Saturday, March 29, 2014

Noah...Methuselah...Berries and Rock Monsters


This weekend I had the honor? Pleasure? Well, let’s just say I enjoyed seeing “Muppets Most Wanted” earlier this week with my family more than I enjoyed seeing “Noah” by myself. This seems like as good a time as any to say that just because this is a Bible story does not mean you ought to take your child to see it. 

Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of “Noah” was just that…an adaptation. The movie’s depiction of Noah is to the real Noah what “The Message Bible” is to Scripture: a loose interpretation with a lot of speculation. I have to admit that there is a lot of ground to cover here and I’m not sure where to begin. Forgive me if this feels a bit disjointed, but stick with me because there’s a lot of juicy stuff in here. First, I want to warn you that there will be many spoilers in this blog. Blogs typically should not be super long, which is why I will just hit the major points. I am quite confident I will miss some important things, but I will do my best to get to the big stuff and share my thoughts on them.

To jokingly say, “I don’t need to see this movie, I already know how it plays out” would be a mistake. The Biblical story of Noah and this theatrical adaptation are very different in many ways. First, let’s get to the giants or as the movie calls them, the “watchers.” Many people have speculated that these watchers are the same as Nephilim, the giants referenced in Exodus and Numbers. I don’t think this is the case at all. According to Enoch, a non-canonized book, watchers are angels who were dispatched to earth to, you guessed it, watch over the humans. The story goes that they soon began to lust for human women and, at the prodding of their leader, defected en masse to infiltrate humanity and procreate among them. The offspring of these unions were what are known as the Nephilim, savage giants who pillaged the earth and endangered humanity. Could they have helped Noah build the ark? Perhaps. Scripture doesn’t have anything to say about who may have helped Noah.  But apparently these watchmen helped Noah build the ark because Methuselah, a Hebrew Patriarch and the grandfather of Noah, defended the watchers when they were in need. 

Speaking of Methuselah, let’s move on to Noah’s adopted daughter Ila and Methuselah's Death. Anthony Hopkins, who plays Methuselah, did an excellent job in the role. But that’s stating the obvious; any time Anthony Hopkins is in a movie it is going to be good. Apparently Methuselah lived like a caveman, was kind of viewed as the Gandalf the Great of the community, and had developed a craving for berries in his older age. Things get murky when Ila, a girl with abdominal wounds who Noah had rescued when she was a child, received “Methuselah’s blessing” so she could bare children. This all happened with a wave of a finger on Ila’s stomach. To add to the controversy over this character, since Methuselah died the same year as the flood some have wondered if he was an unbeliever and perished in the floodwaters. In a dramatic scene, the movie shows him being taken out by a wave after he eats his last beloved berry. The way they depict him dying shows a broad assumption on the moviemaker’s part and one that raises an eyebrow to most Christians who know their Scripture.

In a turn of events that shouldn’t have surprised anyone, Ila ends up getting pregnant after receiving this “blessing.” This girl who Noah and his wife raised fancied Noah’s son, Shem and before they got onto the Ark they had the requisite Hollywood style make out session. This resulted in her bearing twins, which caused Noah to go crazy. He vowed to kill the baby(s) should they be girls but as fate (I mean Hollywood) would have it, Noah didn’t kill them because the rain stopped the moment they were born. This infused some more danger and the mandatory love story into the movie but has nothing to do with Biblical truth.

Oh, and did you know that there was apparently a stow-away on the ark? A man named Tubal-Cain somehow pounded his way through the side of the ark. Tubal-Cain was the leader of the group that tried to over take the ark. Again, great for Hollywood story, but there’s not too much Biblical accuracy here. At one point he even randomly grabbed a little creature off the ark and began to eat it. I wonder what animal we are lacking today because of his poor choice?

Another controversial part of the movie is what I like to call the “Miracle Grow Forest.” The movie shows Methuselah giving Noah a seed from the Garden of Eden just after slipping a mickey in his tea so God could give Noah the rest of the instructions on how to build the ark (you can’t make this stuff up…okay maybe you can?). This seed was said to miraculously make gopher bark trees grow everywhere within seconds. It’s an interesting scene and a fun anecdote, but it has nothing to do with the way Scripture tells Noah’s story.

