The Noah Ticket
Is Noah (2014) worth watching? I finally had the opportunity to catch this movie and I am glad I did. I made sure to lay aside all that critical commentary I had heard from the Christian masses, and just let this movie do its thing. I wanted to let it speak to me. It’s my job as the viewer to get out of the way, watch well, and enjoy myself in the truest kind of way.
Lately, I have become more aware of how the viewer has some weight to pull in this whole movie-watching process. As it goes with a speaker and a listener, or a book and a reader, both the giver and receiver have roles to play. I have this personal conviction to give the movies I choose to watch an actual chance when I watch them.
To be clear, I haven’t been much of a critical spectator in the past. It is in my nature to be pretty hospitable to as many perspectives as possible. Still, what I have learned anew is that many of us would be surprised at how many expectations we bring to a piece of art and try to make the piece fit into our pre-made molds. This is the high robbery of art that I’ve realized.
There Is Only One Word
When it comes to Noah, many Christians were irked, upset, and/or deeply offended by the portrayal of Scripture that went amiss. Things showed up on the screen that are not found in the Bible’s account of Noah. But should this really be surprising? I had left the expectation of absolute biblical accuracy at the door. I try to let the Bible play the role it rightfully has, and not expect anything else to perfectly match it.
I could understand why someone might walk out of that film early. As someone who believes that literally everything hinges on the truth stated inside the Book, I get it. But art is not meant to play the role of governing Scripture, and that is a freeing principle to keep in mind. If I let Scripture be the light in which I see all other things, I will have some of the most important tools for movie-going. I will see Noah as someone’s work—a work that may or may not reflect, to some degree, the truth of God and stimulate some type of movement in myself. Some movies reflect more accurately and stimulate more powerfully than others. Noah is not the word of God, so I don’t need to be in dismay over how it fails to be so.
I am more so interested in the questions it raises and the expression it is trying to be.
Behold Our Wicked Insanity
Is mankind worth saving? This question is introduced early in Noah and later shoved in your face. There is no missing it, and it lingers throughout the movie (and probably in the viewer’s immediate thoughts).
There is a scene where Noah beholds the inconsolable wickedness of mankind. He is overwhelmed, and it is intended for the audience to feel something of the same. This was a sober moment for me because it was based on reality. It’s real. The wickedness of humanity is a real thing and has a real consequence. I knew where those people were headed, and I felt lost as I considered the bottom line for all of us today.
Apparently, Noah gets lost as well. Maybe Russell Crowe taps into his inner Javert (Les Miserables) to get this one done. He sees the horrific rebellion of mankind and believes it is up to him to enforce the law, all the way down to the last human being. Noah’s commitment to “justice” seems unwavering. How about that scene where we see a girl given the opportunity to be saved in the ark, and Noah makes sure it does not happen. Ruthless. And you feel it, too. His response to the despairing situation does not include mercy. Mercy has been tapped out.
The king over the land where Noah is building the ark does his best to directly oppose him. This king claims that he owns the land and that there is no one above him. You can feel the audacity in this declaration, which feels different. Normally, it is pretty normal for us to accept on screen, and in real life, the disregard for God or another ruler. This scene is set up in a way where the audience already is committed to the world belonging to God, and it is outrageous and near silly for anyone to proudly proclaim otherwise. Mmm, yeah okay, “king.” He is an outspoken representation of every human heart, the characters’ and ours.
The World’s Predicament
What to do with these people? The audience is included in Noah’s logical thought processes and is led down a rational trajectory that wrestles with some of these factoids.
- Mankind is awful, beyond wicked. They are rebels against God, their Creator.
- God judges the sinful because, as Creator, he hates rebellion. Sin deserves death.
- All of them are sinful and, therefore, should be put to death. Mankind is not worth saving.
This rationale gets repeated over and over and over and over in the Old Testament. It’s a series of dead-ends for humanity. They can’t seem to get their act together, no matter how many leaders God raises up to help or how many promises he offers the people to cling to. Overall, we see how God executes partial judgment but also is merciful to not wipe out everyone. But how many times will the story get repeated? The Old Testament ends on this coagulated note. If God continues to let this happen, he is not truly just or holy, or even God. But, if God brings justice, he will have broken his covenant of love with his people. So what gives?
