Noah on the big screen

In 2014, Russell Crowe will be starring in Darren Aronofsky’s film adaptation of Noah’s Ark.  The film is intended to be a “Biblical Epic,” along the lines of The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur and boasts a star-studded cast including Emma Watson and Anthony Hopkins alongside Crowe.  While Biblical films of the past have stayed fairly accurate to the original texts, Noah is drawing flack from Christians in Hollywood who claim that it depicts Noah as more of a preservationist tree-hugger than a religious figure.  People such as screenwriter Brian Godawa are severely disappointed after reading the script, claiming that the film portrays Noah as an, “environmentalist wacko,” and a, “vegan, hippy-like gatherer of herbs.”


Personally, I disagree with the film’s critics.  While I see where they are coming from, and I would agree with the fact that Hollywood’s interpretation of the Bible may not be ideal, I would argue that the exposure to the Bible that this film offers is actually a good thing.  The filmmakers will no doubt take their fair share of artistic liberties with the story. In fact, if Godawa’s review of the script has any validity, the film will hardly be based on religion at all.  However, Noah will not only draw the audience’s attention to a Biblical story, but will also have independent positive messages to imply.


The film might not be the perfect interpretation of its Biblical inspiration, but frankly, “loosely based” on Scripture is as good as it is going to get for a big budget Hollywood film.  The screenwriters may take a more postmodern, environmentalist approach to the narrative, with Noah portrayed as somebody who cares for the earth and protects it from those who do it harm, but isn’t that what God calls us to do in the first place?


Even though the film suggests that the Earth, rather than God, is the object of Noah’s worship, is it not a Biblical message that we ought to be stewards of God’s creation?  The fact of the matter is that no Hollywood big-shot in the modern film industry is going to set out to tell a Biblical story exactly how it was originally written.


Hollywood can be a hostile environment to Christianity, and the fact that a film of such epic proportions is being based (albeit freely interpreted) on Biblical text is a shock in and of itself. At least the writers of the film are not seeking to twist the story into something that directly opposes Scripture, and for that reason, I see no reason to complain.


Godawa says is best when he points out, “If you were expecting a Biblically faithful retelling of the story of the greatest mariner in history and a tale of redemption and obedience to God you’ll be sorely disappointed.”  However, if one were to go into the film knowing full well that it is not a literal interpretation of the Bible, they might find that it makes some valid statements about the importance of conserving the Earth.  I would agree that a filmmaker taking all sorts of liberties with a sacred text is probably not the best idea in the world, but a horde of angry Christians is not going to stop the production of this film.  Instead, the Christian community ought to look at it with a critical eye, acknowledge that it is not necessarily Biblically accurate, but also recognize the fact that it is promoting some Biblical ideas such as preservation of God’s creation, persistence in the face of adversity, and a faithful obedience that will not die despite what society has to say about it.


The way in which Christians respond to this film will lie solely in their expectations.  If they go to the movies expecting to see a Sunday school version of Noah’s Ark with cute little animals lining up two-by two, they are probably going to be pretty angry.  However, if they go into the movie willing to realize that the Bible is a historical text which can be interpreted in countless ways, they may be quite pleased with the darker, more human side of Noah which is depicted.


Aronofsky has said that he hopes to capture some of the more realistic aspects of Noah’s story, such as survivor’s guilt, which could lead to a truly thought provoking film regardless of its not-so-strict adherence to the traditional interpretation of the Bible.  Noah will be, without a doubt, the topic of much discussion within Christian circles.  Some will consider it an atrocity, others will take its postmodern messages with a grain of salt and appreciate the more edifying aspects of the film.


As for me, I see nothing wrong with the use of a Bible story to encourage people inside and outside the Church to take better care of God’s creation.  The message of the original text may be taken slightly out of context, but I doubt there is a student on this campus who has not vehemently agreed with a preacher who used Scripture outside of its original context.  Personally, I look forward to seeing a non-Christian take on the story, and I am just thankful that it is not directed by Michael Bay, because making the Ark a Transformer might be crossing the line.