As someone who loves movies, and is a fan of Russell Crowe, I was looking forward to the film Noah. Of course, as a Christian writer and one who reviews films at times, I had also read of the controversy in Christian circles concerning the film possibly deviating from the Biblical story.
I assumed that the bulk of that criticism came from some within the broader Christian community who insisted that the five chapters in the Book of Genesis where we find the account (Genesis 5-10) be treated literally, in the sense that they could not be elaborated upon in any way with creative, artistic license.
I wrote those concerns off as more than likely proceeding from a mistaken approach to the Biblical text.
Then, I read the concerns that the film was pushing some sort of green agenda. I assumed they came from some within the more politically conservative segment of the Christian community. I also wrote that concern off as well.
After all, the account of creation does indeed teach a proper understanding of creation as gift and challenge us concerning our stewardship over it as a part of the loving plan of God in creating us in His Image and calling us to participate.
So, I also dismissed it as some kind of sour grapes reaction in the tit for tat occasioned by the global warning controversy.
I was really looking forward to seeing this film. I was glad that a big budget production, rife with top shelf special effects, was being based on a significant story from the Bible.
After all, I believe that we are living in an existential time in history, when many are seeking deeper answers to the human struggle. I know that those answers are found in a relationship with God and that these Biblical Stories point us to Him.
I admit, I was especially excited that Russell Crowe, one of my favorite actors, was playing the part of Noah. Noah was a courageous man of faith and integrity whom God especially chose to enter into a special covenant with Him. I could picture him playing this man whose Biblical story has become such a rich part of both the Jewish and the Christian tradition.
My youngest grandson is named Noah. In the room he stays in when he visits, I have a beautiful icon of Noah and the Ark. I have thoroughly enjoyed telling him the story and planting within him the seeds of faith which it contains.
The imagery of the Ark and the flood runs throughout the Christian tradition as a type and sign of the New Covenant in and through Jesus Christ. One of my favorite passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, using exquisite quotes from the early Church Fathers, proclaims:
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.”
She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood. (CCC# 845)
As a Deacon, I am an ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church. I am always moved by the prayer the priest or deacon prays over the waters of the Font. It includes these words, “The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.”
The words are repeated in the Catholic Catechism in its rich teaching on Baptism in the economy of salvation, which instructs us that the loving plan of God in the Old Testament prepared for and prefigured its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the Paschal mystery. (CCC #1217-1222)
We affirm as Catholic Christians that “The Church has seen in Noah’s ark a prefiguring of salvation by Baptism, for by it ‘a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.'” In fact, this imagery runs throughout the New Testament. One example is found in the passage in the first letter of Peter cited in the text:
God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 2 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:18-20)
As one trained in theology, I regularly instruct the Christian faithful and those seeking to come into the Church of the importance of these wonderful Biblical characters and accounts in the Old Testament. I remind them of the principle of Biblical interpretation that the seeds of the New Testament are present in the Old. The Catechism affirms, “the flood and Noah’s Ark prefigured salvation by Baptism.” (CCC#1094)
After I saw and heard these words from Paramount in the advertising, “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The Biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis,” I felt reassured.
I also thought that my reading of the controversy was probably accurate. I was wrong.
I knew my youngest son was coming into town for the weekend. For many reasons, I wanted to take him to this movie. It was being hailed as “epic” in a few favorable reviews. He loves action movies and special effects.
He is in his early twenties and trying to figure life out. I really hoped that the moral underpinning of the film could be used as a seed in his life as he walks through those years which are so difficult for young men.
The movie was a terrible disappointment on so many fronts. The only good thing I can say about it is that I hope it spurs enough interest in the real Biblical account that it draws people to read the Bible.
The worst part of the film was the last part. It was completely fabricated. It had absolutely no basis in the Biblical story and undercut the moral ground and message of the entire account of Noah, the flood and its deeper spiritual significance in opening up an understanding of the consequences of wrong human choice and the mercy of God.
A recent article by Steven D. Greydanus, written for the National Catholic Register, asked the proper questions as a standard for considering this disappointing film. In addressing the fact that the movie did not follow the Biblical account, Greydanus astutely notes:
There are really two questions here: First, what does the film add to the Biblical story? Second, what does the film take away from the Biblical story?
Adding to the story is normal and expected in any Biblical adaptation or any adaptation of any literary source material. Virtually all Bible movies add or elaborate upon characters, dialogue, motivations and other elements, either to help clarify the story, to imagine how it could have been or for other artistic reasons.
Obviously, not all additions or elaborations are comparable. There is a difference between adding dramatic color to a story and adding so much drama that you’re essentially telling a new story. Yet as long as the key events of the original story aren’t taken away, the merits or demerits of even substantial additions are largely in the area of taste and personal interest.
Taking away from the story is more problematic. A Biblical film that takes away significant elements of the source material may weaken or even subvert the story. Any Biblical film should preserve the core elements of the story it adapts — not necessarily every detail, but the essential points.
The same writer reviewed the film here. I do not share his positive analysis.
The producers and promoters assured us: “While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.”
Well, sadly, they were in error. It was NOT true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story which is the cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.” It was far from it.
In particular, the story line which covered the time within the ark – and following the great flood – not only had no basis in the Biblical account, it undermined the biblical account. It presented a Noah who was completely unrecognizable and a demanding deity not at all in keeping with the God of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Jesus.
It was riddled with a bizarre notion of the obedience of Noah and completely devoid of the rich understanding of the God of love who selected a family through whom He began creation anew and entered into a covenant with the whole human race.
In fact, the last part of this film was so bizarre that I did not even know what I was watching. It was part Marcionism, sprinkled with a touch of the Manichean heresy, part horror movie and part bad science fiction. Clearly, the promoters and producers had not stayed true to the essence, values and integrity of the story.
They wrote an entirely different story. And a poor one at that. It almost completely undermined the heart of the moral import of the Biblical account as it relates to human freedom, culpability, and Divine mercy. I was stunned and disappointed. I was not sure what I was going to say to my son upon exiting the theater.
As it turned out, I did not have to say anything to my son.
After we emerged from the theater he looked at me and said “What was that?” He emoted the entire way home, telling me that the last part of the film was “weird” and most certainly did not reflect the truth of who Noah was — or who God is.
Faith informed films are getting better and better in quality. They are bringing more and more people to the theater. They are bringing revenue to the producers who make them. The Noah story in the Old Testament of the Bible, the actual Noah story, had plenty of room for creative expansion, great action, great acting, great special effects and taking genuine artistic license.
This film was a colossal missed opportunity for Russell Crowe, and a mistake by Paramount Pictures.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.