I was interviewed about Noah for Vatican Radio, the NBC News website, EWTN News Nightly, Kresta in the Afternoon and The World Over. (That last segment has yet to air. I also received interview requests for Huffington Post TV and al-Jezeera, but those didn't happen.)
In addition, besides my various pieces here at the Register, I wrote a theological reflection on the film for Catholic World Report. It’s been so much, I decided to bring it all together in one blog post just to keep track of it all. (Note: Don’t miss the Bonus Video That Has Nothing To Do With Noah!)
There’s a lot of artwork where you are, in the Vatican, representing different stories in the Bible, that don’t necessarily show us a literal portrayal of what happened, but they represent the artist’s vision and the themes that the artist is interested in. And that’s happened here. And I think the movie is certainly interested in questions of justice and mercy and what it means to be human; it’s also obviously very interested in environmentalism, and that’s a major theme in the film. Some people have been afraid that that environmentalism would overshadow the moral themes with regard to violence and inhumanity and so forth, but that is very much on display in the film.
Watch the EWTN News Nightly interview (under 4 minutes; starts at 22-minute mark).
This movie is a work of art and imagination; it is not a work of propaganda for anybody. I think Christians going into it wanting it to be an evangelistic tool are going to be disappointed, and environmentalists looking for it to be an environmentalist tract are also going to be disappointed.
Greydanus says that the story has been both streamlined and elaborated upon in popular retellings. “We repeat the 40 days (of rain) but omit the 150 days (until the waters receded) that are also mentioned. We tell of the animals coming two by two but leave out that there are seven of some species so that Noah will have something to sacrifice.” And as far as additions go: “We elaborate it with things like Noah preaching to the people and them mocking and rejecting his preaching, which are not in the story.”
“Let me tell you a story,” Russell Crowe’s Noah says to his family in a moment of great crisis and emotion. “The first story my father told me, and the first story I told each of you.” What he recounts are the events of Genesis 1, the creation of the world, and Aronofsky relates them both verbally and visually in a way that bespeaks a confidence in the power of this story to speak to us today: a story still worth telling and retelling.
That’s not to say everyone will appreciate this retelling. Aronofsky is not a populist filmmaker; he doesn’t make movies for everyone. His work is generally dark, divisive and personal, and Noah is no exception. The story Aronofsky tells alongside the flood story of Genesis is provocative and disturbing — one that, as I noted in my review, stretches the biblical text to the breaking point. For many viewers, as I said, this will be a bridge too far. Others will appreciate the seriousness with which Aronofsky deals with moral and religious issues, including Noah’s efforts to be faithful to God at any cost.
Noah presents biblical characters facing challenges, dilemmas and uncertainties as knotty as those we face today. Compared to figures in most ancient dramas, they are both more recognizably human, yet also more persuasively other. I appreciate a costume drama being willing to let the characters’ milieu push back on audience expectations with cultural sensibilities different from ours.
Aronofsky: “When we first started looking at the Noah story, we ran into a bizarre question. Because the first story after Noah is the story of Babel. Right after God starts over again, human wickedness shows up again in the next story.
“That’s such a strange thing — to go through that much pain, to destroy your creation; all those animals and people who didn’t get on the ark: It must have been such a painful decision. But then, in the next story, you have to go back and deal with the same thing again. Man tries, through his arrogance, to reach you. You have to smite them and spread them around the planet.”
Deacon Steven D. Greydanus is film critic for the National Catholic Register, creator of Decent Films, and a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Newark.
With David DiCerto, he co-hosts the Gabriel Award–winning cable TV show “Reel Faith” for New Evangelization Television. Steven has degrees in media arts and religious studies, and has contributed several entries to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, including “The Church and Film” and a number of filmmaker biographies. He has also written about film for the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy.
He has a BFA in Media Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York, an MA in Religious Studies from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, PA, and an MA in Theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall in South Orange, NJ. Steven and his wife Suzanne have seven children.