The reaction from many friends who have seen Darren Aronofsky’s Noah can pretty much be summed up as, “What the heaven was that?” They walked away disappointed, frustrated, and even angry at the movie. When I ask friends why they have disliked the movie so intensely, reactions have generally been that it did not reflect the Biblical account closely enough. While using the bathroom in the theater after I saw the movie, I heard one guy (who I did not know from Adam) mutter to no one in particular, “I don’t remember any rock monsters in my Bible.” Can’t argue with that one.
In fact, some Christians have walked away suspicious of the movie. Where did this stuff come from? One article I’ve seen circulating on Twitter among Christians is this one from Dr. Brian Mattson. He pulls out a number of significant parallels to Kabbalistic, Gnostic teachings that appear throughout the movie. Further, he berates pastors and Christian leaders for not seeing these influences and actively peddling the movie for studios (to which I would say, shame on pastors for peddling anything for studios). At the same time, I’m not entirely convinced of the connections he makes. Especially after reading this Jew’s take on the likely influences of Jewish Midrashes on the film, which explains the “zohar” in a far more banal light than Dr. Mattson gives. Then here’s an interview of one of the screen-writers defending their take. He sort of sidesteps the question about gnostic texts, but he also explains some of the details of the movie in a way that contradicts Dr. Mattson’s gnostic interpretation.
So is it really a veiled screed to gnostic teachings or not? Actually, I think that’s the wrong question to ask. Sure, I think it behooves Christians to know who is making a movie (and thus what his or her likely influences are) before trying to understand a film. But it should have been pretty apparent, despite the marketing of studios towards Christians before the movie was released, that Noah was never going to be a Christian movie. At best it’s simply a movie based on the story of Noah. Why, after all, would the Jewish, atheist director of The Fountain and Black Swan make anything remotely Christian? I think Christians would be better off going into any theater today assuming that 99% of the movies showing are not Christian (and be suspicious of that 1% that might be), regardless of who Hollywood markets it to (I’m looking at you, Heaven Is For Real). Movie studios don’t make movies for our edification, they make them for profit. As such, they prey upon the interests of as many people as possible. It just so happens that Christians are some of those people.
I think the better question for Christians to ask, when going into any mass-produced entertainment or art, is, “Where is the Gospel in this?” We need to be asking this question when watching anything from Fast and Furious 6 to Gravity. Because at some level all of these films say something about what we believe as a culture. Sometimes there’s nothing redeemable about a film (I think Saw might qualify here). Sometimes, a bit of Imago Dei is peeking through the celluloid. I hope that Christians would walk into theaters like the Apostle Paul walked onto Mars Hill; provoked at idolatry, but seizing the opportunity to use the frame of reference our culture has (idol worship) to point to something greater. I feel like many Christians today only seem to be able to say, “This isn’t Christian,” and they effectively stop short at that. Well, duh. Can you imagine if that had been Paul’s approach in Athens? Instead, he looked around at the idols and said, “You have an idol to an unknown God. Your philosophers say that in this unknown God we move and have our being. I think they’re right. Here’s why.” He took the raw materials of his culture and pointed somewhere infinitely greater with it. That’s redemptive.
So regardless of what Noah might be about from the perspective of the filmmakers (even if it is Gnosticism, which is debatable), how can Christians redeem it? How can they use what the film offers and draw out the themes that point to the Gospel? Because if we don’t do that, people are going to make their own conclusions anyway. In the meantime, I think our culture has had plenty of experience hearing what Christians don’t believe in. Can we use what they consume (and worship) to point to what we do believe? Here’s a review that I felt did this well, acknowledging the liberties that Aronofsky took, but looking for the “beautiful, divine truths” that might be in the film. I felt like Christianity Today’s review of the film was a reasonable analysis with an aim towards the kind of cultural exegesis and redemption that I’m talking about (no surprise, considering Andy Crouch is their “editor at large”). The “For Further Reading” bit at the end of the review has more solid discussion at the end of the article. This is good reflection.
The fact is, many movies offer this kind of opportunity, but none more so than Noah. How often does a movie touching on Biblical material come out in the theater that Christians and non-Christians alike actually want to see? And indeed, the makers of the YouVersion Bible app have seen a 300% increase in searches for Noah’s story in the Bible. While we’re busy being disgusted or angry about Aronofsky’s take, people want to know more. Let’s not miss that opportunity for this movie, or any other movie for that matter.