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04 July 2014

Noah: ark mission

Noah: ark mission

Depravity, apocalypse and liberation: the story of Noah's ark has all the qualities of a blockbuster. Of course, this vessel has sailed across our screens before. We saw it in the conservation comedy Evan Almighty (2007), which starred Steve Carell and preached a message of human kindness. More recently, the television series The Bible (2013) began on board the ark, with Noah recounting the creation story to his frightened family.

With auteur Darren Aronofsky at the helm, an altogether more epic portrayal has arrived. As with any new adaptation of an old story, the filmmakers have searched for a fresh angle. "[People] consider Noah to be a benevolent figure because he looked after the animals," says Russell Crowe, reflecting on his character. "The dude that stood by and watched the entire population of the planet perish? He's not benevolent, he's not even nice!"[1]

The man who loves animals

Who is the real family behind the simplified story of a floating zoo? It's this human drama, and the question of how to portray it authentically, that has captured the imagination of writer-director Aronofsky. In his pitch to Crowe, he promised: "Never at any stage will you be obligated to stand at the bow of a boat flanked by a giraffe and an elephant."[2]

The director is known for his ability to get inside a character's head, and to craft unique, challenging stories such as Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010). Noah is no exception. "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards… and get drunk,"muses Aronofsky. "It was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character."[3]

Beyond the spectacle of this narrative (Noah was arguably both gift and curse to its special-effects team) lie some shocking truths. In the Bible, the number of stories separating Earth's creation and its destruction by flood can be counted on one hand. God wipes out humanity, save for one family. Noah is warned of an apocalypse and then must stand alone as witness to it. How do we relate to such a man, and how can we respect such a God?

The God who hates sin

Noah displays the corruption of the pre-flood world in all its horror. The movie embellishes the original story,with a bloodthirsty city ruled by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and a stronger emphasis on humanity's disregard for nature and animals. Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) reminds his grandson, Noah, of God's warnings: "My father said that one day, if man continued in his ways, the creator would annihilate this world."[4]

The film also demonstrates the promise of new life beyond the flood. "Fire consumes all. Water cleanses," Noah tells his grandfather. Noah is convinced that this is a new beginning, not the end of God's creation. The opportunity for a fresh start is a hope buried deep in our psyche. God's ark mission speaks to this desire for rescue to a better world.

But as Crowe suggests, there remains the troubling question of judgement. Many have taken the easy option of dismissing the God of Noah as petulant and immoral. But, as this story is dwelt on this year, perhaps a more disturbing idea will surface: this is a God whose morality is perfect. Aronofsky's Noah begins to wonder whether he and his family deserve to evade God's judgement – whether the human race ought to die out altogether.

Noah is known as a man of justice, of righteousness. But, he starts to identify within himself the depravity that has spread across the world. Will beginning again be enough? How will God cleanse the human heart?

Crowe comments – what God asked Noah to do wasn't 'nice'. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it wasn't benevolent. Is God's hatred for sin a sign that he could never love humanity? In Noah's day, when the human race was corrupted by extremes of immorality, God provided a means of rescue (for people and the rest of his creation alike) through the flood and the ark. What about us? God has provided a means of eternal rescue from immorality – both external and internal: "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Noah is released on DVD this summer. For free official resources, see damaris.org/noah

[1] Russell Crowe, EntertainmentTonight interview

[2] Darren Aronofsky, Empire magazine (January 2014) p.21

[3] Aronofsky, 'Just say Noah' article, The Guardian

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