Saturday, April 12, 2014

Theology Goes to the Movies: "Noah"

There's very little to say about the recent movie Noah that hasn't already been said, or written about on blogs, or debated ad naseum on social media. In this regard, I think one of the best critical reviews of this movie came from a fellow pastor and friend from seminary, Rev. Michael Schuermann. You can find his review by clicking here. It's well worth your time and thoughtful reading. Here are also a couple other interesting tidbits of review from the National Catholic Register, not that I agree with every conclusion, but there are some thought provoking things in this review, as well as the interview done with director Darren Aronofsky.

So, after a few weeks of reflection I only have a couple of main points that keep returning to my mind when people ask me what I thought about the movie.

First, I appreciate the work of Darren Aronofsky in presenting the Biblical account of the flood in a visually stimulating manner. Cinematography and visual effects were not schmaltzy or obviously digital, even though computer graphics were a major player in this movie. The visual effects were certainly working overtime as constant display of just how bad the world was under the curse of sin. And more than the visual effects, I appreciate Aronofsky for getting this part right. There were no smiling dolphins playing in the waters around the ark, or giraffes poking their heads from the ark, and Noah wasn't sitting around singing kumbaya for 150 days on the ark. The movie was dark, somber, and painted with realism, not idealist romanticism or nursery rhyme theology. If Aronofsky's Noah got one thing right it was the Law, and along with that, God's justice. However, as Rev. Schuermann reminds us in his review (and this is what I had noticed as well), Noah lacks mercy. Here are a couple of choice paragraphs:

For Christians, it is crucial that the account of Noah and the Flood is one of God’s mercy in addition to His justice because of what the New Testament reveals about this event. Christians see in the events of the Flood a picture of God’s care for His Church in the midst of trials: “if [God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” (2 Peter 2:5, 9)

Christians also see the events of the Flood as a preview or picture of God’s cleansing mankind of sin and saving them for Himself through the waters of Holy Baptism. “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:20–21).

Law, justice, and big, bad ocean waves make for great movie watching; and the Law might sell a lot of "How-to" books at a Christian book store. But the Law is not life; it is death. Just ask Noah in Genesis 6-8. All those awe-filled cinematic moments don't amount to much of anything without the Gospel. Had Aronofsky spent as much time visually pouring out God's mercy as he did depicting God's wrath, the movie might have fared better in the end. But then again, as it has been said, the book is always better than the movie. And this leads me to my second and final point.

I had the joy of seeing this movie with the youth of Redeemer Lutheran, HB. I've said it before and I'll say it again: our Lutheran youth are smart and we should never let anyone say otherwise. My favorite part of the movie Noah actually began once the movie ended. I overheard the youth talking about it the movie in the parking lot and then when we arrived back at church for dinner I waited to say anything for a while - actually it was hard for me get a word in edgewise what with all their critiquing and commentary. But I'm not complaining about that. This is a good thing. That was the best thing about this movie. For the first twenty minutes or so I heard things like, "Pastor, did you see those glowing bodies, what was up with that?" or, "That wasn't in the book of Genesis!" or, "What's with those rock people; I don't remember that in catechism class." and, "Can you believe they did that, pastor; that was just ridiculous."

The movie ticket may have been five dollars (and thankfully a gracious member paid for mine), but that reaction from the Lutheran youth made it worth any price of admission they would've been charging us. Priceless. I couldn't have been more proud of them. It may not always look like our Lutheran youth are listening when we teach them in Sunday School or Catechism class. But they're listening, learning, and when they are given the opportunity, they're remarkably brilliant, discerning, and faithful in their vocation as youth. They confess the faith; they care about the truth - at the movies, of all places, where they know it's going to be heavily influenced by Hollywood; and they dare to be Lutheran, even though the big screen and the entire world often seems to be dead set against them.

Maybe the next time someone wants to do a major budget, biblical movie they should come and hang out with our youth at Redeemer. After all, we're not that far from Hollywood; and they could learn a thing or two from our youth. I know I do, every day.

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