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Noah on the Big Screen

Last night was date night. Kelly and I dropped off the girls with the brave and courageous Williams family. Then it was onward to dinner and a movie. Thankfully, both were great.

The movie was Noah, a new blockbuster movie about the biblical flood story. The film is exciting, interesting, question-inducing, and at times, even biblical. However, it's far cry from the Sunday School flannelgraph story many of us grew up with.


Anyone remember this song?

The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
Build it out of hickory barky,
Children of the Lord

Don’t expect it make the Noah soundtrack.

This movie is not made for children. (I was shocked to see a family with what looked to be a 3 or 4 year old daughter sitting in front of us!) It depicts fallen humans at their worst—violent and selfish. They kill, have no respect for the earth, take what they want, and are hell-bent on doing what they want, when they want. In that sense the movie mirrors the dilemma in the biblical flood story. 

But if you’re looking for an “accurate” cinematic movie that depicts the Genesis 6-9, save your money. That’s not what this film is going for. The writers go off-script a number of times and are not bashful about taking creative license in adding extra-biblical plot twists. At the same time--and please don’t miss this--the movie pulls you into epic narrative that captures much of the Noah story in a powerful and thought-provoking fashion. Because of this I think the movie will cause many people to reread the Genesis story and wrestle with some profound theological themes.


First off, the cast is great. Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Noah’s wife), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah—Noah’s grandfather), Ray Winstone (Tubal-Cain—Noah’s nemesis), and Emma Watson (Ila—Noah’s stepdaughter) are all very talented and fun to watch. They all give solid performances and make the movie come alive. The acting really help set this movie apart from other Scripture-inspired movies of recent years. Of course, a 125 million dollar budget don’t hurt in this department.

Neither does this kind of money hurt it in film production. The filmography was amazing. Industrial Light and Magic (the special effects company founded by George Lucas) supposedly did some of their most complicated work ever on this film, and it shows. The ark is huge. The procession of the animals was something you have to see—I was blown away. The miracles, heavenly dreams, and aerial footage were larger than life. And the landscape, while not at all biblical, was fascinating. They filmed the movie on volcanic terrain in southern Iceland (think Lord of the Rings), which helped amplify the darkness of humanity.

There are two special effect scenes that especially stood out. First, there is an awe-inspiring time warp of the Creation event and, second, a surreal scene of "the fall" of Adam and Eve. In the movie they're presented as oral tradition Noah passes down to his children. There's something sacred and meaningful in these stories and they seem to help frame thier life togehter. The scenes got me asking, what are the "root stories" I tell my children? What are the core narratives that help us make sense of life and live with purpose? How do I tell these in ways stories in meaningful ways? I was also struck by how the movie wrestles with deep themes such as: 

human sinfulness and violence,
human repentance,
God’s judgment and mercy,
the nature of miracles,
hearing (and not hearing) from God,
second chances,
being made in the image of God,
and God’s plan for humankind.


Anytime you make a full-length motion picture about a few chapters in the Bible you must use creative license and add plot twists.

I get that.

But if I were directing the film, I would still make a few changes. First, while I appreciated the humanity of Noah I think they got a little carried away at a few points. In the movie he is presented as a alpha-male warrior. Noah has trouble listening to God, walking with God, and allowing his sons to marry. Worst of all near the end of the movie he nearly becomes a deranged baby-killer.

I realize Noah was far from perfect (Remember when he got drunk and passed out naked in front of his kids?) but the movie's character portrayal of him is over the top.  It was somewhat disturbing witnessing Noah believe that God wanted him to kill his granddaughters.  This added very little to the film and they could have easily taken it out. They also could have done without the conflict between Ham and Noah, leading the former attempting to kill the latter. I think Darren Aronofsky could have worked in other more interesting themes more in line with trajectory of the story. 


Noah is a risky and controversial film. The movie doesn’t sugar coat a scary story in Scripture.

It doesn’t present Noah as a perfect, sinless saint.
It doesn’t follow the biblical storyline with precision.
It doesn’t give everyone a warm and fuzzy feeling when the credits role.

Despite what Noah doesn’t do (perhaps because of what it doesn’t do), I think it’s an important movie to see. There’s no reason to “boycott Noah,” run for the hills, or go on a smear campaign against the writers. Instead this is an opportunity to think critically and watch thoughtfully. If we do this I think this movie opens up an sea of interesting questions like: 

Does Genesis describe a global or local flood?
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
How do we communicate with God in prayer?
Who were the “watchers” in Genesis 6? 

And more. The movie might not be for everyone, but I trust many people will enjoy seeing Noah on the big screen (in fact, the bigger screen the better!).