Exclusive Editorial by Craig Detweiler, Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University
It’s fairly common these days for a movie to get the entire country talking about a comic book or a series of tween novels. But the Bible? That’s a lot more rare – and yet it happened this spring when Noah was in theaters nationwide. And I hope it happens again when the film premieres on Blu-ray and DVD July 29.
I say that not just as director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University, where I have a professional interest in movies that make you think while they entertain you; but as a Christian, I’m also energized about the dialogue the film started and how it got millions of people talking about the themes of the story of Noah found in Genesis and the nature and character of God.
I know not everyone liked the movie. That reaction didn’t surprise Paramount Pictures, the studio that made the film. Noah was “never going to get unanimity,” as the studio’s vice chairman, Rob Moore, said in an interview at the time of its theatrical release. They knew all along some people would have issues with director Darren Aronofsky’s interpretive vision for the film, one that was never intended to be a literal translation of Scripture but a creative imagining of the Bible story.
Aronofsky’s movie is no children’s ministry sing-along about animals marching two-by-two past a beaming old man with a white beard onto a wooden version of a Carnival cruise ship. Noah is gritty and challenging, insightful and inspirational.
It is also a really compelling film, which got great reviews from some of the top critics in the country and endorsements from some of the leading faith leaders in the U.S., from National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez to former ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn; from Pastor Brian Houston of Hillsong Church to Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. In the end, what the dialogue, and in some cases debate, proved was that it is not just OK, but beneficial, to make art inspired by the Bible.
What is the evidence of that? Consider this: In the days after Noah premiered in theaters on March 28, the popular website BibleGateway.com reported a 223 percent increase from the previous weekend in the number of people who visited the Noah story in Genesis 6-9. Even more remarkable, YouVersion, the No. 1 Bible smartphone app, said it saw a 300 percent increase in users opening the biblical account of Noah in the U.S. – and a 245 percent increase globally.
Additionally, I saw the effects first hand – my teenagers loved the film and it prompted them to reread Genesis with considerable attention and care. I’ve also heard from many others that their own Noah-prompted Bible reading jumpstarted thoughtful and meaningful discussions about sin and judgment, compassion and forgiveness. That’s because, throughout the film, Noah wrestles mightily to balance justice with mercy. The question on his mind, the weighty decision that tests and torments him, mirrors what God had to decide just 10 generations after Eden: Is mankind — inclined as it is to evil toward each other and rebellion against its Creator — worth saving? It’s a question not only asked by Aronofsky’s movie, but also by any serious reader of the Bible who sees chapter after chapter of man’s rebellion and God’s heartbreak because of it.
I have even heard a friend describe Noah, as depicted in the film by Russell Crowe, as a brilliant and unforgettable metaphor for God. In Scripture, God sees His beautiful creation turn its collective back on Him and His anger is warranted. But by the end of the Biblical account, God has chosen grace and love in the form of a promise and a rainbow.
It is my professional and personal hope that the home video release of the film will prompt additional substantive conversations about both the movie’s and the Bible’s depiction of Noah. To that end, I have created, in conjunction with Paramount, a study guide I hope you’ll consider downloading and going through, either alone or with a group of friends. You can find it at Noah Ministry Resources, where the studio has also posted clips from Noah to get the dialogue started.
May it lead you to a better understanding of how Noah’s story can teach us lessons about our past, and give us insight into our future.
Craig Detweiler is an author, filmmaker and cultural commentator. He is a professor of communication and director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
photo credit: pepperdine.academia.edu