The release of Darren Aronofsky's epic blockbuster Noah, starring Russell Crowe has caused more than a few waves in the Christian community. Their chief beef? It's not "biblical." From extrabiblical additions -- altering the long-perceived personality of Noah himself as a humble Ark-builder and the fact that the word "God" is never actually mentioned -- has led many to a boycott of the movie.
In the midst of their arguments, they fail to mention that the biblical book of Esther doesn't mention the name of God either, or God Himself, or prayer. The writer (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) chose to tell the story in a way that left God's fingerprints without ever mentioning His name.
Even so, Hollywood misses the mark again. Or at least that's the way some see it. And while it's rather obvious when a director's interpretations border on blasphemy (like The Last Temptation of Christ), we take refuge in the shelter of Cecile B. Demille's wings (Ten Commandments) or Jesus of Nazareth or The Passion of the Christ. What we fail to see with our preconceived blinders on is that all these movies added storyline, characters and even truth to fill in the blanks of the biblical account, giving it more of a multidimensional feel.
Newsflash: The Bible was written as a book. We as Christians believe it is inspired and without error. God didn't need a movie to tell His story because He was telling it in real life. Movies are artistic recreations, adaptations and interpretations. Several years ago I wrote a biography of a young man widely considered considered to be the greatest walk-on in Div 1 college football. His story has now been made into a movie (Greater, Fall 2014). Those who have read the book and who see the movie may notice some differences, though the story remains faithfully portrayed in film.
Now I get why some Christians are upset at Noah. They want and expect an exact rendering of Scripture's account portrayed on the big screen. Perhaps they wanted Hollywood to undo what the Church has done to Noah and the Ark for the past 50 years -- turn a dark, R-rated, horrific tale of judgment and world annihilation into a cartoon story for kids in children's ministries. I'm sure Noah appreciates his life work and legacy being reduced to smiling cartoon animals walking onto a big boat.
I also find it ironic that some of the same people blasting Noah were the ones encouraging churches to watch and discuss The Da Vinci Code, another movie flirting with blasphemy and degrading the divine character of Jesus. "Engage culture," they urged. "Start conversations and discussions after seeing the movie," they encouraged.
I also get that we Christians like our Bible stories true to the text. That makes sense. But even Christian filmmakers are forced to take liberties (no one knows what Jesus really looks like, not even the kid who claims to have visited Him in Heaven recently.)
The Bible is an amazingly creative book, but like any print-to-film project, you have to fill in the gaps (audio, soundtrack, character development, dialogue, cinematography, supportive cast, etc). And in doing so, there is a degree of creative license taken to transform words on a page into a multi-sensory, audio-visual experience. At times moviemakers add too much interpretation, thus prompting the well-worn theater-exit statement,
"The book was waaay better."
Hey, it's just a movie; in this case the director is a self-proclaimed atheist. So are you really surprised he didn't "get it ALL right"? But does he get anything right? Some Christian leaders who have actually seen the movie say he did here.
Some Christians allow others do their thinking for them when it comes to cultural issues like this. That's tragic. They proclaim, "I wont give my money to an atheist director!" Really? Do you give your money to the atheist grocery store manager or gas station owner?
Sure you do.
"But I'm uncomfortable with the way Noah portrays the story." Okay, but since when did God promise to make our lives comfortable? We live in a fallen world, and as we interact with it (as we are commanded to do), we experience tension regarding our faith. That's the norm, not the exception.
It all boils down to your expectations and convictions. If you expect a Sunday Sermon, you'll walk away from Noah very disappointed. If you go expecting to be inspired by a man of faith who prepared an Ark to save a remnant of humanity from the Creator's global judgment, you might be satisfied. If you buy a ticket to envision some of what Noah's world may have looked like and the worldwide display of depravity portrayed in Genesis 6, you could actually appreciate it. And what if the core message of Noah remains intact in this movie? What then? However, even if you conclude it's not, are we still able to use this as an opportunity to talk about the Bible? Are we not prepared to see it and judge for ourselves? Can we not follow Jesus' and Paul's example to engage culture rather than running from it?
So it seems there is a choice to be made. Instead of griping and boycotting our way into eternity, why not redeem the good things in culture and media. A sort of "eat the meat and throw away the bones" approach. Maybe through doing this, we may even change a few minds as well. Your call.
I am going to see Noah. And though, as someone with a Master of Theology degree and 30 years Bible teaching experience, I fully expect to find discrepancies and errors. I'm just looking for the core message to come through. If that happens, I can feel pretty good about it.
Even if the book is still "waaay better."