Why I Loved "Noah"

Can you stand reading another Christian post about “Noah”?  I’ll be brief.  OK–maybe “love” is a bit too strong a word:  I would have loved the movie if it weren’t so long and bloated [the bane of all Hollywood epics], but, as it was, I did really, really like it–and here’s why.  [Oh, and there are spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet & want to be surprised, come back and read this post after you’ve seen it.]

First, it wasn’t a retelling of the biblical story, which I know is why some Christians were both disappointed and angry.  But frankly, for my money, what we got was something better: not a retelling, but an attempt to explain what the story means, and why it matters still today.  [In that sense, I felt like it was something along the lines of Jewish Midrash, the wonderful body of work that seeks to interpret biblical stories and “fill in the gaps” as it were, of the biblical text.  So, for example, the movie answers the question on which the Bible is silent:  “How was it that the animals didn’t fight on the ark?”  Noah and his family had a mixture of herbs that they burned that kept the animals asleep.]  I especially appreciated that attempt with this particular story, which we have turned into a children’s fable, complete with smiling coupled figurines and a perfect rainbow. It looks nice, but it doesn’t mean anything–it doesn’t make any sense, theologically, when viewed that way, because the fact is, it’s about as far from a children’s story as you can find in the Bible.  There is terror and horror in this story:  horror for creation, horror for humanity, and especially, horror for Noah.  There’s reason why when Noah finally gets off the ark, the first thing he does after building an altar to God is to get drunk and pass out naked.

One of the main theological issues the story wrestles with is the tension between “innocence” and “wickedness.”  Noah becomes convinced that God is going to destroy the world by water [Another great aspect of the movie, I think, is that Noah isn’t always sure what God wants of him–there is no clear divine voice from heaven, and Noah has to try and sort out what he’s being called to do.  Yeah, I get that.], and that God is calling him to build an ark to “save the innocent.”  This does not include humanity, of course:  we get plenty of evidence [more than one needs, really] that human beings–led by Tubal-cain [look it up–I had to] have degenerated into monsters; and not because they have given themselves over to debauchery but because they are threatening the very existence of the whole world itself.  It’s pride here that stands out–the desire to take God’s place and be like God:  “having dominion” and “subduing” are pursued with a vengeance.  [Tubal-cain actually has a pretty big role in the movie:  he is human hubris personified.]

But, as Noah discovers, it’s not so easy to separate out the wicked from the innocent, and he comes to see that he and his family also are implicated in the sin of humanity [Ham has it the worst, of course]; and he comes to the terrible conclusion that humanity itself must cease to exist in the new creation that God will bring forth from the ark.  Therefore he does not procure wives for his sons:  his adopted daughter Ila, whom Shem loves, is barren, so he doesn’t have to worry about her.  They all will die in the new creation, and with them, humanity will come to an end.  It’s a heart-rending decision, not only when he and his family are forced to ignore the cries of the humans dying in fear and despair outside the walls of the ark as the water rises, but even more when Ila is found to be miraculously pregnant [thanks to Anthony Hopkins’ fabulous Methuselah], and bears twin daughters, whom Noah has sworn to kill.

However, when the moment comes, he can’t do it:  he later tells Ila that when he looked down and saw them, his heart was filled with only love–and he interprets this as failing God.  But Ila [turns out Emma Watson is not only a great wizard but also a great theologian] offers a different interpretation, suggesting that God gave Noah the choice, and Noah chose mercy over judgment, offering hope for humanity in the new creation–and perhaps that was what God intended all along.

This tension between good and evil runs through the movie–I think that is why they snuck Tubal-cain onto the ark:  even in the midst of what is supposed to be pure innocence, death and evil lurk.  Of course, this tension also runs through the Bible; and it still runs through human existence today–through each of us as individuals and in society as a whole–often with the earth itself in its cross-hairs, just like it was in the movie.  And, this same tension runs through our relationship with God and through God’s relationship with us; I’m convinced that the biblical story of Noah is one way the Bible seeks to elaborate on and explain that tension.  The way the movie plays out, we see that clearly, as well as the fact that the happy ending we get comes with a great cost, and actually has a shadow hanging over it.  There is a rainbow of sorts, but it’s not perfectly formed, or perfectly clear–I liked that, too.  The story of Noah and the flood is not a children’s story: it’s a story of overwhelming loss, despair, brokenness and destruction, with only the thinnest, most tenuous of promises keeping the whole thing from shattering into pieces. Yet, it doesn’t shatter, and the world, and humanity survive.  Mercy does win out:  in God, in Noah and the flourishing creation we see at the end.  But still:  Ham leaves his family, and we wonder what will become of him, he who has been the most conflicted character throughout the story.

So, as I said, I really liked it, and I’m glad I saw it.  Oh, and one more thing:  I agree wholeheartedly with the opinion of Adam Buff:  this movie has the best visual depiction of the seven days of creation I have ever seen–seriously, it was worth the price of the movie.  It was gorgeous and powerful [and unabashedly evolutionist], and I can’t wait until it’s up on YouTube!

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