Dear Mr. Aronofsky,
First of all, let me say that I enjoyed your new film Noah. I found it interesting, thought-provoking and done in such a way that that even someone like myself – the son of an evangelical pastor – wanted to know what would happen next. The acting was solid and, in the context of the film itself, there was never a false beat delivered by any member of the ensemble of impressive actors. I would recommend – nay, will recommend – to all of my friends that they go see Noah and to prepare themselves for a wild ride. Your vision for this story was wide and sweeping and I genuinely appreciate that you were swinging for the fences.
With that said, let me briefly walk you through some of the most prominent criticisms levied at your film.
First, an artistic decision you made. The choice to portray the “fallen angels” – a group of unique, likely supernatural, beings called “the Nephilim” in the book of Genesis – as giant creatures made out of boulders fell flat in the estimations of many reviewers. I tend to agree with such analysis, but only because I felt their cartoonish appearance took away from the unique story line these characters introduced to the plot. Transformers-meets-Lord of the Rings is how folks are describing them when they should be talking about how interesting it is that, even according to the Bible, some version of these beings actually existed and roamed the earth (chasing Daughters-of-Eve tail, mostly). Deserved or not, this may end up being your film’s “jumping the Jar-Jar Binks shark” moment.
Next, let me turn to a few of the ideological/theological problems many have with Noah.
One of your pre-release comments about Noah being the “first environmentalist” seems to be affirmed in Russell Crowe’s brooding performance. He scolds his own child for wanting to pick a little flower merely because it is beautiful. Without specific direction from God, he convinces himself that mankind is to be sacrificed after the flood because, in his mind, nature was unaffected by the fallen state of humanity and so we, therefore, are a pestilence on earth which needs to be eradicated. Throughout the film, there is an outlandishly negative emphasis put on the consumption of meat and the usage of natural resources to build things and improve humanity’s existence.
While the sum of your ecological message – the earth is a treasure to be protected – is less troubling than its radical environmentalist parts, I am sure you can appreciate why some who don’t share your precise views would feel like a heavy rhetorical hand had been used to teach them a lesson. Apart from human beings, the earth has no purpose. It was made by a Personal Being and purposely populated with personal beings. Divinely appointed stewardship, not nature-worship, is what we need to rediscover in our modern age. Nature too was corrupted in the Garden of Eden.
Speaking of theology, the problem many of us have with Noah is bigger than some insistence upon a line-by-line recounting of every specific event. Little things like Noah adopting an orphaned girl, or there not being enough women for Noah’s sons, can easily be chalked up to creative license.
No, what we found disappointing was the way you misrepresented God and His character. The relationship you depict between Noah and God is cold and distant. And yet even a casual reading of the text in Genesis would find such descriptions as…
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God
But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.”
God liked Noah and wanted him to be the agent of humanity’s re-birth. He made that abundantly clear. No one can deny that the story of the flood is a difficult one to comprehend, let alone explain, but to remove the love God had for the last righteous man on earth is to cut out the heart of the Biblical story.
Mr. Aronofsky, I know you are an atheist and skeptic, so I’m sure much of the hullabaloo surrounding Noah does not make much sense to you. Or, perhaps it serves to affirm the stereotypes of “fundamentalist” Christians that you’ve undoubtedly encountered in your life and career. But please understand where my brothers and sisters in Christ are coming from. Your previous films are dark and provocative. You have a well-earned reputation for producing controversial content and when some of the aforementioned grievances appeared in your new movie about a beloved Biblical hero, it triggered an “I told you he’d spoil it” reaction from many in the faith community. On certain points they raise, I add my voice to the chorus of disappointed moviegoers.
But I also want to add that if you are confused by some of the over-the-top vitriol Noah is receiving, I am as well. I’m not looking to throw other Christians under the bus here, and I too am a champion of the position that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, but it becomes increasingly difficult to defend the position that one is simply trying to communicate how loving our God is (and how wrong Aronofsky is about Him) if that defense is sandwiched between 1000+ words of mockery and subjective accusations. Some bizarrely called it “the worst movie I’ve seen in years” which can only mean that they’re unfamiliar with the Harold and Kumar series.
Granted, if a well-known evangelical pastor like John Piper or Billy Graham had directed the exact same film, I’d be agitated and alarmed and want more answers from the creative minds behind it. But to expect sound doctrine from a self-professing atheist is unrealistic. When we pay to see Darren Aronofsky’s take on something, we shouldn’t be surprised when you give us just that.
And so what I’d like to say to you in closing is this: thank you for making this movie. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I was encouraged to see your interpretation of the story of Noah and the existential themes and questions that emanate from it. Even if we disagree on the lessons we’re supposed to learn from Noah’s life and God’s actions, I appreciate your willingness to enter the “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?” debate.
Your film is going to facilitate important conversations among friends, family members and co-workers around the nation. I hope Hollywood takes note of the box office enthusiasm surrounding this movie. I also hope that those Christians who did not care for Noah are incentivized to be a part of the long-term solution (as far as the production of God-honoring, high-quality projects are concerned).
Good luck to you and keep asking the big questions.