There has been no shortage of headlines in recent weeks about Paramount Pictures' upcoming feature film Noah – with a fair amount of the coverage speculating about how closely or loosely the movie adheres to the story of the title character as found in the Bible.
Unfortunately, those who have felt compelled to criticize the film in these stories haven't actually seen it – so it's difficult to understand what exactly they're criticizing. I have seen Noah – in fact, I've been working on it for the last two years as the filmmakers' biblical adviser.
I will confess, when the studio first approached me about consulting on the project I had mixed emotions, weighing my caution of Hollywood's ability to take liberties with stories and values against my standard for good theology and a healthy presentation of Bible stories, theology and mission. Paramount was adamant about having a practical, integrated adviser in the process from start to finish, which impressed (and surprised) me.
I read an early draft of the script and was particularly impressed with their exploration of judgment and mercy. I accepted the offer and quickly found myself fully engaged with the creative team, talking about Noah, God and Jesus a lot. And they listened. And asked more questions. I've read probably more than 10 drafts of the script, given longwinded feedback on each, seen every piece of footage that was shot and been flown around the world ... twice.
With all of that work under my belt, and the March 28 premiere just a little more than a month away, I am happy to offer the following 10 reasons I believe we as a church can find very valuable reflections on Noah, God and theology in the film. This isn't to suggest the movie matches everyone's read of Noah perfectly, but it is a very worthwhile time to spend understanding how a couple of very thoughtful filmmakers interact with Noah.
1. Noah Has a Relationship with God
In the film Noah, Noah hears from God at times, wants to hear more from God at other times, is directed by God, and acts singularly different than his contemporaries in following God's directives. Scripture is overtly quoted by many characters in Noah. God's words from the Bible are unmistakably a part of this film. The film is pro-God.
The Biblical text lists out what God said to Noah but never tells whether that was verbal or written communication, though most would assume it verbal. In our film, God gives visions to Noah just like God gave to several prophets and many key Biblical figures (Joseph, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and John to name a few). I pray one day my sons will dream dreams and receive visions directly from God, just like God promised us through His prophet Joel.
2. Noah Acts Faithfully Yet Isn't Perfect
We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That includes Noah. It's healthy that Noah struggles to understand precisely what God is saying, but, regardless, Noah trusts and acts faithfully. The struggle is not always easy to watch, particularly in the later parts of the film, but the values that come out of this narrative are special.
A woman in her early 20s whom I spoke with about the film (she grew up "churched" but is since disengaged) really appreciated that the film's Noah heard from God but not in a simplistic way. It felt to her ironically accessible; since she's never personally "heard" God's voice, she felt a connection to Noah as he began to trust God's vision.
3. Noah Sees and Acknowledges His Own Sin
Noah sees his own sin as no better or worse than those who will die in the flood. This evokes the great scriptural dilemma: God's plan to fill the Earth with humanity reflecting His glory has been promised, but our sin has stained the reflection of His glory in all of us. Four-thousand-ish years after Noah, Jesus did the work of restoration for us. Noah the movie agrees that we hadn't earned our salvation back then either. Our long-white- beard, long-white-robe depiction of a docetic (proto-Evangelical?) Noah has not helped our kids learn that we're all coming up short were it not for God's grace. That ark Noah built is a gift, not our own proud creation, so that His purposes can be fulfilled through us.
4. It Keeps Closer to More of the Text Than You Might Have Imagined
The film sticks to many key details from the Text. The ark set was built twice to full-cubit scale, though not out of gopherwood. It depicts a global flood. No extra people survive the flood who shouldn't. God speaks to Noah. Noah gets drunk. Tubal-Cain forges iron and bronze. Ham and Noah have a rough father-son relationship. Creation from nothing. Sin. Murder. Methusaleh. There's a dove and a rainbow, two of each animal (admittedly seven of each clean animal was a detail that didn't get communicated in the film), an olive branch and lots of water coming up from the ground.