“Crap! This is Hollywood crap! Read the Bible for yourself!” shouted the angry voice from the darkness of the front row in the cinema auditorium. It was a disappointing, unexpected, ending to the film Noah. The righteous indignation echoed in contrast to the light of the rainbow emanating across the blue of the sky, as the credits began rolling down the screen. That was how the film ended for me when I saw the Hollywood movie Noah on opening day last week.
Dark. Dramatized. Dystopian (in an ancient sense). The film was more vivid than I ever imagined the story to be. Noah is more tortured, anxious, filled with angst, then I ever imagined him in my well-worn Children’s Bible. And it was a fun film to watch – even with the watchers, bad guy in the ark, and PG-13ish climactic fist-fight. I was struck by the darkness of the film as it wrestled with the question of the elimination of what God created – not the good ecological and animal life, but only the human one – including, potentially, Noah and his family – the only just and good guys out there. It’s a question that goes unaddressed in the textual story [found in Genesis 6-10]. Not surprisingly changes are made in the way the story unfolds.
That irate woman seated several rows in front of me, who was quick to give verbal advice at the conclusion of the film, was correct in that the movie is an interpretation of the story, especially when you turn a 2,200 word narrative into an $125 million film lasting 2 hours and 12 minutes. But she forgets that every act of interpretation involves making choices about the material. She forgets that it’s a Hollywood film, not a proselytizing or evangelistic endeavor. The movie is made to make money, not convert the masses (unless they start selling Noah t-shirts and make some sort of Noah Happy Meal toy for McDonald’s). It’s a great popcorn movie, the first blockbuster of the summer. And so while I felt that the incensed woman was foolish in her response, I recognize that the film diverges from the text in order to beef up the fighting, the bad guy and even Noah – played not by a nerdy skinny grandpa-ish guy (like I always imagined) but by the beefy ex-gladiator Russell Crowe. It’s not the Noah of my Children’s Bible!
Yet, I found it magical, a momentous feast for the eyes, mesmerizing portrayal of the animals coming to the ark. As I reread the story in Genesis, I was struck by the fact that the movie got one thing really spot on. God doesn’t save the world out of love, but out of mercy, which is the underlying vocabulary of the film. Unlike the shouting evangelist of the front row, I didn’t come expecting a Bible Study or an affirmation of faith, but ironically I left with one. As I returned home, and stopped for gas, I witnessed a near accident. An angry driver, irritated by a slow driver, did an illegal move to pass the slow car at a green light, leaning out the window – undoubtedly for insistence – as he shouted “F*&$ you! Mother F$%*er!” It was in that moment that I realized that maybe this creative, consumeristic, capitalist endeavor of a film hadn’t actually missed the essence of the story when trying to sell it to the masses.