In the late 1960s, Bill Cosby did a classic stand-up routine about Noah and the ark – imagining what those conversations between Noah and God must have been like. Or between Noah and his neighbors (“Hey! Yo up there! What is this?” “It’s an ark.” “You wanna get it out of my driveway? I gotta get to work.”)
I listened to Cosby endlessly as a kid and thought this bit was hilarious. I don’t remember ever thinking, “Oh, so that’s how it really happened.”
Likewise, nobody attends a Christmas pageant and believes the angels were all 7-year-old girls with glitter halos, or that any of the shepherds wore glasses. Nor do audience members storm out of the church because the pageant doesn’t exactly match what’s in the gospels.
So why are so many people so concerned when a major Hollywood film sticks pretty much to the Genesis account of Noah but takes imaginative liberties where the Bible is silent or vague? Don’t worry, we get it: This is not a documentary.
Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” was the most thought-provoking movie I’ve seen in a long time. Not because it is completely true to Genesis; it never purports to be. But from beginning to end it made me think, “Could that have happened this way?” An imaginative director’s take on early, wicked humanity and God’s rescue plan was fascinating, frightening, at times spectacular and – I believe – honoring to God.
Also fascinating was the presentation of Russell Crowe’s Noah as a conflicted, imperfect man struggling to honor God and sometimes making terrible decisions. Given the little we know about Noah, and the flaws we do know about other Old Testament heroes, I didn’t think this was so far-fetched.
The other thing “Noah” did was drive me back into Genesis chapters 6-9 to check details and to see how closely the film followed them. (Tons of other moviegoers have been doing the same thing, according to the people who run YouVersion, Bible Gateway and other Bible sites or apps.) The answer is a mixed bag, but the film is surprisingly true to the Bible on some of the minor details. Even when the film interprets Genesis’ Nephilim as giant, hammer-swinging rock-men, all you can really say is … well, there’s another stab at a question no one’s ever been able to answer with much certainty.
The film’s most noticeable and direct contradiction of Genesis is in deciding which humans wind up on the ark. Aronofsky leaves a couple of crucial people off until very late, adds another and … well, it’s complicated. It all plays into a dramatic storyline that probably wasn’t needed.
Nor were the extended fight scenes needed. I get bored by most blockbuster adventure films because they so quickly become one long battle sequence with endless explosions. “Noah” doesn’t do that, but a couple of times it does seem to forget it’s not part 4 of “Lord of the Rings.”
But that’s being picky. “Noah” is a really good movie that I want to see again. It’s uncommon, and refreshing, when a piece of biblically based entertainment makes me think, instead of just telling me what to think.