Is ‘Noah’ movie worthwhile?

06/28/2014 12:00 AM

06/27/2014 12:57 PM

The Rev. Perry Sukstorf, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church: What everyone wants to know: Yes, I did see “Noah.” No, I didn’t hate it.

There has been lots of conversation about this movie, and I wanted to have a first-hand appraisal of it before I formed an opinion on it, one way or the other, especially since the conversations were so polarizing.

Because the account of Noah in the Bible is very short (perhaps less than today’s column), you can only assume that if you are going to make a movie about him, there will have to be a lot added to the biblical account.

Add to this that Noah has no lines to speak in the text until after the flood has subsided, and you can see how much room for variance there would be in any cinematic presentation worth spending your time and money on.

And that certainly was the case. From the interesting, miraculous backstory of Shem’s wife (and the lack of wives for Ham and Japeth) to the stowaway plot twist, all these creative additions sum up to a family conflict that moves the story forward in a way that just isn’t in any of the traditional accounts of the flood event.

I suspect it is these fabrications and deletions that make many Christians a little squeamish when we the watch the film.

But the movie never pretends to retell the story of the Bible. From its own promotional materials, its makers seek to convey biblical themes in an artistic way that will allow people to wrestle with the story and what meaning it has for us today.

I think the producers should be commended for accomplishing this goal, in that the themes explored were those that most people can identify with: The depravity of human kind (the innate sinfulness that dwells in us all manifested most often in greed and self-centeredness), the righteousness demanded by God and the justice he requires of those who sin.

The most courageous theme that comes out of this movie, however, is the hope that stems from God’s faithfulness to those who love him. As a Christian pastor, it is very easy for me to say that this faithful nature of God is what assures us that when he sent Jesus as our savior, I can be certain that he won’t renege on that promise.

In the movie, this was played out by the subplot of Shem’s child being born on the ark when Noah had assumed that God wanted humanity to die with his sons’ generation. (Shem’s wife was thought to be barren in the movie.)

What bugged me? That God had no voice. Noah was forced to wrestle with what God’s will really was for him based on a dream, when the text says God spoke with Noah. In the movie, Noah was forced to wrestle with the question of whether or not God would demand that Noah put the child to death.

To me, this seemed to be pandering to the postmodern notion that God and his word can be whatever I decide them to be, and he only behaves in ways I desire that he should behave, and his words only say what I find to be unobjectionable. In other words, each of us formulates a God that is, basically, a celestial, eternal version of ourselves.

Sounds like an idol to me. While not unexpected from a Hollywood adaptation of a biblical narrative, it is still disappointing. God is certainly better than anything we can dream up, don’t you think?

The Rev. Penny Ellwood, Blue Springs campus pastor, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection: I was excited when I heard filmmaker Darren Aronofsky was bringing the epic story of Noah to the big screen. However, I’ll have to say I came away from the theater disappointed.

It’s not that I read the story of Noah as literal history. Like many mainline scholars, I understand the story as an archetypal one. A traditional story reclaimed from an ancient culture and retold to teach us something about our creator God and God’s relationship with humanity.

In Aronofsky’s film, Noah receives a vision that God is going to cover the Earth with a flood that will destroy a corrupt humanity. Noah is to build an ark to protect “the innocents” from complete destruction. In this case, “the innocents” are the animals alone. Noah is convinced that God has decided that humanity is beyond redemption. Yet, Noah struggles when it comes to sealing the procreative future of his own family.

I appreciated Aronofsky’s portrayal of the psychological toll these events would have taken on Noah and his family. Inherently, in Noah’s struggle we see more clearly the struggle our creator God has with us, his children.

In the end, Noah isn’t able to kill off his family line, and his progeny are left to continue the race of humanity, though we presume from his reaction this may be an imperfect process.

The problems I had with the movie came with some of Aronofsky’s creative license.

The character of Noah’s grandfather with his mystical powers and the storyline of the fallen angels who became rock monsters that helped to build the ark pushed it way over the top for me.

I was also disappointed at the end, when Aronofsky left out the covenantal sign from God, the rainbow that reminds us this will never happen again. God will not abandon nor seek to destroy humanity in this way again.

This omission left the impression that our future rests in the hands of humans, not God. With no rainbow, there was not the hope that I wanted to leave the theater with. Call me a sap, but I love a movie with a happy ending.

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