Hollywood wants to cash in on the Christian market that was the big score a decade ago with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. This year, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey released Son of God, complete with the backing of evangelicals like Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. In less than two weeks, Noah with Russell Crowe will hit the multiplex. Christian Bale’s Exodus will arrive closer to Christmas, and Lionsgate has a Passion prequel in the works. (There’s a sense that I learned a long time ago from the YMCA: while the “C” stands for Christian, it stands for cash, too.) So, how might Christians really approach these films with Biblical connections?
I hope that they’ll approach them as parables, as a new lens to examine the Biblical text. Obviously, the movies aren’t the same thing as the canon of Biblical books, included by the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. But if we’re to believe Hebrews 4:12: ” the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Some of these modern day interpretations might actually add to or deepen our understanding of the Bible. Would that be bad?
Personally, I’d much rather see Noah than Son of God. The latter is significantly taken from The Bible miniseries, which means that I already own the majority of the movie, having bought the Blu-ray collection when the History Channel original series hit home media. Of course, not everyone knew this or cared when they headed to the theater, but frankly, I didn’t go to the theater to see the re-released Star Wars movies: I own them already! But my affinity toward the ark-based Biblical thriller is more attractive to me for other reasons, too.
1. Noah is a different sort of movie from Son of God in that there’s less to go on Scripturally, and more of an opportunity to add to the backstory. I have four angles to look at the ministry and passion of Christ; five if you count Mel Gibson. Noah hasn’t gotten that kind of attention, even from the Biblical oral narrators/author-writers. There’s still plenty we can learn from unpacking the Noah narrative that we haven’t seen before, and while we know how it ends (like watching the Titanic crash), we still don’t quite know exactly how we got there.
2. I don’t read the Noah narrative as historical document, so interpreting it has much more room to move. Adam and Eve tell us something about where we come from; Noah tells us something about God’s holiness and grace. I don’t take either of them literally, but instead see some of our Judeo-Christian myth shining through a flood narrative that we share with other cultures. So, I’m not threatened by Darren Aronofsky taking a beloved children’s story tied to our faith heritage and butchering it. (It doesn’t really look like he cares either. FYI: Some rough language there.) I’m excited by what I might see about myself and how my understanding might grow. There’s no threat there because God, the Bible, and my faith aren’t things to be defended, but shared and nurtured.
3. The film looks flat-out awesome. I’m digging the trailer, and impressed by Aronofsky’s use of real sets and CGI. It looks worlds better than the special effects in The Bible/Son of God (which takes made-for-DVD and sells it for $10-14 a pop). But it also is significantly more grounded in its world by comparison to 300: Rise of the Empire which seems cartoonish (and not because it’s based on a graphic novel), a byproduct of being too in love with its own hype. It’s looks are helped along by the cast: besides Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, and Ray Winstone head up a solid cast.
4. I’m already intrigued by aspects I hadn’t thought about. While I don’t take the Noah story literally, I do think there’s something to be gained by seeing it from various viewpoints. I had never considered how the people who weren’t included on the ark might’ve acted when it started to rain. I hadn’t considered Noah’s ancestors, what they might have taught him and how the ark-building would’ve affected them. I’ve used this same method when unpacking the Parable of the Prodigal Son, through the lens of Rembrandt’s painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” using viewpoints not specifically spelled out. That’s how parables work, right?
Count me in for Crowe’s Noah. Maybe it will completely bomb. No matter what, it will probably provoke some God-directed thoughts.