A Reel Deal Film Review

By Tyler Malone

Spring 2014

Reel Rating: 4 out of 5


There”s a reason that the acronym on Christian bracelets is WWJD and not WWGD. Jesus, though himself still potentially a controversial figure to take moral advice from, at least has the benefit of being somewhat consistent in his teachings/preachings. Not so God. God, especially in the Old Testament, is as capricious as they come. And no one wants to model their way of living after a capricious being (even if He is supposedly omniscient and omnipotent).

Regardless, of whether you are a believer or not–and I will be forthright and admit that I am not one in the slightest–it would be hard to look at the God of the Old Testament and not objectively say that he is capricious. He is a fickle deity who is merciful one minute and vindictive the next, loving in a line that may only be a few verses away from where he seems unreasonably cruel. Yes, it would also be difficult to objectively describe Old Testament God as anything but cruel at times. This is why we have that other famous phrase uttered by Christians: “God works in mysterious ways.” It allows his unfathomable cruelty to be categorized as merely unfathomable, merely beyond our understanding. It”s a catch-all so that people can allow themselves to believe in a being that wiped out men and women and children and babies, that let them not just blink out of existence but had them drown in a flood. (Not to mention the countless later cruelties inflicted upon us, the supposed descendants of Noah, through the generations.) But let”s leave that argument for another day. I only mention this at all because I think these are some of the underlying issues that would inspire an atheist filmmaker who was raised a Jew to make a movie about Noah that is as faithful to the original text as could or should be expected from any Hollywood film.

Darren Aronofsky”s Noah is very interested in the mysterious ways in which the capricious and seemingly cruel God of the Old Testament would work. It is important to realize that though we see fallen angels and a tempting serpent in Aronofsky”s film, we never see God. Though many miracles happen that would lead one to the obvious conclusion that in the world of the film there must be some sort of divine overseer, He is physically absent. How Noah“s God shows himself is through miracles and through visions–both of which, you”ll notice, are up to interpretation. The interpretation of God”s will–and specifically whether one can or cannot ever actually know what God wants–is perhaps the central underlying question in Aronofsky”s film.

His film asks other questions, of course, that piggyback on that initial question: Is it our duty to be better stewards of the Earth? Are we by nature higher beings than the other animals? What does being created in God”s image mean for us? Can murder ever be right? Can compassion ever be wrong? Are concepts like these and others–justice or mercy or revenge or love –ever anything but ambiguous grey areas that falsely present themselves as cut-and-dry stable concepts?

What is most important to me, and why I find Aronofsky”s cinematic adaptation of the Noah fable so compelling, is that the director never gives us easy answers to any of the questions he raises. Sure, he guilts us into thinking we should probably be better stewards of the Earth, or to put it colloquially to be more “green” (which is why some right-wing religious groups have labelled it a “radical environmentalist” film). But even the film”s topical tree-hugging may not be as black-and-white as one might first think. It”s not the propaganda piece various religious extremists would have you believe. It”s actually all a bit of a muddle (and I mean that as a compliment, and not even a back-handed one). An atheist interpretation of a Christian tale should be muddled. Why would it not be? How could it possibly be anything but? In fact, any work of art that attempts to address the mystery of the universe, the mystery of God, regardless of whether it is made by an atheist or person of faith (any faith), should be a muddle. As God, if he exists, works in mysterious ways, so too should art. Art is mystery itself. And after all, as author E. M. Forster wrote in his masterful A Passage to India, “A mystery is only a high-sounding term for a muddle.”

So should you see this muddle of a movie regardless of your religious, philosophical, or political persuasion? More to the point: Should you go see the film if you”re an atheist even though it is an adaptation of a Christian story? Should you go see the film if you”re a Christian even though it is made by an atheist? WWGD? Well, we”ll never know what God would do, and that”s sort of the point. You”re going to have to make your own decision here, just as Noah makes many of his own decisions in the film. I”d hope that God would want us to see a movie that asks us questions while avoiding the simple answers. I”d hope that He would want us to wrestle with these issues that underscore all that it means to be alive, to be human, to be a rational thinking being. I”d hope that He would appreciate a muddle rather than mere propaganda (regardless of whether it would be for or against His existence). That said, if you catch Him on a bad day, it”s made quite clear in His textbook (and this film) that He”s not opposed to genocide, so who knows what He”d want? Maybe He just wants you to drown like the rest of the antediluvian homonins? I”d personally rather see this movie than drown. Is that a ringing endorsement? Who knows? The real question should be: WWYD? What will you do? Will you see the movie and make up your own mind about it and about God and about existence and about everything? That”s my suggestion, take it or leave it.

Noah is a film written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel and directed by Darren Aronofsky. It stars Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson. A man is chosen by God to undertake a momentous mission of rescue before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world.


IMDb: Noah

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Design by Francesca Rimi


Film Still from Noah, Photography Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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