So I haven’t seen the movie yet. I probably won’t – not necessarily out of any conviction but mostly out of time.
But, one doesn’t need to eat a slice of the cake to know it’s sweet.
What I have been reading plenty of are the many reviews that have been posted up since the movies’ release. Facebook has also made it much easier to access these reviews since most of my FB friends are Christians and have posted up dozens of different reviews of the movie.
So what I thought I’d do is something different. Seeing as I haven’t seen the movie I might do a review of the reviews.
Let me start with some of the negative reviews, look at the positive reviews, then look at the positive and discerning reviews.
First to the negative reviews. The major theme I’ve picked up in these reviews is the spectrum of annoyance to deep frustration that the movie lacks much of the biblical detail, and the extra details the movie did contain change and/or twist the biblical story beyond recognition. Some of the reviews were negative not just on theological lines, but also on the strength of the movie itself: some claiming the scripting and directing to be below average in their own right.
I’ll put up my hand now and say that I posted before the movies’ release to state that I didn’t think it would be worth going to see – but rather sitting down with your friends to read the original story and pointing them to Jesus would be more worthwhile. I made these comments primarily because I believed that audiences expecting a faithful biblical retelling – or at least an attempt at faithfulness – would be disappointed. I also believe that the trailer gives enough scope for Christians to believe so as well. I have since changed my mind – more on that below.
I know some have expressed, including good friends of mine, that Christians shouldn’t have been so presumptuous – that just because a movie is based on a biblical character/story does not necessitate it to be ‘Christian’ in the sense that the story and message must match the biblical narrative. But I don’t think it was unfair for Christians to expect a faithful rendering of the story line. I base this judgement on the fact that the trailer itself appears to suggest a faithful rendering of the story (or at least leaves it very open that the movie will be faithful), and the other fact that it’s not very often we get to see biblical stories on the big screen. It’s not going too far to suggest that if movie studios realise the potential they have in recreating biblical stories for the big screen then flocks of Christians would come and pay their hard earned money to see these stories come to life (see ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘The Bible’ TV miniseries).
Back to the reviews – in all the negative reviews I noticed an earnest attempt by the reviewers to try to engage with the movie. But part of the negative criticism came about because they felt disconnected from such a familiar story. I don’t necessarily disagree with the negative reviews, I just think that’s how the some will inevitably react.
Some other reviews attempted to point out how the movie isn’t Christian at all, but has either gnostic and/or kaballah elements. While some of it rings true, other reviews have dismissed these claims fairly convincingly.
The positive reviews, however, have been an interesting mixed bag.
First, most positive reviews took a fairly light view on the theological errors of the movie, and tended to take a strong finger-waving view against those who have negative criticisms, particularly those who were negative but hadn’t seen the movie.
Second, most of the glowing positive reviews always ended up in the same place – with the hopes that anyone watching this movie would go home, open up their bibles, and read the real account (and perhaps come to church afterwards).
To be honest, I think this hope is a tad naïve and forgets that with all the hype of ‘The Passion of the Christ’, according to Barna research, church attendance did not change one bit nor was there any significant increase in conversions. Certainly I want to affirm that God can and does use anything and everything to bring about his purposes – but I’m with Tim Challies on this to say that we should not hope for a movie to do what God’s Word already promises.
Other positive reviews have been quick to point out the strengths of the movie, the stunning visuals, and some also view the dialogue and directing more positively. This note you can’t really argue against – art is of the nature that one person might find something deeply intriguing and satisfying, and others just don’t ‘get it’. One of these days I’m going to post a review of mini-book ‘Art for God’s Sake’ by Philip Ryken.
Now to the positive and discerning reviews.
I can think of no two greater examples than this one by friend Nathan Campbell for Creek Rd Presbyterian Church, and this other one by Gregory Alan Thornbury guest blogging at the Gospel Coalition.
In both of these reviews you’ll see two things. First, you’ll see an appreciation for what the film does well – cinematically as well as theologically. Both reviews point out insightfully that Noah contains one of the best depictions of human depravity on screen – and that as a starting point in a conversation might make it worth viewing with a friend who has questions.
Second, both reviews do raise up alternative theological viewpoints in contrast to what is seen on screen. And this is where I’d commend Nathan’s review the most – for not only does he point out a contrasting theological view, but he does so with a biblical theology lens: always pointing us from Noah to Jesus.
Hollywood was never going to be able to do Biblical Theology well. And this, in some ways, has, I think, made Nathan’s review the best I’ve read – because it actually helps the reader think Christianly about the movie. Rather than navel-gaze and wonder why Aronofsky didn’t make a more faithful movie, the review takes what is there and points to something greater. That is a helpful model of cultural engagement.