Monday, May 12, 2014

Noah: a film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for May 2014, of Noah.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“[The Bible] should be a living, breathing document. That’s what it should be.”
Director of Noah

The internet has been flooded with criticism of the Noah movie, with Christian, Jewish and Moslem commentators united in their condemnation of director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan and Pi) portrayal of Noah. Even before release, it was banned in Indonesia, accused of negatively portraying a person revered by Islam as a prophet. It is yet another indication of the complex relationships between faith and film.

The Noah story takes up four chapters and ninety seven verses between Genesis 6 and 9. In the Biblical narrative, Noah never speaks, a silent, obedient partner before an active, speaking God.

In contrast, the movie runs over two hours, with Noah (Russell Crowe) centre stage, righteous, determined, desperate to protect the world from evil. God becomes a background character, absent since creation, now speaking only occasionally, obliquely, through dream and prophet (Methuselah, played by Anthony Hopkins).

In the space between four chapters of writing and two hours of cinematography lies enormous potential for controversy to blossom. On one side stand the watchers of historical accuracy, on the other those intrigued by creative imagination.

The movie does good work in regard to some aspects of the Biblical narrative. The double Genesis stories, that of dominion in Genesis 1, is artfully set against that of creation care in Genesis 2. It is a tension that runs throughout the entire film. The telling of the creation story is a graphical feast, a scene that will undoubtedly become a regular introduction to readings of Genesis 1 in churches in the years to come. Another commendable feature is the portrayal of the power of blessing. This patriarchal act is central to the Genesis stories and to significant shifts in the Noah movie. These features show a commendable sensitivity to the Biblical narrative.

Equally commendable are the strong female roles played by Jennifer Connelly (Naameh, Noah’s wife) and Emma Watson (Ila, Noah’s adopted daughter). There is much imaginative work by Darren Aronofsky to insert humanity into the sparseness of the Biblical telling.

Simultaneously, the portrayal of the relationship between God and humanity invites question. The movie deals in casual cliché, offering a simple polarity between judgement and mercy. What sort of God would contemplate drowning all of humanity?

It is a stark reminder that Biblically, the Noah narrative is no Sunday school feel-good animal story. Instead, it is a searching examination of how to deal with the ever-present reality of human sin.

For Christians the question is never resolved by a white dove with a leaf in its mouth. Rather, the relationship between judgement and mercy is redefined by redemption. In the work of Jesus, both the optimistic belief in human goodness and the self-righteous search for purity are nailed to a cross. In the birth of a New Adam, the old has gone, a new is come.

In the end Noah, succeeds as art. It finds ways to engage the Bible as a living, breathing document. It honours a narrative committed to an uncompromising exploration of the complexity of being living, breathing humans located on a living, breathing earth in relationship to a living, breathing God.

Posted by steve at 08:44 AM

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Steve, I had heard some people saying it was a waste of time going and didn’t have anything to do with the Biblical story. I will try and see it now!

    Comment by Jo Smalbil — May 12, 2014 @ 9:13 am

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