Noah builds a story that makes the audience feel this tension. Ya, what does give? There is an answer that is offered up. Unfortunately, it has the potential to be profoundly misunderstood.
The Goodness of Who?
Noah knows intuitively that there is something wrong about killing somewhat “innocent” people. Seeing someone at their most vulnerable state brings him pause, and he cannot continue to carry out what he believes is the logical thing to do. Later, his daughter suggests that he showed mercy because that is what God wanted him to do and that is why God had chosen him.
It is suggested that the reason he showed mercy is because he saw the goodness of people too. There is goodness in mankind, and that is worth saving. There are at least two routes that an audience member can go with this reasoning:
- People have goodness in them. This can outweigh the total judgment that is deserved for the bad. In my life, I have heard some people talk like this when the reality of hell is put squarely on the table. “How could God send these people to hell when they did so many good things? These are good people!” I understand this tendency. It is almost unbearable when you really think about these things, so it makes sense that as people we want to grey the lines and create another way. It is very human of us, and wrong. This reminds me of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say…?”
- Another route could be to look at the goodness that is found in people and say that it is only by the grace of God that it exists. Man bears the image of God and so of course, there is goodness there. It is marred, but it shines through. God, in his goodness, has a plan to create a way for man to inherit Christ’s goodness and for all of the sin to be destroyed. So the goodness we see in mankind is not inherent from within them, but a gracious gift yet to be fully realized.
So Noah sees a goodness in mankind, and it is left to more interpretation to decide if it is to the credit of God or man. And by the way, how would you solve the problem of mankind’s rebellion?
A Strong and Steady Hand
There is something really helpful about seeing the sequences of a story while knowing everything is going to be okay in the end. Whenever conflict would arise against Noah, even in his own self, I knew it would work out because nothing could stand in the way of God’s plan. For example, when the Watchers were released to heaven and one says that the Creator has brought him back home, it brought a whole new hopeful light to their fighting. They just needed to finish their task of fighting and defending the ark’s inhabitants and then they would be home. Is this stated in the Bible? No. But it was a moving picture of how trial is only momentary.
Nothing could thwart God’s plan. Not even the blind spots of His fallen chosen man. This was all truly sweet to see.
The Worth of Noah
The film seems to suggest that God deferred judgment and was pleased to give another “chance” because of the goodness that still remains in humanity. However, I am so grateful that this is not quite the truth. Ultimately, God is deferring judgment so he may exchange it. Christ takes our place in receiving the judgment we deserve. God does not give “chances.” Knowing that we all have fallen short of living perfectly, never being able to attain it, he has determined Christ to go in our place and credit his goodness to us. The movie had me thinking about these things and it was a good process. I try to contrast the gospels people create with the gospel that God has written.
So, did Noah deviate from the Biblical text? Yes. And this was no shock to me. Was the CGI corny? Yes, I’d have to say so. But did I capture what the movie was intending to be? That was a more important question for me.
There was a long list of evocative moments that spurred true emotions in me. I felt curiosity over what life might have been like before the written words of God existed. I felt a mighty sobriety over the wickedness of humanity and the judgment of God (which also happened to me when viewing Exodus: Gods and Kings). I felt the call to share the gospel in light of such realities. I felt cared for as I saw God providing for all the details of his plan, including the saving of the animals. I felt challenged to go to Scripture to find answers for why God might save mankind. I felt confident because God is sovereign and his plan will prevail.
I walked away from this movie satisfied because it moved me. And it happened to move me in a direction that reinforced a lot of specific truthful principles. It was refreshing to see so many biblical story depictions brought up on the screen. I don’t think I would ever state that every single person should go watch a particular movie, but I will say that Noah was an engaging story and I hope more people consider its intentions. That process alone is likely to be well worth a person’s time. It was enjoyable and provocative in the right sort of ways. That is, if you were watching in the right sort of way.
For more on biblical epics in light of Scripture, check here.