I have to admit that I usually do not like Biblically based movies that veer even a little from the original story. And it’s not just because I am a Christian or that I believe, as most Christians do, that there is a danger and a loss of something poignant as a result; but also because after having imagined the these scenes and stories in my head for so many years coupled with my eagerness to see the pages brought to life, when things are interjected that I know are not originally there it just ruins it for me. As much as I want to be entertained and have the sense that I have finally met these sort of vague Biblical characters face to face, I also want to be taught. But when key aspects of the story are changed, I feel more of a need to filter out the misinformation as opposed to just sitting back and absorbing. And absorbing, or getting my mental juices flowing, as well as being entertained are the two factors that can make or break a movie for me. Nevertheless, to my surprise, I really liked Noah starring Russell Crowe which was recently released on DVD.
This movie deeply touched me and stimulated my mind in ways that not many Biblically based movies have, especially not since the Gospel of John, or The Passion of the Christ which I own but still find myself unable to watch a lot of the time. However, even though this recent Noah ridiculously changed and exaggerated the original story with “rock angels,” Noah’s homicidal rampage, and let’s not forget his vengeful son, I think some of the messages in the movie were so profound that even in its distortion there was still a lot that could be learned about mankind, God, and having a relationship with him. These messages resonated so deeply with me that by the end of the movie I could barely stop crying.
And We Think We Have It Bad
The first message I gathered from the movie that got my mental juices flowing was the condition of the world at that time. One thing about the human imagination, the one that I used to conjure up those images I was eager to see brought to life, is that we tend to imagine in optimism. Most often we imagine things being much better than they are or probably were. Even today, though we are fed stories through the news about the hardship and suffering around the world, we can never do it justice with our imaginations. We always assume it to be slightly better than it really is until we come face to face with live pictures, videos, or personal interaction that appalls us, if not cause us to become completely undone. As a matter of fact, the invention and mass selling of televisions sets which gave people access to all kinds of images around the world, is what made the most significant changes to the world's perception about racism, war, and violence. The television bought tall tales to life. In my own imagination of what life was like for Noah and his family, I never thought of how rough life must have been for them. I never thought about how hard it must have been to try and live right in a world where everyone was wicked and had evil thoughts continually. The societies created by the descendants of Cain were built on the idea and belief that murder was justified, and I can only imagine based on the violence in our world today what kind of petty reasons they came up with for doing so. One can only imagine how this belief must have grown along with that society and the populating of the earth. In my mind, Cain's descendants and their wickedness was no longer a small confined group with issues, but a large society that terrorized and consumed the others surrounding them.
You may think my perception is being shaped by the movie too much but, are we to assume that Cain’s descendants were the only society that thrived and grew while knowing that he was not Adam and Eve’s only child. As a matter of fact, other than Noah and his family at this specific time in the story, there seems to be no other society that differs from the descendants of Cain’s murderous culture. To me this means that the other societies were either killed off by Cain’s descendants, or eventually conformed or adopted it's culture possibly for the sake of survival. This would explain why things were getting so out of control that God himself decided to obliterate them all and start from scratch, which he had not done and has not done since. This changed the backdrop I previously held of Noah and his family, living peaceful and happily off the land and a part from the wickedness of Cain's descendants. Instead, my imagination metamorphosed into an environment that was filled with fear, constant threats, and the hardships that come along with disarray and rampant wickedness. For the first time, I began to imagine the isolation Noah must have felt in even attempting to stand apart and not conform to what was around him. For the first time, I began to get a peek inside of the faith he must have had in God to still believe and trust in him while existing in such a harsh reality. His story was no longer about the rescue and favor of God, but about the struggles that usually go hand in hand with it.
We can easily take these aspects of their lives for granted because the stories are so far removed from what we experience today. But even when we don’t, what we will usually imagine in all likelihood was probably much worse. Yet, with all of our technology and laws that now classifies murder as a crime, we are still burdened in our hearts and minds about the hardships of the life that surrounds us. Nevertheless, we still have much more at our disposal to help relieve our suffering, if only just a bit, than Noah ever had. Noah had no technology, no laws, and no helping hand (other than his family) to rely on. He obviously could not trust anyone (as only his family was kept from perishing) and had to try his best to protect and teach his own family a different way of life. He could have easily been overcome by what surrounded him, but he persisted even in the face of a world more violent than we have today with no Bible and no Holy Spirit yet, he still sought to be righteous. Not only that, he built a 3 story ship large enough to hold over a thousand animals without any of the sophisticated tools we have today. And unlike many of the other prophets in the Bible he did not complain or question his ability to do what God had instructed him to do, he just did it. Furthermore, the Bible never says specifically how long it took Noah to build this ark, but as you can imagine I am sure it took years.
