The Old Testament, Hollywood Style
by Phil Boatwright

Noah - it’s not your dad’s Bible story movie. Today’s moviegoers want action. They want sci-fi Superheroes. And they want change, which often means style over substance. So now we have the story of Noah, done by a filmmaker known for his innovative visual and stylized approach to filmmaking (Black Swan, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream), and Paramount Studios taking no chances with filling cinema seats. What they give us is something that should satisfy some, while frustrating others. So is it worth your time and treasure?

Director Darren Aronofsky envisions Noah as an action figure, going all martial arts against meat-eating cave-dwellers in the first reel – and just as quickly establishes him as a man who hears the Creator in his head giving him instructions to save himself and other innocents as the perfect storm approaches. But when Noah tells an angry biblical figure that he’s not alone, he doesn’t just mean he’s Got God! He is also backed by, are you ready for this, fallen angels known as the Watchers (Nephilim, spoken of in Genesis 6:14), here portrayed as giant rock creatures who seek forgiveness from their Creator by aiding Noah.

The rock people (the Watchers) must be discussed because for this reviewer, they were the one ingredient that made the $130-million production seem a little like a Sci-Fi Channel refugee. Asked at a press junket why the filmmaker had envisioned these fallen beings as something you might have seen in a Transformers movie, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel presented well-thought-out arguments that appeased most at the press conference, but left me wondering if audiences who hadn’t heard the filmmakers’ conception would be so satisfied.

“We thought for a long time about how to bring the Nephilim to life,” Mr. Aronofsky said. “Lots of sources talk about the Nephilim, including the book of Enoch. Of course, we had to use imagination to bring them to the screen.

“I was inspired metaphorically when I conceptualized these ethereal beings as falling in love with Earth and humans and attempting to start another race. And because of doing this, their Creator imprisoned them by the earth.”

“You’re asking, ‘Why are they rock?’ writer Ari Handel interjected. “The idea of something ethereal, angelic and of a divine light trapped in a body of rock essentially shows their emotional pain. They wish to be above, but they’re trapped below inside of the earth itself. They’re symbolic.”

“I wanted this sense of crippled creatures, weighted down with their own punishment,” Aronofsky continued. “I think there’s a sense that they are in pain with every step they take. It’s their punishment.”

Reasonable answers, but since most movie attenders will never hear that explanation, the sudden visual of giant moving/speaking rock formations may cause many to associate Genesis with a Marvel graphic novel.

This conception of fallen angels disappointed this reviewer, believing the moviemaker was attempting to placate the studio and moviegoers who like a little Frodo Baggins-adventureland with their movie parables. It further indicates and perhaps indicts the sensibilities of a generation now more involved with technology and CGI effects than dramatization. This is not meant as an insult to today’s younger moviegoers, it’s just a warning for those who feel movie morals have been bastardized by CGI supporting characters used to flesh out live-action storylines.

Back to the question, is it worth your time and treasure? Before you answer with what would seem to be the correct churchgoer response, let’s consider the intended audience and how we Christians can use this film to our advantage. Perhaps I should rephrase that. Let’s use Noah to the advantage of those in need of spiritual fulfillment.

What causes people to seek God?

Something happens and they begin to ask questions. Sooner or later people come to the conclusion that we are more than physical and mental beings, realizing there is also a spiritual element to our human makeup. Very often the art world suggests this need. So who are they going to ask? Us. Are we prepared for their questions?

Where does Hollywood fit in?

In its own esoteric way, Noah suggests that we should become aware of spiritual matters and rely on faith when the conundrums of the day overwhelm. Some theologians may counter with the perspective that Mr. Aronofsky’s lofty resonance is in actuality little more than an arty and incoherent representation. But detractors cannot deny the film’s ability to generate discussion. Again, I maintain that is the ultimate goal of art – to stimulate meditation and conversation.

Is there a problematic issue?

There are thousands of fables, legends, and folktales embraced by movie magicians in order to interpret the mysteries of the universe. And many a filmmaker harbors the erroneous theory that religion is merely a fanciful explanation. Today’s churchgoers must be vigilant regarding the post-Christian influence now dominant in Hollywood. Don’t be led or fooled by Hollywood’s assertions. “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5 NIV). Read the Book!

What can be found in this retelling of Noah and the flood that will benefit both Believers and the secular world, spiritually?

Noah is an epic movie experience that engages not only the cerebral but the emotional. On the way to the car, people discuss it. That’s when you know you’ve experienced true art. It’s not just a time-filler before going to some other time-filler. It’s a film that demands debate.