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The big release in movie theaters a week from today is Darren Aronofsky's epic film, Noah, starring Russell Crowe. In a short piece, "The Thing About Noah and the Ark", on the New York Times' site, Aronofsky wrote:

When I asked Russell Crowe to star in “Noah,” I promised him one thing: I would never shoot him standing on the bow of a houseboat with two giraffes sticking up behind him. That’s the image most people have of Noah and the ark and I didn’t want to give audiences what they were expecting. I wanted to break the clichéd preconceptions we have from children’s toys, adverts, 1950s biblical epics and even much of the religious art of the last two millennia: the old man in a robe and sandals with a long white beard preaching in some Judean desert. I wanted Noah’s story to feel fresh, immediate and real. So when my team and I started to imagine how to bring the prediluvian era to life, we threw away all the tropes and returned to the Bible. …

We realized that if we listened to the original text we would find a blueprint for a Noah story that was unique and unexpected. For instance, returning to the ark: When you look in Genesis, you find exact measurements for a big rectangular box, a giant coffin. It makes perfect sense. The ark didn’t need a curved hull of planed wood with a pointed bow and stern. The world was entirely covered with water and there was no need to steer and nowhere to go. So we created the rectangular-shaped ark for the film, biblically accurate down to the last cubit.

I've not seen the movie yet, but I think Aronofsky makes many good—even excellent—points. And it's notable that he appears to take the biblical account quite seriously, yet with an understanding that the early chapters of Genesis were not penned by scientists or modern historians. This, of course, is a sticking point for both some Christians and certain secular-minded folks; both, at times, try to force such literature into boxes it was not intended to fill: the box of "history" as understood by moderns and the box of "fairy tales" as derided by moderns. And, as soon as you say so, some folks will defensively retort: "You're denying the historicity of Genesis!" No, I'm saying, as I think Aronofsky is also stating, that those first chapters of Genesis are narratives produced and eventually written down by folks who had very different perspectives on, well, nearly everything than those of us living in the 21st-century West. That doesn't mean they aren't true; it does mean that they require some hard thinking and a refusal to find false comfort in knee-jerk reactions.

Anyhow, with that said, here is a very intriguing review of the movie, penned by the exemplary Steven D. Greydanus for National Catholic Register:

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah pays its source material a rare compliment: It takes Genesis seriously as a landmark of world literature and ancient moral reflection, and a worthy source of artistic inspiration in our day.

It is not a “Bible movie” in the usual sense, with all the story beats predetermined by the text, and actors in ancient Near Eastern couture hitting their marks and saying all the expected things. It is something more vital, surprising and confounding: a work of art and imagination that makes this most familiar of tales strange and new: at times illuminating the text, at times stretching it to the breaking point, at times inviting cross-examination and critique.

For many pious moviegoers, I suspect some of the film’s more provocative flourishes will be a bridge too far, while the biblical subject matter may be off-putting to less pious viewers. Have Aronofsky (raised with a Jewish education) and co-writer Ari Handel made a film that’s too religious for secular viewers and too secular for religious ones? Who is the audience?

And what of the criticisms that the film is a politically-correct, ideological-driven vehicle for trendy, lefty politics? Greydanus writes:
 
What about pre-release concerns that Noah would be rife with themes of environmentalism and overpopulation? Thankfully, overpopulation concerns (which would undermine the biblical text’s critique of other ancient Near Eastern flood-type stories) are a non-issue, and the biblical theme “Be fruitful and multiply” is affirmed. There’s a definite environmental slant, at times heavy-handed, that is still broadly consistent with the biblical principle that “In the beginning, God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them” (Catechism, 2402).

Again, I've not yet seen the movie, and so I'm not endorsing or condemning it (I rarely do either with films, actually). But as someone who has taught a weekly Bible study since 2000 and written a weekly Scripture column since 2008, I am certainly interested in a thoughtful film that takes Scripture seriously and does not settle for clichés and rote answers. One of the joys of teaching Scripture is seeing folks gain a deeper apprecation for what the Bible really says, and how it is a living Word that can challenge, transform, and renew us if we are willing to be molded by the Holy Spirit.

The story of Noah is a very challenging one, but too often it is presented—as Aronofsky rightly notes—in a cartoonish, tidy, and two-dimensional fashion. That is a disservice to Scripture and to truth. It remains to be seen what positives, catechetically and otherwise, might come out of Aronofsky's cinematic rendering, but Noah appears to be, at the very least, a rather unique and intriguing work worthy of some serious thought.

Here is a video about the making of the film:

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Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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