Can you really imagine yourself in this situation or time? Noah was not a super human. He was just like us, yet we complain and lose faith in God over trivial things. I was convicted and humbled by this portrayal of Noah. He came alive to me in ways I hadn't imagined. He was no longer out of reach and so much stronger or better than me, but a man who suffered for his time just like we do in our own, but chose to believe God anyway. I thought this movie did a good job with bringing these overlooked factors to the surface. I even think it did a good job of contrasting the death and horrible possibilities that can happen living in a fallen existence with the beauty, hope, and life that exist in God. Even though Russell Crowe's Noah was surrounded by death, violence, and a hard life, when God shows up he brings life, hope, and the power to change it. After Noah planted the seed and the water began to flow and the beautiful lush trees began to grow, I was almost in tears. This is life. This is us. Everyone, everywhere, struggling, suffering, waiting for God to show up and give us life, new dreams, and new hopes. When he does it is always so much more than we can imagine, and has the potential to effect the whole world. This movie brought a lot of ideas and struggles to the surface about what Noah had to endure; and not just the environmental or societal hardships, but also the psychological ones.
The Silent Treatment
The second thing that touched me about the movie was the silence of God. Often times in my own relationship with God I have also been baffled and sometimes even hurt by his silence. Many times in Christians and evangelist’s attempts to draw you towards God they are eager to tell you about all his promises, love, and blessings, but what they don’t tell you is the things you will struggle with also. One of the many struggles is in the inability to hear from God, trying to find out what he is doing, or his plan for your life. To be completely honest, the silence of God that’s portrayed in this movie is real. Not only is it real, in real life it can be just as confusing as Russell Crowe’s Noah portrayed it. It can be downright frustrating and at times cripplingly dispiriting. It can cause you to think that you are so right on something only to discover that you were completely wrong. It can make something that seems simple on the outside, break you down completely on the inside. Most of all it can shake your faith and cause you to question God and who he says he is entirely. The truth is this silence is probably one of the main reasons that people walk away or get lured away from God. We all have thought or think many problems in the world or in our lives would be solved once and for all if God would simply speak, but in some cases he just doesn't. I thought the internal conflict that arouse within Russell Crowe’s Noah did a good job at showing this. Granted Noah in the Bible did not go on a murderous rampage to kill himself, his family, and even new born babies, but I’m sure if he is as human as I believe he is his mental acceptance of what was about to take place was not smooth sailing. The questions he grapples with in the movie like why would God do this (kill everyone I mean)? Why save me and my family? Or the prideful tendency most of us, especially many Christians, may have to look down on those left behind in righteous indignation as if they are more deserving of such a fate than we are, were all very very valid points. Not to mention, more likely the thought process any one of us would have if we found ourselves in similar circumstances. Most of the prophets that God called to do things on his behalf asked themselves these very questions of why me, and struggled with the same above the law mentalities. It would be hard-pressed to not believe that Noah didn't go through the same things.
Everyone and everything in the entire world was about to die and drown, how could he possibly accept that easily even if he still went ahead and did what God instructed? In the midst of a drifting and cooped up family across a landless earth, I am sure there was bickering and tension on a ship with feces, urine, and thousands of animals. I’m sure as everything outside the boat perished that he struggled with some thoughts and feelings. And I am just as sure that God did not fix all their problems, answer all of his questions, or extinguish all the struggles he was having as he usually does not. Instead, he leaves it up to us to decide even in our confusion to still believe he is a just and loving God (even when he is killing everyone), and for us to come to a more solid and fortified foundation of truth after all our fragile theories and reasoning has dwindled away under the pressure of struggle (physical as well as mental).
The truth is following God and even doing exactly what he says is not easy. It does not mean you will understand everything all the time, you will be confident all the time, or simply get stuff right all the time. The truth is that as much as God is loving he is also tough and unwaveringly sovereign. I liked how the movie did not demand that God explain himself to the people on the earth who were clearly suffering, but made it clear that it was our responsibility to submit to and seek to understand God. The truth is God shakes us and breaks us (sometimes simply with silence) to make us. He uses the circumstances of our lives, our confusion, and even our disobedience to teach us who he is. This lifetime process is probably one of the hardest things you will have to endure in your lifetime, but what arises as a result is not only a clearer understanding of who he is, but also who he created us to be. Again, to me, the movie displayed this very well. It even took it a step further and showed that whether we defy him, just as the “rock angels” did, for whatever we deem as good and legitimate reasons, redemption is only but a choice away. That while a relationship with him requires our unwavering obedience, he is always ready to forgive and accept us. (And even though the rock angels seemed a bit extreme, according the the Bible there were "Nephilim"creatures on the earth in those days and who knows what they looked like, even though I think its safe to assume they were not made of rock, nor were looking for repentance.) So even though this movie did not stick to the exact Biblical story, the messages in it and the images it created was enough for me to give it my stamp of approval. It was a disaster, but to me a beautiful one and possibly worth a second look.
Stephanie Kekeocha was born and raised in Chicago, IL. She has a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences from University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). (read more)
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