From the Felt-Board to the Silver Screen: A Few Things to Remember Before Drowning Noah Movie in Criticism

16_gn07_11-12Darren Aronofsky’s Noah starring Russell Crowe in the title role debuts tomorrow. Call me skeptical but there are people who are ready to drown this movie in criticism. It would come as no surprise to see many, particularly Christians, walk out of the movie disappointed. There likely will be those who feel as though it has strayed too far from the narrative it seeks to depict in Genesis 6-9. There likely will be those who feel the writers and director have taken too much creative license. There will likely be those who in the anti-Christian sentiment think it’s ridiculous and absurd to suggest that this story is anything other than fairy tale nonsense that didn’t merit getting the silver screen treatment (then I certainly hope they haven’t seen God’s Not Dead).

I’m looking forward to going to see Noah. Having grown up in church the telling of Noah typically got the felt board treatment and the cute cuddly kids book treatment. It wasn’t until I taught Genesis to students as a youth pastor that I realized that the story of Noah is not for children. It is ultimately a story about human depravity and what can possibly be done to fix a world in which the caretakers are the problem. To this point I haven’t found anything that captures this better than the Lego produced depiction of the flood in The Brick Testament. Showing that to students helped them realize for the first time that there is nothing cute about the story of the deluge and Noah’s ark. In more ways than one it is messy.

I fully expect, even within the confines of a PG-13 rating, that Darren Aronofsky will not shy away from the implied violence in Genesis 6-9. I fully expect he will take some creative license, no different than and no more egregious than the license Cecil B. DeMille took in writing and directing the much celebrated by evangelicals The Ten Commandments. Aronofsky has a lot less text of scripture and details to work with than DeMille. Unlike Demille, to my knowledge Aronofsky has never professed to be a Christian. I’m curious to see how someone, in particular an artist, whom I presume is not a Christian tells the story. All that being the case, it’s a movie and if I’m going to pay in excess of $10 to see it I want a good story, a well told story, and certainly not least to be entertained. So if you are going to see the movie, try to go into with as few expectations as possible and try to enjoy. Be critical, but not for criticisms sake. Lastly here are a few things to keep in mind when you do critique it.

 

  1. Remember the Source—In this case I don’t mean the Bible. Darren Aronofsky is not a guy that is new to making movies. You might not be familiar with his name but there is a good chance that you are familiar with some of his work. He is the director of Black Swan starring Natalie Portman (for which she won the best actress Oscar), The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke, and Requiem for a Dream. All three of those movies garnered at least one acting Oscar nominee. All three movies didn’t shy away from showing the dredges of human depravity (in particular Requiem for a Dream which is a very well done film that I will never watch again because of how dark and depressing it was), and like I said at the beginning Noah is a story about human depravity. All of that to say if you aren’t a fan of his previous work then chances are you won’t like or appreciate his latest work. Personally I’m a little surprised he decided to keep it PG-13.
  2. And Remember the Source—In this case I am referring to the Bible. Genesis 6.5-6 gives us a brief description of what was happening in Noah’s day, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continuously. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The rest of Genesis 6, 7, 8, and 9 is a telling of God calling Noah to build the ark, instructions or a blueprint for building the ark, the deluge, it subsiding, God making a covenant with Noah, and Noah’s descendants (including the brief story of his son Canaan’s transgression against him while he was passed out drunk).
  3. It’s an Adapted Screenplay—Obvious by now you know this movie is adapted from another source, but often times those are the movies of which it is most often said, “Well, it just wasn’t like the book”. Which at this point in some ways is lazy criticism. Most books wouldn’t translate well on the silver screen if they played out exactly the way they are written. That is why they are “adapted”. Director Peter Jackson, often maligned for his adaptations of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, once said in response to detractors that if he actually included everything from the three LOTR books in the movies they would be 20 plus hours long all together instead of 12. Now of course he is getting criticized for doing just that with the one book, The Hobbit. It goes to show you you just can’t win when you adapt a well known book into a movie. At the end of the day regardless of what a director trims or adds the main question shouldn’t be “was it in the book?” The main question should be, “does what the writers and directors decided to trim or add help keep the movie moving?” The movie shouldn’t grind to a halt trying to include every detail. Nor should it pass over important information or scenes that help tell the story and or build characters. A good story requires a conflict that needs to be resolved and most conflicts involve an antagonist. In the Bible we are not given a specific antagonist other than the general ‘man’. Judging from the previews the writers have decided to create an antagonist who embodies everything that has gone wrong with mankind. They aren’t doing it to tick off those who treasure the Bible as God’s inerrant word, no more than Bill Cosby was when he did his Noah routine in stand up comedy. They are doing it for the sake of telling the story through the medium of film.

 

I hope to see Noah sometime this weekend in which case I’ll attempt to post a review.

Does This Generation of Teens Have it Harder Than Predecessors?: A Different Take

It has frequently been said that this generation of young American teenage Christians has it tougher than any other generation before them. Between technology redefining what is considered the public arena, thus shrinking what is truly private, the pressure to perform in school, liberal media with more graphic content on TV, music and movies, there are many who have expressed deep concern of what will become of the present generation of teenage Christians. Earlier and earlier teenagers are being exposed and have access to the morally bankrupt aspects, pornography and drugs to name a few, of our culture and society than ever before.

Those of you who follow my blog know by now that I’m not into stirring the pot of fear (I don’t think it accomplishes much of anything productive or constructive). Allow me to offer you a slightly different take on what all the societal and cultural changes in America means for Christian teenagers.

Many of the same factors that make for culture being difficult for current generation also means that this generation has the greatest potential for creating and cultivating good things.

In his book Culture Making Andy Crouch describes how Christian cultural engagement in the United States has typically been relegated to one of four responses; condemn culture, critique culture, copy culture, or consume culture. The main point of his book is to encourage Christians to understand our cultural mandate from God to create and cultivate. The first two tasks that God gives Adam prior to the Fall, is to name the animals (create), and to work and keep the garden (cultivate). The focal point of the glimpse we get of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation is of a city filled with “the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21.26). After which it says that nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false. Unfortunately a disproportionate amount of teaching and guidance to churched teens is to avoid the unclean, detestable and false over and above aspiring to create and cultivate the glory and honor of the nations.

The advancements in technology in the last twenty years alone have yielded a tremendous amount of creative power into most households in America. If you have a smartphone you have more computing power in the palm of your hand than all of NASA had in 1969 when they launched a man to the moon and back. Just a few days ago I saw a news feature on a 13-year-old girl who attempted to send a Hello Kitty doll into space and back using a high-altitude balloon.

Teenagers can now create and conduct their own music and songs using programs like Garageband. They can create and publish short films and movies on Vimeo and YouTube. There are numerous programs for graphic design. They can take and edit professional quality photographs. They can write and publish poetry, prose, and books. Teenagers have greater access to the rest of the world and it’s problems, and they are being given more opportunities to be a part of the solution. And they still have all of the traditional age-old opportunities to create and cultivate, like drawing, painting, building, and gardening.

It would be a shame if a whole generation of Christian teenagers ended up being behind the curve of everyone else because this generation of parents and youth workers were too busy trying to keep them safe instead of encouraging them to create. Imagine all the good and beautiful things they could produce if we spent more time encouraging and participating in their creative endeavors? We should be encouraging them to create and cultivate things that will one day be considered amongst the glory and honor of the nations. The dangers and pitfalls our culture offers to teenagers are not to be overlooked. However, neither is the plethora of creative opportunities it offers them, the likes of which no generation before them has ever seen.