flood the earth again. But that promise was made after God destroyed everything. Imagine. And so few were saved. I’ve never thought about whether I would have been inside the ark or outside the ark until this movie. I’ve never thought about how grieved Noah and his family must have been to walk inside, and close everyone else out, no matter how wicked they were.  I’ve never thought about all those who died, but only those who lived.

It’s nice to protect our children from these ideas by giving them a sweet-faced, bearded man with cartoony giraffes, but when do we stop protecting ourselves?  Aren’t some of us a little old to be believing that this is an easy story to swallow? This movie was not easy to swallow.

“If you read the story of Noah, it’s very straightforward. The character of Noah just builds the ark and collects the animals. But the struggles, the effort of building an ark, of being responsible for all those animals, being responsible for your family, it’s not explored at all. So how exciting to actually say, “Oh wow, here’s this great story, how do we put human emotion into it?”  – Darren Aronofsky, here

We don’t know the whole story. We don’t know the heart of Noah. We don’t know if Noah really understood the message from God perfectly. We don’t know a lot of things. And anyone who attempts to tell the story in a compelling, thorough way will have to fill in blanks.

Hollywood is not an enemy. And contrary to what it sounds like some are saying, not every non-believer is out to twist our scriptures and defame the name of God. I’m willing to bet, most don’t care about our God one way or the other. It’s kind of fanciful to think that everyone in the world is thinking either about how they can glorify God or how they can spit in His face. There are plenty of people who just don’t think He’s there and they don’t care whether or not the rest of us think He is. I don’t think Aronofsky made this movie to persecute us. I mean I could be wrong, but judging from the movie, there was enough research and thought put in there for me to think, he wanted to take this story and make it legendary. And he may have chosen to do that in a much different way than you would have, but that’s okay. [Spoiler] Because maybe Noah really believed he was tasked with ending ALL of humanity, including his own family. We know of other men who took such extreme actions in the name of obeying God: Abraham, Jephthah (from Judges). Maybe Abraham wasn’t the first man to raise a knife to his own family. Or maybe he was. We may never know.

So I don’t appreciate when people tell me, “save your money” on this movie. My money wasn’t wasted. And I don’t appreciate people asking, “what do you expect from Hollywood” as if Hollywood is the enemy.  Hollywood tells a lot of amazing stories, and I think this is one of them. And I believe the existence of this film is not going to keep anyone from God if He calls to them and they seek Him. And I bet there are even some who might find this story so intriguing that they begin taking a closer look.

2 thoughts on “Appreciating “Noah”

  1. I really hear you on this. I lived in a dorm at a Christian liberal arts university when the movie came out, and there was a lot of discussion about it, but the prevailing opinion was that it wasn’t worth seeing. And I thought that was kind of sad, that Christians weren’t looking for ways to be excited that the dominant popular culture is INTERESTED in these stories. At the same time I was reading Not Wanted on the Voyage, by Timothy Findley, which is about as unexpected as a Noah’s Ark interpretation can get, and it was kind of an isolating experience to realize that I was okay with allowing these stories to have space, to have different interpretations, when lots of my Christian friends weren’t. I’m still struggling with an appropriate way to express to my more conservative friends and family that it’s unreasonable to expect popular culture to respect these stories the same way we do, and that it might be necessary to meet Hollywood in the middle.


    1. Thanks for sharing Amy! I struggle with the same things. I really enjoy thinking about the stories from the Bible in new ways, even if I don’t believe they are 100% accurate. For many of them, we will never truly know the whole story, so why not give each other room to explore them. I’ll have to look into that book, it sounds interesting!


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