“What was it like?” - On Noah and glimmers of hope

Ever since I was a child I can always remember being intrigued by Noah. “What was it like?” I wondered. Most of the time I imagined a gentle and kind man with his family, herding animals and caring for them as the ark floated along. I usually pictured Noah smiling. Children’s bible stories tend to leave that impression.

Once in awhile, however, I wondered if Noah ever got scared. Or lonely. Or angry. As a teenager, I can remember wondering if Noah ever questioned, “Why me?” I still wonder...

But through all my reflecting, I just wanted to ask Noah, "What was it really like?"

The recent Hollywood release of the epic story offers an attempt to answer this very question.

I’ll admit, I’m always torn when a movie is released based on a familiar story I grew up with. My imagination of the details is now replaced by a filmmakers imagination. Reading about Frodo, I now visualize Elijah Wood. Reading the Noah account in Genesis, Russell Crowe is now part of the vision. For better or for worse, such is the reality of film.

Beyond the actual images, however, my evaluation always turns to whether or not a film portrays the story well, whether it “stays true to the story” as we commonly hear.

When it comes to the Noah movie itself, overall, I thought it was quite good. As I mentioned in my previous post, films tend to focus on the truths contained in a story as a opposed to getting every specific factual truth correct. This is certainly true of Noah, and considering the limited facts of the Genesis account, I’d also say it’s necessary and good. Details are imagined and added, all with the purpose of expanding the truths of the existing story. The point isn’t historical accuracy but consistent storytelling. Noah achieves this fairly well.

In terms of overall quality, my review is mixed. Noah is visually stunning, and the time-lapse scenes brought a welcome artistic angle. Not surprising for an epic-like film, the characters were too predictable, and the constant close-up dialogue scenes verged more on cheesiness than humanness. That said, once the viewer accepts a predictable Russell Crowe Noah, the struggle with judgment and mercy that burdens Noah in the film is depicted with a raw honesty that anyone familiar with the story should resonate with. While not consistent, the humanness of the characters is key to the film’s success.

The impending flood sets a somber tone to the film, as it should. The movie is dark and doesn’t gloss over human wickedness. That said, some of the action scenes were a bit forced in terms of fitting the overall narrative, seeming to play more to who was acting Noah then what fit with his actual character (e.g. Noah fighting intruders from the ark by himself in Gladiator-esque fashion).

The storytelling flows well and doesn’t linger on one particular part of the story too much. As good stories do, this allowed the film to lead the viewer into a challenging reflection and experience of how humans live amidst both good and evil. It was this deeper reflection which I thought was the film’s greatest strength. It doesn’t glorify violence. And it doesn’t cheapen goodness. It doesn’t ignore divine judgment, but doesn’t mock it either. The fact Noah isn’t the smiling shepherd of my childhood imagination is a good thing. The fact Noah weeps over the deaths of the “wicked” is key. And as he recognizes his own propensity to such evil himself, one can’t help but reflect on the commonality of brokenness, even for someone considered “righteous” by biblical standards. With this honest portrayal and wrestling with how God (“The Creator”) and goodness overcomes evil, I found the film thoroughly biblical.

To be clear, this is not a feel-good movie. Again, my childhood self would be confused and scared (this is also not a family film!). Yet while definitely not sentimental about God’s or humanity’s goodness, the film is deeply hopeful. As one character laments the coming flood - “This will be the end of everything” - Noah offers a different perspective: “No, it will be the beginning of everything.” And in the end, the movie shows how it isn’t human ability that overcomes wickedness (the film is clear that wickedness prevails even following the flood). Hope comes in the reality that goodness and new life is found in the midst of wickedness. The Creator’s gift of “the glimmer of Adam” lives on, however dim. The Noah film can help us find such glimmers of hope today.


Anonymous said...

Good review - much more concise than mine, haha. I especially liked the way various characters presented various views on the Creator - the whole film was really about interpretation and how we respond to the information available, I think. you can read my review at http://faithandfrustration.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/noah-a-dissection/ if you're really bored ;)

David Warkentin said...

Jordan, thanks! There is so much more I could have gone over! In terms of concise, I actually thought your Facebook review summed it up very well: "A beautiful, dirty, life-filled retelling of a beautiful, dirty, life-filled story." Glad others could get beyond the rhetoric and enjoy it for what it was...

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