I was just a young boy when I fell in love with the Bible.
I fell in love with the words. I fell in love with the stories. I fell in love wth the teachings. I fell in love with the way it made me feel more connected to my creator and more connected to the world in which I lived.
Oh sure, I was a young boy and I sure didn't understand everything about the Bible but I truly, truly loved it.
As I was sitting in the movie theater watching director Darren Aronofsky's epic and inspiring re-telling of the story of Noah, I was reminded time and time again of those childhood days I spent reading the Bible in my bedroom and thinking and feeling and wondering and, perhaps much like Aronofsky has done here, filling in the empty spaces of the Bible's captivating stories with my own thoughts, feelings, imagination, and beliefs.
How could one not get lost in one's imagination while reading accounts such as Adam and Eve, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion's Den, David & Goliath and so many others.
I wondered about these people. I wondered about their lives. I wondered about their faith. I wondered about their strengths and I wondered about their weaknesses.
I wondered about Noah. While watching Noah, I wondered about Darren Aronofsky wondering about Noah because this is a film that, perhaps far moreso than the vast majority of biblically based films, not only tells the story but courageously and with tremendous vulnerability dares to imagine the unspoken truths and deeper meanings underneath what has far too often been glossed over as a powerful yet placid children's story reduced to cartoon graphics on bedroom walls.
In this Noah, Russell Crowe portrays Noah in a way that makes it among the most honest portrayals of a biblical character to be shown in a Hollywood film because it portrays a man both faithful to the task into which he's been called yet also a man who is traumatized by this calling and, perhaps, even scarred by the events as they unfold.
For weeks, the faith-based community of moviegoers has been up in arms as bits and pieces leaked out about the dramatic license being taken by Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel, despite no one having seen the film. In the days preceding the film's release, I have seen time and again Christians declaring their opposition to the film. As Christians, we often say that we want to find creative and meaningful ways to tell the stories and teach the lessons that are most meaningful to us. Yet, far more often than not this has resulted in cinematic releases that preach to the choir and sell a sugar-coated spirituality far removed from the real world.
When someone like Darren Aronofsky comes along, we cower from the fear that our sacred stories will somehow be reduced to Hollywood drivel and the God to whom we've dedicated our lives will be mocked.
In other words, far too often these stories that we've long loved have become truly nothing more than stories rather than the living and breathing testimonies and lessons they are meant to be.
Does this mean that Aronofsky doesn't take dramatic license with the story of Noah?
No, it doesn't. By allowing his heart and mind to wander and wonder, Aronofsky and Handel have crafted a deeply meaningful and significant story that is faithful in tone and spirit to the biblical story of Noah while also digging deeper, imagining further, and creates a more expansive world. This means, for example, that Aronofsky includes the presence of Cain (Ray Winstone) and Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), a biblical figure not found in the story of Noah. Likewise, Ila (Emma Watson), is a character whose presence isn't just some Hollywood creation for dramatic effect but whose purpose helps to address one of the biggest theological questions to come out of the Great Flood - How did the Earth get re-populated?
In fact, that's the beauty of Noah. For every seemingly "Hollywood" driven choice that Aronofsky makes, Noah somehow makes you understand its purpose and meaning. There is one choice, in particular, that seems to have people of faith particularly upset and that would be what has been represented as "rock people," actually called "The Watchers" in the film. While it may seem scandalous to add what seems to be a cartoonish character to one of the Bible's most cherished stories, the choice is yet another of Aronofsky's well researched and thought-provoking decisions. Inspired by "The Book of the Watchers" from the non-canonical "Book of Enoch," these "rock people" are actually the fallen angels referenced in Genesis 6:4. For Aronofsky, "The Watchers" are a way to understand and explain key elements of Noah's story.
It is true, as well, that Noah is a staunchly pro-environmental film, with much of what drives Noah's faithfulness being the awareness that man has destroyed all the good that God created. Likewise, it is very much this line of thinking that leads Noah to questioning his own family's survival.
Noah is not a troubling film, though it is a challenging and thought-provoking film. Noah is not a faith-based film, though it is unquestionably inspired by faith and wonder and curiosity. Noah is not a paint-by-numbers retelling of the scriptures with which you've become so familiar, but instead a well researched and soul searching film that asks hard questions, imagines hard answers, seeks understanding, and explores the true meanings of justice and mercy. Russell Crowe gives a powerful and complex performance as Noah, Jennifer Connelly shines as his wife Naameh, Emma Watson embodies innocence and miracles as Ila, Anthony Hopkins is light and wonderful and Methuselah, and the rest of the ensemble cast is just as strong and clearly in touch with Aronofsky's vision for the film.
Noah may very well be one of the first films since Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ to resonate with both believers and non-believers, because it's a film that makes one think and feel and, yes, wonder. It's the kind of film that makes you leave the theater and want to read the biblical account for yourself, an act I did for myself after which I found myself once again reflecting on the story of Noah and all it means for me and for the world in which I live.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic