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Mar27ThuDarren Aronofsky's new movie is not your typical Sunday-school tale. March 27, 2014 by Geoff Moulton
Will Noah float or sink at the box office? The biblical epic has generated a lot of speculation. But writer-director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan) is known for taking on risky projects—often with great success. With a $125-million budget, there is a lot riding on this movie for Paramount Pictures.
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The film begins with Noah's disturbing visions of the watery destruction that awaits humankind and his call from God to build the Ark. A bearded Russell Crowe, looking scruffy in the title role, has the right mix of angst and tenacity to pull it off. Despite doubts within and opposition without, Noah accepts his challenge from God with steely resolve.
If you've seen the trailer, you'll know that the movie plays less like a biblical epic and more like a disaster movie. That doesn't necessarily mean it will be all walls of water, fire and brimstone. Aronofsky is also interested in psychological drama. His most famous movie is the intense thriller Black Swan, which explored the evils that lurk in the mind of an ambitious ballerina.
Aronofsky told the press he saw Noah as a “dark, complicated character” who struggled with “survivor's guilt.” Certainly the biblical tale itself was not all doves and rainbows. Noah's first act on reaching dry ground was to get drunk and lie around naked. Not your typical Sunday-school emphasis.
So it's no surprise that the movie also has overtones of environmental apocalypse. Some may scoff at a reading of the story that promotes Noah as “the first environmentalist.” Nevertheless, Noah's story is a re-Creation—as the tagline says, “The end of the world is just the beginning.”
A Flood of Questions
Archeologists and scientists have long tried to explain the biblical flood: Was it a massive tsunami that stripped Earth bare? Was it one of the great Mesopotamian floods that laid waste to much of known civilization at the time? Biblical literalists would suggest that the flood covered the entire globe and that only those on the Ark were spared; others would argue that it was a geographically isolated event.
Recently, the world of archeology has been buzzing over the discovery of a 4,000-year-old cuneiform clay tablet from Iraq that contains a story similar to the biblical account of Noah's Ark. CNN reports, “The newly decoded cuneiform tells of a divinely sent flood and a sole survivor on an ark, who takes all the animals on board to preserve them. It even includes the famous phrase 'two by two,' describing how the animals came onto the ark.”
What's puzzled scholars is the description of the Ark as “a large round vessel, made of woven rope and coated (like the biblical Ark) in pitch to keep it waterproof.” This round shape—essentially a large wooden bowl—is in contrast to the traditional view of an oblong vessel as depicted in the movie.
Of course, the power of the biblical story—and the movie—is not what it teaches us about history or archeology, but what we learn about God. Noah's story is first of all a journey of faith. As the lone “righteous man” in a world ravaged by sin, he is ridiculed for his visions and faces intense criticism even from his closest friends. Opposition comes mainly from Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone), who amasses an army to threaten Noah and his family.
Yet there are encouragers. Wise old Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) ominously portends, “My father said that, one day, if man continued in his ways, the Creator would annihilate this world.” He tells Noah, “God speaks to you. You must trust that He speaks in a way that you can understand.”
When Tubal Cain leads his troops to Noah's doorstep, he roars, “I have men at my back. You stand alone and defy me?”
“I'm not alone,” Noah replies.
Indeed, divine intervention is at hand. God helps Noah fend off the marauders and keep his family and the animals safe. These external threats represent a corrupted world that fell short of God's original design.
There is perhaps a danger in seeing this story as a kind of revenge fantasy where evil people get their just deserts. Certainly, the God of the Old Testament has a wrathful side, but He is not malicious or spiteful. We must remember that this is the same God who eventually sent His Son, Jesus, to die in our place on the cross. God's goal has always been the redemption of humanity.
Like Noah, God offers each of us a new beginning if we trust Him. Rough waters may come in our lives—job loss, addiction, failed relationships— but we do not have to face the rising tides alone. Whatever trials we face, we have a Saviour who will redeem us and set our feet on dry land once again.