The last controversies I want to address have to do with people’s lack of Biblical knowledge. I heard people murmuring behind me at the beginning of the movie when they mentioned a child named Seth. One person grumbled, “There was no child named Seth. Adam and Eve only bore Cain and Abel.” Scripture would tell us otherwise. Genesis 5:3 NIV specifically states: “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” It’s one of the few points this movie got right! The mumbling going on about Seth amused me because it’s obscure facts like these that throw off Christians who only stick to the big stories of the Bible.

I also want to talk about Noah’s nakedness in the film. Genesis 9:20-23 NIV states, “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.” So yes, it is in Scripture. What I like about this story is actually how human and relatable it is. None of us could imagine such a devastating event as a great flood covering the earth! I am quite sure many people would do the very same thing after surviving such a stressful ordeal. It makes sense that he would go back to the life he knew as a farmer and that he would relax and enjoy the fruits of his labor (and being human, perhaps to excess?). 

The bottom line is this: a movie that comes out of Hollywood with the tagline “This film is inspired by the story of Noah” ought not be viewed as the exact retelling of Scripture. Let’s face it: in the Bible the story of Noah is amazing but fairly short. To stretch it out over two hours forced the moviemakers to add a few extra stories here and there. If people can view it simply as entertainment, all is well. It’s when we look to a movie like this for spiritual instruction that we get in trouble. 

There are legitimate reasons to like or dislike this movie. A movie like this or any that take on Biblical stories should make us Christians do one thing and that is to know what we believe. These movies are on-ramps to great conversations with people. We shouldn’t slam the director Darron Aronofsky because he simply did what he was hired to do: retell a story. What we ought to do is study our Scripture and know what we believe rather than putting down people who dare to ask questions and aren’t to ashamed to admit they don’t know everything. 

While I was ordering some popcorn and soda at the concession stand, I had one person (an older man from another church) say to me, “Pastor Bob, help me out here before I go find a seat. Where in the Bible does this story fall – after Exodus or in the New Testament?” I was stunned. It saddens me that Christians go to the movie theater to receive their Biblical education. They go to watch this movie and assume what’s being shown to them is correct because they never have read the full story for themselves. Just like the documentary ‘Religious’ and other movies that deal with faith, use this movie as motivation to study Scripture more so that you will be able to, “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV) 

So, will I buy this movie when it comes out? Yes. It’s a great piece of entertainment with some truths and a whole lot of special effects. Nothing more, nothing less.

1 comment:

  1. First off i loved the movie. I won't get into my views on faith but anything that entices its audience to speculate creation, our place, or purpose within it is enthralling. Sure the adaptation doesn't strictly follow biblical theology but that's fine to me. Imo if you found the movie interesting you should look into the theological stories. But some people have an easier time grasping a story/concept through sight as opposed to the written word.

    The "Watchers" are very interesting to me.. They fascinated me in Greek mythology. I believe the movies "Watchers" are a mixture of Greek and Christian mythologies regarding the "Earth-born" in Greek along with the "Living stone" (Peter 2 4-9) in Christianity .

    Good ol Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah! Loved it! His character is simple and leaves little to the imagination in my mind. He was simply the seed of hope/love. Hence his quest for the berry. How often do we come bearing gifts for anyone let alone the old? Even after he repeatedly asks he does not receive. He only gives. That's truly what hope and love are. To say he was depicted as an unbeliever is outlandish and short minded. Even in his last act of finding the berry for himself he gives himself to Gods will (the water); and spreads himself across creation.

    Of course you can nitpick and find fault in the movie.. just as you can throughout life. But in so doing you miss the underlying message.. Hope and Love will conquer all; in life as in death.

    I saw the movie as an excellent depiction of the struggle of man, told in a theistic manner, that we can all relate to. Just as the bible does.