This is not a review of Noah. As of this writing, I have not seen it. It could be the greatest film of all time; it could be the worst. When I get the chance to see it, I will review it.
Instead, I’d like to focus on some of the wrong writing ups I’ve seen about the film. There are a lot of people who seem personally offended that the movie exists. To them, it is a vicious insult that shows how America is eroding away from the Christian nation it never was. Most of the criticisms appear in one easy to find place – this article from TIME magazine.
That was written by Ken Ham, who you may remember for making a fool of himself in front of Bill Nye by claiming the universe was only a few thousand years old and pulling scientific concepts out of that magical place where the sun doesn’t shine. He seems greatly offended by the fact that the film does not follow the biblical story of Noah literally. According to Ham, Noah adds some environmental themes that were not originally in the story and adds some pagan elements that of course are not compatible with Christianity. He finds it “anti-biblical” because it does not tell the “true” story of Noah.
There are several things wrong with this approach. First, it assumes that filmmakers are required to create direct translations of the source material they are adapting. Anything else is (forgive the pun) sacrilege. This is wrong – by watching a film, you are watching the filmmaker’s interpretation of the events. Noah is no more “correct” than any of Cecil B DeMille’s epics. Second, Ken’s article assumes that any interpretation of the Bible that differs from ones own somehow destroys the original Bible. This is also wrong. Ignoring whether or not the Noah story is literally true, films are not about facts. They are about emotions and thoughts. Your interpretation of The Bible is not destroyed because someone else disagrees. It remains on your shelf to be read and reread at your leisure. Finally, Ken’s belief also assumes there is only one interpretation of the Bible. Philosophers have been wrestling with what it says for centuries and people far smarter than I am have arrived at many different conclusions. To say that this film does not match biblical truth is to assume that you KNOW what that truth is. That’s quite egotistical. How can you claim to tell people the truth when there is no recognized truth?
I’m going to take each of these in order. The first part is the easiest, because I have dealt with it so many times before. People operate under the mistaken belief that films are photocopies of stories. Whatever was in the book/play/short story/painting/weird dream you had must be present in the film. Otherwise, the film is automatically bad. This is not true – in fact, the opposite is true. I’ll once again use the Harry Potter as an example because everyone seems to. The first two films in that franchise were terrible. They were not willing to explore the world of the books but instead stuck closely to them. As a result, they were pointless.
Obviously, the Bible is far more important than Harry Potter. But the point still stands. Aronofsky has never said that his film was meant to be a literal interpretation of the Biblical story. He took away something different from it than you did. That is his job as a filmmaker. He is showing his point of view regarding the story. And, honestly, he’s been more forward about it than many other filmmakers when they adapt things for the screen.
The second point relates to the first. Just because Aronofsky’s view disagrees with your own does not mean he must be silenced or that he is attacking you. Do you still hold onto your own view? Ken Ham does – he wrote an entirely article about it in a widely popular magazine. So what exactly did Aronofsky do to Ham to cause this reaction?
From what I’m seeing, absolutely nothing. Ham is free to hold onto his ideas and beliefs as long as he wishes. If he’s worried that a film is going to change them, all that means is that those ideas are not as deeply held in his psyche as he would like to believe. It has nothing to do with the film itself.
The third point is the most difficult and the most controversial. I do not claim to be a theologian so I cannot hope to discuss everything about the Bible. But I do know that there have been many interpretations of it and that no one can agree on what happened. That’s why there are so many denominations in the world today. And this is not even discussing how the Bible has changed over the course of the millennia it has existed. It has gone through translations, mistranslations, additions, and subtractions. So, when he talks about biblical truth, I don’t really know what that is. Is the truth the books t hat was only deemed worthy of inclusion by the Council of Nicea? Is it the text that is only included in the King James Version? Do we have to go back and read it in the original Hebrew? Ken doesn’t say, but I think those are questions that cannot be ignored. Again, Aronofsky added things to what is traditionally thought to be in the biblical story. So what? He has surrendered himself and acknowledged that fact countless times. Ham has not, but if he wants to lecture us on the Bible, he needs to be prepared to face that truth.
I don’t know what Aronofsky’s film does and whether it is successful. But I think that those who go in expecting it to be an exact representation of how you view the biblical story are wrong. Like any other thing, The Bible is open to interpretation. Aronofsky has done that with Noah. That interpretation is what all religion is based on. Those who say that, “your view is not the same as mine, therefore you must be condemned” have committed a far greater sin than Aronofsky.