Many Creationists have come out with barrels blasting against the blockbuster hit Noah. I shared that I liked the movie, and have been bombarded by friends trying to persuade me to change my mind (many of whom refuse to watch the movie themselves). Frankly, I think they should reconsider their opposition to Aronofsky’s Noah.
The most notable opposition is perhaps Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Though the movie had its list of influential Christian leaders who supported it, Ham lashed out at them in TIME Magazine (“The Unbiblical Noah Is a Fable of a Film“) lamenting, “It is hard to fathom why some Christian leaders have recommended this movie.”
Ham’s TIME article was actually the toned down version of his blog post the day before where he questioned anyone who liked the movie. “I am disgusted. I am going to come right out and say it: this movie is disgusting and evil—paganism!”
I haven’t been to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum, but I hear that it is an incredible display of what the creation story was perhaps (or likely) like. Which makes me wonder: why are creationists unwilling to allow others the same creative interpretation?
I know my Bible well. The narrative of the flood takes up four chapters of Scripture, and I came home from the movie thinking quite the opposite of Ken Ham. I was impressed by how reverent the movie was, how creative it was in interpreting many of the complex dynamics of God’s creation and voluntary destruction of the world, and how well it presented disturbing ideas about the entire creation narrative.
I think creationists — even literalists like Ken Ham — should reconsider their opposition. I loved the movie, and I noted five interpretations of the Noah story that literal creationists can appreciate about the movie.
1. Assumptions: Reconciling ‘Fantastic’ Disbelief
Funny, Ken Ham made this one of the biggest beefs he had with Bill Nye in their debate earlier this year (which took place at the Creation Museum, no less). Ham made the charge that science makes too many assumptions when analyzing the same data of the present world. I flowed the debate and sided with Ken Ham on this (see my flowsheet here). I’m a debate coach who writes debate curriculum, and I even declared Ken Ham the winner, mainly for this one argument.
But consider Bill Nye’s viewpoint for a moment. The entire planet covered in water killing absolutely everything is, as Bill Nye derogatorily argued, “quite a fantastic story to believe” (as if only crazy people would believe such a story). Nye is like most evolutionists, assuming current reality to reality thousands of years ago before a major event like the flood changed the balance of our entire planet. Ken Ham has made an entire business out of this single point.
Aronofsky does the exact same thing as Ken Ham. It may seem like a “Middle Earth” type of mystical place with glowing gems, incense and magic streams, but writing that off would be the same as writing off many of creationist’s fantastical claims of the literal creation.
It’s a fantastic story because it was a fantastic world, but unlike Bill Nye, Aronofsky gives that story a fair shake and uses his $130M budget to show it off.
If creationists would embrace this kind of interpretation, people would be forced to take these ideas more seriously. Face it, a six-day creation and the idea of the entire earth flooded with water is a fantastic idea, as Bill Nye argued. But the movie does the exact opposite of what creationists accuse so many postmodernists of doing. I believe they can appreciate Aronofsky’s attempt to reconcile these ideas.
2. Antagonists: The Tubal-Cain Subplot
Sorry in advance for the spoilers in this point, but I’ll try hard not to reveal too much.
I can see why literalists get upset over the Tubal-Cain subplot. Nowhere in the Bible is there an account of a stole-away king who seduces Noah’s son Ham (not to be confused with Ken Ham) into mutiny. It was a bit of a stretch in the plot, but creationists shouldn’t be too hasty to criticize it. I believe it served a significant literary purpose.
This story element serves as a most perfect antagonist. Everything Tubal-Cain said personified the antithesis of God’s Creation. Tubal-Cain personified the great lie of Satan, that mankind can rule the Creation much better than God. Sin is something to embellish in, not overcome. And the earth, according to Tubal-Cain, was something to take for himself and destroy. Tubal-Cain was the head honcho of it all.
The discussions Tubal-Cain had with Noah’s son were particularly rich. Like the Adversary in everyone’s spiritual journey, Tubal-Cain used the fundamentals of the Christian faith to try to convince Ham to “take dominion of the creation.” As he attempted to seduce Ham to his diabolical side, I thought to myself, “Yeah, this is the lie of the Serpent.”
Creationists love explaining this incredible conflict of God vs. Man, which is likely the core of Ken Ham’s strong convictions. I respect that. Aronofsky’s take on the story of Noah respects that, too, and has it totally wrapped up in this one subplot that personifies the Creation’s antagonist.
3. Animals: The Movie Was Faithful
Like many of my friends, I had my doubts leading up to the movie. There are wacky interpretations of Scripture that I haven’t appreciated. For instance, I didn’t appreciate Martin Scorsese’s interpretation of Jesus that kept him in the grave. I get what Scorsese was trying to do — show the humanity of the savior Jesus — but he took license to change the most integral part of the story, the Resurrection of Christ. Most Christians didn’t like that either, but Aronofsky didn’t go there.
He could have. I would have been upset if the Ark was a spaceship, or the entire earth really wasn’t flooded, or the flood was something that took millions of years to allow evolution arguments to be justified in the movie. Aronofsky didn’t do that, and I think this is what he meant by saying he and his writers tried hard to stay truthful to the text of the Bible.
The animals actually do walk in two-by-two in the movie. And they do so in order of what is written in the Bible: birds, snakes, animals. And all the earth is flooded, not just a part of the world. There was little apology for these things, either. You watched it as if all history books in America wrote of the flood as yes, this happened.
