Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie review: Noah

Ham: Is this the end of everything?
Noah: The beginning, the beginning of everything

The Bible, is the most read book in the world. The story of the great deluge and Noah's ark, only occupies a few verses in the Bible. Yet, it is one of the most iconic Bible stories. This story also caused a lot of heated debates, with divided opinions regarding the historicity of this story. Some people insist this story is real history and a global flood really happened, some people argued that this story is real history but it was only a local flood, some people suggest this story is borrowed from a more ancient flood story found in the Sumerian legend, while some argued the entire story is a fabrication of the human imagination. The debate on the historicity of the story of Noah's ark, is where religious apologists and scholars argue ceaselessly as the cycle of four seasons.

Meanwhile, I wonder, have we been distracted by the snows of arguments on the historicity of this story, while missing out what the story is trying to tell us? In other words, is the essence for the story of Noah's ark still relevant to us today?

Under artistic license, the director Darren Aronofsky undertook the mission to adapt this biblical epic into a movie. In Aronofsky's interpretation, he wants to show us, the 21th century audience, how and why, the essence of this ancient story is still relevant to us.

The question is, is this adaptation any good? Let's find out.


In the beginning, the Creator (i.e. God) created the heaven and the earth. He made life on earth, from plants, to creatures that creeps, crawls, and swims. He also made Adam and Eve, the first humans in his image, and set them in the garden of Eden, to rule over the earth. The first humans were tempted by the serpent, and ate the forbidden fruit. As a result, they were expelled from the paradise. Generations after the fall, mankind was corrupted and violent. The creator (God) wanted to destroy the world and mankind's wickedness in a flood, to start new again. Noah, was chosen to carry out God's mission, of building an ark to preserve life and re-populate the earth after the flood. However, building the ark is not the hardest part of Noah's mission....

What I think about the film:

This movie has generated so much controversy and angers from the religious community (especially from the conservative religious folks), that we are almost re-living the day when The Da Vinci Code was released in the cinema. A lot of Christian folks criticized this movie, because they said it is not “biblical”.

Well, yes, this movie is not strictly “biblical”, because the story in this film, has more contents than just the five hundred something words found in the Bible. The director also took the liberty to reinterpret the story, and added some extra contents (such as the watchers being depicted as rock giants). However, in my humble opinion, this movie does have all the central elements of the biblical Noah story. Furthermore, this movie truthfully explores several biblical themes, such as the human condition (sin), divine justice, mercy, hope, wonders of God's creation, and most importantly, the stewardship of mankind over the earth, this is a most relevant topic to our 21th century world, where we are facing the serious challenges from man induced climate change, and the disastrous consequence should we continue to irresponsibly abuse the earth and creation. In the movie, Noah is depicted as a man who respects the creation and values life, he tried to be a good steward to the creations. In comparison, are we being good stewards today? For example, how many species have become extinct due to our irresponsible abuse of the earth?

After I saw this movie, from the Christian perspective, I began to ponder on the meaning of stewardship over the earth. If one was to believe that mankind was created in the image of God to rule over the earth (i.e. representatives of God on earth), then what should that look like? From here, my question is, in our 21th century world, are we, humans, the image bearers of God, ruling the earth/creation the way God intended us to? Or are we establishing our own dominions on earth, abusing the creations, betraying the responsibility that was appointed to us from God, the creator himself?

A refreshing aspect of the film is, it explored the humanity of Noah. I have read the biblical story of Noah several times, and whenever I read it, I always felt there is something strange about this character. To me, it feels as if Noah was an automaton, completely detached from emotions, who simply followed instructions. However, in this movie, Noah is depicted as an obedient man, yet he also has emotions and faces struggles due to the human condition. Without spoiling the plot here, let me just say, this film explores the difference between our understanding of justice and truth, and that of God's.

The genius of Darren Aronofsky's art doesn't stop here. Viewing the movie from a secular perspective, one can also explore the important messages about the human condition, and respecting the earth, and keep the earth a habitable place for the future generations.

In other words, I think Aronofsky has made a Noah story that everyone can relate to, while still explored some central elements found in the the biblical story of Noah. As the end credit of the movie begins to roll, there are messages and questions that can be taken away, and explored by both the religious, and the non-religious folks.

This movie also explored the mysteries of creation, in the most beautiful and eloquent way. There is a scene, where Noah began to narrate the creation story in Genesis 1, in parallel with moving images from the beginning of the universe starting with the big bang, to the forming of earth, and the evolution of life on earth from cellular organisms to creatures of all sorts of kinds. As I watched this scene, I could not but help to gape in wonder, at the majesty and the grandeur of God's creation, and the miraculous existence of life. This interpretation of the creation story is nothing new, but I have never seen it done in such a visually beautiful, and eloquent way. No wonder why Charles Darwin wrote, at the end of “The Origin of Species”, that “there is grandeur is this view of life”. Regardless of one's stance towards Judea-Christianity, somehow, I think anyone who has watched that scene cannot help but feel the marvels and wonders of life itself, and how precious it is.

Indeed, what kind of creature are we, to observe the physical universe with our five senses, while being emotionally moved and touched by the wonders and the beauty of it all?

Despite the controversy surrounding this movie, I deeply enjoyed this film. Under the artistic license, Darren Aronofsky has made the story of Noah relevant to our own world. This is a film containing messages that can be explored, and appreciated by both religious, and non-religious folks. In this movie, the story of Noah's ark is not just a joke, nor a heated debate about history, science and the literal reading of the Bible. Instead, it makes us ask questions, about the literal meaning of this story, and how its echoes relate to each and everyone of us.

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