So I don’t really like posting things to the internet.
At best, my posts go completely unnoticed. At worst they start a flame war. There’s the part of me that always wonders ‘Who do you think actually cares about your opinions?’ and the other part that says ‘You know you don’t take criticism from random strangers well.’
Anyway, all of this is to say that this is the first time I’ve had an actual blog, and we’ll see how it goes. I’ve set my “goal” at once-a-month posting, maybe I’ll exceed it, maybe I won’t reach it. But I do find writing very cathartic and if I can share my ideas with others and get their reactions, why not give it a try?
I caught Darren Aronofsky’s latest film Noah this weekend. My roommate and I made a man-date of it, and our local theater was packed unlike I ever recall seeing it before. We live in a very small, I would say “uptight,” Christian conservative town in Iowa. It was not all that long ago that the theater was built, and I’ve heard stories about protests and heavy resistance (because, you see, movies are evil. The Bible clearly tells us so). The climate has calmed down a lot since then, but it doesn’t seem like the town has really embraced the theater. Barring a midnight showing of Watchmen, I don’t think I had ever previously seen a movie playing to even half capacity, but I guess when you put together the local opening of God’s Not Dead and Noah making so many waves (no pun intended… unless you liked it and then it totally was) even the stodgiest of communities will turn out in force.
The theater Noah played in was not quite to capacity, but (apart from the previously-mentioned Watchmen showing) was easily the fullest I’d seen in my little town. But somehow, despite that, this felt like one of the smallest audiences I’ve been a part of. There was no sense of energy in this crowd; not of excitement from seeing a great film, or revulsion at seeing a horrible one. Not even the sense of boredom that comes from seeing an uninteresting film. They filed in silently, watched the film, and filed out just as quietly.
Maybe these details don’t seem interesting or noteworthy, but I was very surprised by them. Because I was completely blown away by this film.
Talking about Noah as strictly a film, it should surprise no one how good it is. Six films in, Darren Aronofsky has yet to direct a truly “bad” film. His most-maligned would be 2006’s The Fountain, which sits at a thoroughly mediocre 51 on metacritic (though the user score is 8.1). Everything else the man has touched has been a notable success, at least in the minds of critics and other filmmakers. The known commodities in this film (Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly) play their parts well. I don’t think they’ll amaze anyone, like I said, at this point you know what you’re getting out of these two. But that shouldn’t diminish the excellence with which portray their characters. Probably the biggest surprise to me was Emma Watson, who gave what this (admittedly uninformed) blogger believes is a performance that could earn an Oscar nomination. It’s obviously too early in the year to predict that, but she does that well here.
But let’s be honest; no one wants to talk abut Noah as a film. I didn’t choose this as the “founding” post for my blog because I saw a really good movie and wanted to gush about it, but more because I saw a movie that’s been unfairly maligned by a subculture of people, many of whom haven’t seen it or given it a fair chance.
To be completely fair, on the one hand I can understand the perspective of many Christians in fearing or distrusting the film. It takes a story that many of us hold to be literally true and precious to our faith and adds in influences from numerous extra-biblical texts and beliefs.
But, to be completely unfair, I also have something of an issue with disregarding the film on that basis alone, because every interpretation of the story of Noah in Genesis is going to be extra-biblical. Even if I simply read the Bible, I’m bringing to that reading my own perspective, my own personal and emotional baggage. I’m bringing to it my own extra-biblical influences and beliefs.
I call my blog “The Total Depravity of Mannings” (and mad props to my brother for coming up with that title), a play off the Calvinist belief in the total depravity of man. Essentially it states that all of mankind has been corrupted by sin, and that each man has been totally corrupt, meaning that there is not one part of me that sin has not influenced (a belief that, consciously or not, Aronofsky portrayed beautifully and poignantly in his film). Logically this corruption, then, has to influence my reading and understanding of the Bible. No one reads it purely, no one has a “true” or perfect understanding of its text. And so we have to struggle with it. And we struggle to make sense of what’s there, and we struggle to understand what we’re told and what is left out, but mostly we struggle to make sense of it in the world as we know it and in our lives.
And ultimately, I think that’s what Noah really is. A man’s struggle to make sense of what he’s read. What he believes.
To dismiss Aronofsky’s religious beliefs as being simply atheistic, as many have done, isn’t fair, since he’s said in a recent interview “I think I definitely believe.” What, exactly, he believes, I guess I’m not really sure. He explains that he tried to show it in the previously-mentioned Fountain, and after seeing that movie I feel comfortable in saying no one will ever fully understand it (including possibly Aronofsky). But the point is that much of the talk and discussion, not to the mention the rhetoric used to describe his beliefs by some Christian writers and critics strikes me as being disingenuous, at least.
So, too, does the pervading opinion that Aronofsky had some sort of ulterior motive in making this film. Ranging from those claiming that Aronofsky deliberately chose a biblical story for the purposes to “luring” Christians into the theater, to those coloring the whole film as mindless entertainment (citing the “rock monsters” as evidence of this), all kinds of claims have been made to vilify the director one way or another. However, the evidence simply does not bear this out.
Read the full interview with Aronofsky linked above. Hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Or take a look at this interview with co-writer Ari Handel. Or this article, by youth pastor John Snowden, a Biblical advisor for the film. Or read the prose poem Aronofsky wrote when he was 13 that ignited his passion for creating a film on this subject. These men–and others who worked on this project–had different beliefs, different ideas, and were from different backgrounds, but one common thread is clear: They took both their film and the biblical text very seriously.
None of this is to say that Noah is a Christian film, if there is such a thing (which may be a subject for another blogpost one day). It’s not. And while Aronofsky’s beliefs are more complicated than many have allowed, they’re still very far outside what most Christians (or Muslims or Jews, to name two other faiths that hold the Noah story sacred) would consider orthodox.
But that’s the thing about total depravity: if it’s true, the other side, common grace, must, out of necessity, be true, too. If sin’s corruption extends to every human and every part of every human, the only way to make sense of the fact that corrupt humans can produce good works is if some amount of God’s grace does, too.
Noah is a sinful film. It is a corrupt film, and an extra-biblical film.
If you can open your mind wide enough to accept those facts, you might find there’s enough common grace for the film to also be an interesting and thought-provoking contemplation on the original story. I know I certainly did. The portrayal of God’s holy and just wrath is unlike anything I’ve witnessed in film making.
If you don’t, then you’ll have spent a couple of bucks to see an exceptionally well-made film. Not to mention become equipped to form your own opinion on the film.
Not a bad prospect, all things considered.