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I’ve been on the road and haven’t had a chance to see Noah, the 130-million dollar Darren Aronofsky biblical blockbuster that opened well, but not brilliantly, at the box office last weekend. But while I can have nothing to say about the content of the movie, I’ve been interested to see three of my friends from three different faiths wrestle with the film — a film whose atheist director declared it would be “the least biblical film ever made.”
Ben Shapiro is a devout Jew, and I’ve heard him speak with real and revealing insight into Torah — something that’s not all that common. In a genuinely sharp essay at Truth Revolt, he took the film apart as a “perversely pagan mess” that replaced God with Gaia to deliver a muddled environmentalist message. You can read the whole excellent thing here, but one point struck me particularly:
It is one thing for a movie adaptation to stray from the source material. Adding characters or scenes, crafting details that vary from the strict text – all of it is in bounds when it comes to adaptations. Critics of Noah who have focused on the extra-Biblical magic of Methuselah or the lack of textual support for instantaneously-growing forests are off-base.
The far deeper problem is when an adaptation perverts the message of the source material. If the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird had turned Tom Robinson into a villain and Mr. Ewell into a hero, that would rightly have been seen as an undermining of the original work. The same is true of the Biblical story of Noah and the movie version of that same story. It isn’t merely that Aronofsky gets the story wrong. That would be forgiveable. It’s that Aronofsky deliberately destroys the foundational principles undergirding the Bible, and uses Biblically-inspired story to do it.
The mighty John Nolte of Breitbart’s Big Hollywood, a Catholic, was much kinder to the movie itself — and in fact, feared that the film’s high quality as an entertainment made it an excellent vehicle for selling a wholly dishonest view of the Bible story:
My concern is that with “Noah,” Hollywood has cracked the code on how to undermine the Judeo/Christian faith while making a profit with the help of some duped Christian “thought leaders”: Use the awesome propaganda power of the motion picture to lead people away from God by telling them the Judeo-Christian faith is something it is not.
In the case of “Noah,” [because of strong box office] Satan is a happy camper… : Over the last ten days, throughout the world, millions have been told the dark lie that Christianity, or any religion based on the Old Testament, has a foundation seeped in environmental extremism and has nothing to do with leading a moral and charitable life as defined by the Ten Commandments and Christ’s 11th Commandment.
Finally, up-and-coming culture critic R.J. Moeller, an evangelical, took a man-of-reason approach over at Acculturated. Writing an open letter to Aronofsky, he expressed admiration for the filmmaker’s work both here and elsewhere.
What I’d like to say to you in closing is this: thank you for making this movie. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I was encouraged to see your interpretation of the story of Noah and the existential themes and questions that emanate from it. Even if we disagree on the lessons we’re supposed to learn from Noah’s life and God’s actions, I appreciate your willingness to enter the “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?” debate.
Your film is going to facilitate important conversations among friends, family members and co-workers around the nation. I hope Hollywood takes note of the box office enthusiasm surrounding this movie. I also hope that those Christians who did not care for Noah are incentivized to be a part of the long-term solution (as far as the production of God-honoring, high-quality projects are concerned).
Now all three of these guys are friends of mine, true men of faith, and big brains — and Nolte’ll let the air out of your tires if you even look at him sideways — but I have to admit, without having seen the film, without being able to judge of its quality, it’s Shapiro’s point that sticks with me. If, as I say, Aronofsky is a declared atheist, if he intended to deliver “the least biblical film ever made,” I can’t help but wonder: why make a biblical film at all? No? I mean, the Bible is the sacred book of gazillions of people. If you disagree with it, if you have a different message than, you know, God’s, well, fine, but then why not make up your own story, why twist and gut and dishonor this one?
It can’t be because Aronofsky is a radically courageous teller of truths. Attacking the Bible doesn’t require any courage in America and certainly no radicalism. Read those comments above. Is Shapiro going to hunt Aronofsky down and behead him? Sure, Nolte might (the man’s a savage), but he’ll probably think better of it in the end. And hell, Moeller’s practically inviting the guy to tea.
What do you think the reactions would have been if Aronofsky’s film had been called “Mohammed?” If Aronofsky had said, “This is going to be the least Koranic movie ever made?” Do you think the reactions would be so civilized, so thoughtful, so interested in “facilitating important conversations.” Now there’s a film that would take courage. There’s a film that would be radical. And there’s a film that Aronofsky is never going to make!
The idea of using the Bible to make a non-biblical film just seems wrong in and of itself — mean and small-hearted and bullying, and cowardly too when you consider he could’ve taken on the Koran. Regardless of the movie’s quality, it just seems like the wrong thing to do per se. Unneighborly you might call it. UnChristian.
But then, maybe that’s the whole problem.