The other night, my wife and I went to see the new movie Noah. In short, I liked quite a bit about it which I want to share why but it seems most helpful to begin with pre-suppositions and expectations.
If you need a literal re-telling of the Noah story found in say, the NIV/KJV, I’m not sure I know of a movie to recommend. From what I know, all attempts for a literal re-tellings of Scripture come off comical, boring or flat (as in lacking of any creative imagination). I’m not sure any serious reader of Scripture will ever be completely pleased in a screen adaptation of scenes in the Bible.
As I mentioned in my Facebook post:
”…Frankly, it’s very difficult for me to be satisfied with any piece of art that is describing, re-creating, painting, telling, interpreting our sacred Scriptures. Everything from sermon to canvas to film falls short. So given that, what goodness can be found then? And though things like Last Temptation of Christ and “Piss Christ” are offensive, oddly enough, I think this is where some Christian art has failed us as well – because many have settled for a boring and flat retelling of events that our mind’s eye does a far better job with than their storytelling, cinematography, etc. SO, Noah was actually really good for me (not “perfect” mind you). Ok, blog post coming.”
In thinking about this, I found myself wondering why I even wanted to see this movie. It’s wrought with controversy, I don’t need any more and after an intense week, I could really use a laugh. Frankly, would this be worthwhile for the trouble it might cause? I’ll get to that.
Like most, I desire to be fluent with various aspects of culture – you cannot say you love people and not have a deep appreciation for culture and various aspects of it including cross-culture, inter-culture, high culture, even pop-culture. Whatever working context people are creating as they interact with one another is something that interests me.
Does that mean you need to see every movie and every artifact and outlet of culture? Umm no. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t be critical of culture. Personally, my biggest critique of “culture” is that it generally comes up short. While there is so much potential beauty and goodness found in it, it’s part of a broken system but that shouldn’t be a surprise given my Christian understanding of the world (It’s beautiful and broken and in need of redemption).
It was interesting to me that Noah agreed with the first half of that pre-supposition of the beautiful, broken world. You might be able to make a case for redemption in some way but it’s intentionally incomplete. In any case, this either makes me worldly or makes moviemakers like Darren Aronofsky able to see great truth and meaning in the same world I live in. I’m thinking both are somewhat true. But more to the latter, Christian theology calls this God’s natural grace. As in you don’t have to be a Christian to love, paint a sunset and share it with others right? Further, some of us take that piece of art and interpret it by our choosing.
I see God in Radiohead’s nihilism. Some might see God’s absence in Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” This is the gift of free-will which among many things, allows me to appreciate a pop-culture piece in a modern context (in both time and technological form – part of the message is in the media right?) directed by a self-proclaimed atheist. All these aspects confirm to me how great God is. My theology and an appreciation of plurality might have helped me too.
Which further brings me to say, give me a movie by a sincere atheist looking for truth and meaning before an individual who holds my same theological creed but sees his/her calling as a culture-warrior. I’d rather watch the atheist’s film, have a beer with him, maybe even sit next to her in church if they choose. Art with the objective evangelism never works for me, frankly it doesn’t work for anyone. Art speaks, it can inspire and proclaim but when it’s reduced to a tool, some will perceive it as propaganda and it risks failing in the long run. Given that, it also seems fair to asking how sincere was Aronofsky? Maybe we’ll tackle that in a later post.
In any case, I don’t really see the movie theater as a place of evangelism. I don’t need Hollywood to make Christian art. I don’t pray for my sub-culture to be promoted. What I want is for Christ-followers to do the work of the Kingdom. May God bless that work and may the best narrative, the best message, win, inspire and redeem. It’s in this light that I find culture non-threatening in a free society. Censorship and persecution would obviously make it unfair and not free.
I know some might say the Jesus Film is responsible for bringing millions of people to the Christian faith. I see the Jesus Film more as a tool than a piece of art and so I’m not going to critique it as art. Further while I don’t seen it as propaganda, I think we can understand why its detractors might. Still, I’m going to celebrate how God has used it. But I’m also not going to the theater to watch it (though I may support those who use this as a tool). But I think I could make the case that Star Wars has created as much good if not more by allowing people to see the limits of naturalism and make the case that even in galaxies far away, with incredible technology, a long time ago or some point in the future, there is a “force” that transcends the material world. Good stories always trump.
Noah tells me that Christians need to make better movies if they want their message in the cultural space. May my former youth group students, hold me accountable, but every time I encouraged them to explore their God-given callings, I told them we do need more lawyers. doctors, pastors, accountants, home-makers, teachers, even politicians. But we also need more artists, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, non-profit types. We probably have enough televangelists and Christian celebrities – please stop majoring in and pursuing that.
In any case, those are my pre-suppositions, I really did like a lot of the movie and found it to be worthwhile.
And very quickly, a brief description of my expectations for Noah:
I wanted to see great cinematography. You have $120 million!!
I wanted to see an honest treatment to the text. I’m comfortable with artistic liberties, I get midrash (and think we post-evangelicals do something similar), but as subjective as it sounds, I wanted to see an honest and sincere treatment of the story.
I wanted to see good writing and acting.
If this was a gimmick to get a bunch of Christians to the theater to make a profit, I was ready to pan it. I really was.
If this was going to be some weird trojan horse type of thing, I was (and still am) ready to call it out.
And if it turned out that Aronofsky wasn’t really an atheist but a closeted Southern Baptist Christian and this was a rouse, then I was ready to turn him back to an atheist by driving to his house and forcing him to watch the Left Behind movies.
So, all this and I have hardly said a word about the movie. Well, these are my pre-suppositions/expectations Future posts hope to cover my favorite parts of the tension of love and justice, its exploration of Noah’s righteousness, faith, commitment to calling, and his obvious flaws.
Oh and were the “Watchers” extras from the Transformer films? (“Sorry Litmustest Prime, you didn’t get the part, but if you put on this granite costume, I can get you on screen with Russell Crowe.” I think I can hear an agent say that.)
Curious what your pre-suppositions/expectations are. Would love to hear your thoughts.
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