some thoughts on Noah, God’s Not Dead and art [part 1]
When it comes to art in the Christian sub-culture, one of the greatest challenges is not being able to
being willing to take off your critical thinking hat. When I teach The Gospel in the Movies classes, the most important “rule” I have is that film is art. It is not a moral guide for our lives or a truth to patterns our life after. This is true of art that has the label “Christian” too.
Before I delve into this topic, I think it’s important to point out that there should not be the labels of “sacred” and “secular.” I will use those terms for ease of communication to you in this post, but know that I believe all things are sacred, because all people were created in the image of God. That makes them sacred. When we put the label of “secular” on something, it automatically devalues it in the mind of a Christian. This is elitist and arrogant, but also disregarding God as the creator of the universe.
All art is viewed through a person’s own worldview grid, whether they understand what that is or not. And as a Christ-follower, that grid should not change because something has a distinctly Christian slant on it (i.e. God’s Not Dead). But it all too often does. We excuse poor writing, poor production value and poor acting because it is “Christian” and therefore, “sacred.” We judge all “secular” art by a moral standard first, and often ignore the good qualities. I have a significant problem with this. This is why the 2nd rule in my classroom is that we affirm the art first and critique it second.
Noah is a visually interesting piece of art. However, a bit of a narrative mess artistically. Some sloppy writing and even sloppier dialogue… I felt like I was watching pieces of several stories get “band aided” together. Some friends have expressed that the story of Noah as written in the 4 chapters in Genesis would have made just as compelling a story. I disagree. The story would have fallen flat by the standards we currently have for epic Hollywood movies. (But I imagine we would have disregarded that because it is “Christian,” right?)
To make the story of Noah compelling and remain faithful to scripture would have required an emphasis on Noah and his relationship with God (I had no problem with Noah calling him Creator in the movie, after all, God himself doesn’t give his people his name until Exodus) and an emphasis on the covenant. While I would have LOVED to see how Aronofsky would have handled that angle as a director, there is not a single non-believer in Hollywood who would ever take that risk. A covenantal relationships between God and humans is a foreign concept in our individualist culture today.
There are two main places where I give affirmations for Noah:
1.) The emphasis on our sin. Noah made it clear and the movie truly emphasized that what had gone wrong with the world was OUR fault. For once, God not portrayed as a homicidal manic and humans are not seen as innocent in the disaster.
2.) I felt like I got an inside look of how an obviously very creative non-believer would interpret about the things left unsaid in scripture about the story. While the majority of them were completely crazy (Methusaleh and the berries? The barrenness of Shem’s wife? Noah’s birthright with the snakeskin? Huh?) I enjoyed seeing Aronofsky’s interpretation of certain elements: namely the Watchers, Noah’s drunkenness. While they may be off-base, I still find them interesting. And I wholeheartedly believe that movies give us insight into what non-Christians are thinking and feeling.
Obviously, lots of liberties were taken with the story and it was not what we Christians love to call “faithful to the text.” But does that make the art of the film any less interesting? No. What is does is create concern that people who don’t know the story from the Bible taking the movie as truth. I don’t know that this is prevailing, but I do hope it drove people into the Word to find out what was actually recorded.
Where I challenge the movie:
1.) I wholeheartedly believe in caring for the environment and the church has, historically, viewed the good stewardship and care for this earth has a “liberal” issue, and to some that translates as “unbiblical.” (I will not open that can of worms right now.) Noah’s regard for the land was honorable and right, but so was Tubal-Cain’s monologue about us being given dominion. The movie chose one side as right and the other as wrong, when in fact they are both right. We CAN and SHOULD have dominion over the animals and the earth while simultaneously caring for it well.
2.) The complete disregard for the covenantal aspect of the story is the biggest missed opportunity in a film I’ve ever seen. I am far more bothered by this than other criticisms I have of the movie.
In general, I’ve been disappointed with how people have responded to the film, particularly those who are critical from a “it’s not faithful” standpoint. The story of Noah is fantastical and dark. For goodness sake, it’s about genocide! The fact that people use it to decorate the nurseries of their children disturbs me a little.
The story of Noah is one of many in scripture that reminds us of God’s wrath and his compassion. Which I think might be one of the most significant problems with the movie narratively: Noah is the hero of the story, not God.
That said, I had far more negative feelings about God’s Not Dead than I did of Noah. But that’s another post for another time.