Spoiler alert: If you’re like Frank Castanza and need to go in the movie “fresh” then stop reading.
If you haven’t seen it but already engaged, I’ll do my best to not to ruin it completely for you. If you’ve seen it, would love to discuss.
As mentioned previously, I really liked the movie Noah but among my complaints was that it moved slow. Sometimes the slowness of a movie works like with Drive. But in this case, it was slow and it was difficult to figure out how much time had passed between scenes. If I see it again, maybe I’ll feel different.
I also found the need for the hallucinogens to be annoying as well. I just don’t understand why they were needed to produce Noah’s visions? Earlier in the movie, Noah’s wife, Naameh sprinkles some hallucinogenic pixie dust to help him sleep resulting in his first vision. Then his grandfather Methuselah gives him a drug and he has another. Now my family works a little different but I’ll avoid judging.
My question is why don’t Naameh and Methuselah drug themselves and “vision-check” Noah. “Yes, we too have seen the coming flood!” Then later, when Noah is determined to destroy all new life on the ark, why doesn’t Naameh give him another dose of that hallucinogen so he can seek a vision of clarification? She’s a walking pharmaceutical lab, surely that’s not out of her range and the moment certainly calls for it.
I get it – we have trouble with vision. The purpose of divine vision is a God-given special revelation and it is an act of faith and calling. You might be a prophet, you might be crazy. Oddly, God seems to be speak to all kinds and to complicate it further, all kinds seem to hear from God.
If you know me, you know that I don’t believe that God normally speaks to us with open parking spaces and through the United States Postal Service (though He could). I certainly agree that some times there are naturalistic explanations for things we attribute to God, but there are many cases where naturalism is not sufficient.
But I wonder why the need for the hallucinogenic drugs to induce the visions? If you’re going through the trouble of believing it’s going to rain for 40 days and a gigantic flood is going to drown the world, what’s the problem with a divine vision or two? I was further stymied that the antagonist and the general population believed this catastrophe was going to happen. Have you ever believed in someone else’s hallucinations, let alone your enemy’s or rival’s? And lastly, if you are going to have the “Watchmen”/”rock monsters” then the need to explain the hallucinations with herbs and drugs is inconsistent and simply unnecessary. The same Creator who gave you the “Watchmen” gave Noah the visions.
Unless of course, the point is that God is indeed absent or non-existent and it’s simply easier to believe in “Watchmen” then God. Aronofsky gives us a Noah who has an astute connection with nature, and with the help of the the drugs of creation can further detect extreme weather patterns. If this were the case, we’d require all meteorologists to take whatever hallucinogenic Naameh made to improve their forecast accuracy.
If the point is to undermine the existence of God, it feels counter-productive the moment all the rain comes. I find myself thinking a benevolent God who is near is simply far easier to believe than to jump through all these hoops of naturalistic explanations.
In any case, I found this to be annoying and unnecessary, definitely not a deal-breaker for me. But what saved the movie for me were two things: First the tension of mercy and justice. Second, the search for calling.
Starting with the second.
Noah is convinced that all of humanity is supposed to perish, including himself and his family. He is further convinced that it is their responsibility to have these animals begin a pure creation and repopulate the world. Their job in essence is to open the ark doors, let the animals free, and become the last humans on earth.
This is where we can’t figure out if Noah is crazy or noble and this where we struggle with understanding the difference between accepting divine calling and seeing a violent fanatic. It’s also easier for me to see how he may be mistaken or struggling with certain aspects of his vision (both Aronofsky’s Noah and the Biblical Noah).
In a bizarre plot twist, Noah discovers that his adopted daughter, Ila, is pregnant and that if the baby is a girl, he will be forced to kill her as to prevent the repopulation of the wicked human race. Of course, none of this is Biblical and we cannot help but wonder two things. One is this an echo of Yahweh’s testing of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac or a general commentary on child sacrifices in the ancient world? The hardest thing to give god/God is not yourself but your children.
Andy Crouch’s incredible book Playing God reminds us that idols promise so much, deliver so little, and take away everything. He makes the case that ultimately every idol ends up demanding not just your life but demanding your future, often in the form of your children. In the ancient world, we see child-sacrifices given to “appease the gods” as they say. Today we are a bit more sophisticated, but behind every life destroyed by alcohol, abortion, or any artifact of selfish behavior, we find an array of idols.
Which brings us to ask, does Noah create an idol out of his mission? Pastors do this all the time. Speaking as one, often the Kingdom and our work begin aligned and then for countless reasons ranging from pride to external circumstances, the focus gets foggy and the work becomes channeled to personal gain or agenda. This is a form of idolatry and it seems fair to say that we all struggle with it in some or another.
Calling can be polluted by our own hearts. Russell Crowe’s Noah changes after visiting the camp of Tubal-Cain and seeing their wickedness (which was an excellent depiction of ancient human evil). It’s also here where he sees his own wickedness.
It’s been my experience and observation that even the most righteous amongst us get aspects of our calling wrong. Because calling doesn’t come in an instant. It unfolds throughout our life. And even the most sincere heart can get lose its perspective. We see this throughout our Scriptures, giants of faith later taking severe missteps of selfishness, then repenting and trusting God again. We see this in our lives. Fully convinced that we are to do something specific and later compromising our convictions. Maybe we re-consider the cost, maybe we lose our rhythm of prayer, maybe a sophisticated idol distracts us.
There are no secret steps in finding calling (at least none that I know anyway). However, it seems the more humble and prayerful the heart, the less polluted the focus becomes and further, the calling is unfolds with greater clarity.
In fact, it’s often in the moments that require the greatest of sacrifice, the deepest of prayers, and the overthrowing of our idols that we see clearly again. This is what happens with Noah at the crucial moment of the movie. Which brings us to the tension of love and justice that I’ll post about soon.
Though I prefer the idea of calling over visions, they are tricky topics and Aronofsky’s treatment was thought-provoking. Yes, if only finding either were as easy as getting some magic dust sprinkled over you and going to sleep. Until Merck creates it, let’s stick to prayer and reflection.