As the movie unfolded, I embraced this with my imagination running wild, very much enjoying the interpretive adventure. The response creationists are giving is unfortunate: many are splitting hairs making all sorts of arguments of what was wrong with the depiction. Instead, I believe creationists can roll with Anonofsky’s attempt to depict accurately a pre-flood world.
4. Awe: The Spiritual Elements
I’m a Christian. I choose to believe certain things that are in the eyes of the world — I admit — out there. Creationists often have a tough time coming to grips with this. It would have been easy for Aronofsky to write off some of the more outlandish miracles for the sake of realism, but he doesn’t. I cut him some slack for his attempts.
In interviews he argues that the pre-flood world was “full of miracles.” He argues not from a fictional standpoint, but from a standpoint as if it was real. Without apology, Aronofsky wrote the script as truth. Just like walking into the Creation Museum in Kentucky, I found myself appreciating Aronofsky’s interpretations, and I think creationists should, too.
Let’s talk about “The Watchers,” another spoiler that I can’t avoid. A ton of criticism is pointed at this extra-biblical idea. The Watchers look like something out of Middle Earth who help Noah and his family build the Ark. The movie explains that they are the fallen angels who joined forces with the humans, but the evil of humanity betrayed their assistance. Noah seeks their help to get the job of building the Ark done.
Granted, the biblical account literally explains the Ark took 120 years to build, and there is nowhere in the Bible about rock monsters. But consider the creative element for a moment: the Watchers allowed the viewers to make the mental leap of building an Ark with a small family plus it allowed the writers to explain the biblical reality of the fallen angels.
That’s a particularly strange part of the creation story in Genesis 6:4. I re-read it when I got home from the theaters:
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”
This is a difficult bit of Scripture that isn’t easily interpreted. Still, Aronofsky took this literally and turned it into a significant subplot that captured the struggle of creation quite well. Creationists can appreciate how he did this. Like the subplot of Tubal-Cain, the Watchers is a subplot used to reconcile the more difficult literal parts in the story of creation. The movie does a great job explaining it, too, coupled with theatrical effects that get the imagination rolling.
5. Adam and Eve: Tying All of Creation Together
It may seem like I’m friendly toward evolutionists, but I am actually antagonistic toward them. As a Christian, I resist the arguments against the creation story, leaning favorably toward the literal interpretation. This isn’t because I hate science or because I’m stupid, it is because I have a living God whom I love living inside me. I’m not quick to throw out or water down His Story.
Atheists, agnostics, evolutionists and anyone else who has intellectually written off the story of Creation is forced to reconsider in Noah. Aronofsky makes a valiant effort to reconcile the unbelievers’ doubts, digging deep into the incredibly intense reality of the depravity of man.
Most creationists enjoy explaining this part of the story. Noah and the Flood is a great movement of God, an historical event that has more to do with the nature of man than any literal study of history. During the movie, you have no question whatsoever that mankind is absolutely evil and disgusting (that’s a purposeful comparison Ham used to define this movie). Noah is the hero of the film and of the Bible. He’s the “righteous” man whom God chooses to eradicate the creation and start anew.
The movie develops from there in a very interesting way, and this is where I suspect creationists get a little hot under the collar. How dark humanity gets is disturbing, but it should be. (Spoiler alert) Noah assumes he is supposed to eradicate all of mankind, and he takes his assumptions to an extreme, even to the point of saying he would murder his own grandchildren. I didn’t like this development in the movie. I was shaking my head, thinking: “how can a ‘righteous man’ think such a thing?”
Most of the criticism of Noah point to this subplot. I get that. It bothers me, too. But the conflict is resolved in the movie, which is something many creationists (including Ham) refuse to honestly reveal in their critiques.
I was mesmerized at this part of the movie. It rolled in a couple Judaic, biblical themes (particularly Jacob who “wrestles with God” and Abraham who nearly kills his only son). The movie forces you to meditate on these disturbing biblical plots. I loved how Aronofsky forces the viewer to deal with these disturbing biblical plots by giving identifiable reasons for them.
These plots dig deep and can be very personal, too. I hope you feel you are called to take on great and difficult tasks in your lifetime. I believe God has a plan for you, and while it won’t be as difficult as Noah’s, it may be very trying on you. I hope you have as solid of a faith as Noah had, a righteous man chosen by God. I don’t consider it helpful to think Noah was superhuman or perfect. I like to think that I relate to him.
See, I identify. I’m called by God to do what He created me to do. I sometimes put on blinders and plow through the details of life, thinking I’m doing the right things for God. Leaders like Noah often are accused of madness, or at least numb with focus and dedication to the task at hand.
I have been in situations like that, thinking I’m doing the right thing while hurting people I loved. This is a universal situation that everyone should be able to relate and learn from.
Christians can appreciate this conflict. You don’t need to think of Noah as a “perfect” man, as many creationists are upset at Aronofsky for not portraying him as such. Like Aronofsky, I reject the interpretation of “righteous” as perfect or holy. I’m sure Noah had his moments, just like you and I do, because all of us fall short of the glory of God.
Do you follow me here? I see much in Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of Noah and the Flood that can be appreciated, even from literal creationist point of view. Before dissecting the greater details and scientific arguments of this and that, I hope you don’t miss the greater themes of the Creation Story in the movie. In my opinion, Aronofsky’s attempt is valiant and noteworthy.