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Noah directed by Darren Aronofsky
Noah directed by Darren Aronofsky

Noah makes waves

Adapting written works to the screen is as old as cinema itself. It’s a difficult process in which conveying the core of the story is balanced against preserving the details of the original text. What works on paper does not usually work on screen, so the original work needs to be reinterpreted and retold in a new way for a new medium. Often the adapted work is a success when taken on its own merits, but fails when measured against expectations held by fans of the original.

Adapting biblical stories for visual retelling is even harder. Viewers are not just fans, they are followers. If the retelling undermines the expectations of this audience it can be construed as a personal attack. This is the challenge faced by Noah.

Many Christian film critics have panned Noah for embellishing the biblical text. In fact, director Darren Aronofsky has called it “the least biblical film ever made”. It is unusual—often alarming—yet Noah still demonstrates genuine affection for the source material and an understanding of its themes and complex implications. It explores deep, religious questions about justice and mercy, as well as God’s relationship to humankind and humankind’s relationship to the earth.

Every character is fully fleshed out; good and evil reside in everyone—even the titular character. Noah (Russell Crowe) isn’t the paragon of righteousness and certainty he is commonly portrayed to be, and many of those killed in the flood are portrayed sympathetically. This will rankle some viewers, as will some of the film’s more outlandish aspects inspired by folklore or drawn from apocryphal sources.

It’s not that Noah takes more liberties with the text than, say, Mark Burnett’s mini-series The Bible, which was received positively by Christian audiences. Both are reinterpreted works with their own slant, highlighting some aspects of the story while changing others. While The Bible played into expectations, Noah challenges them. It is bolder and takes more risks, and it is willing to ask challenging questions about life and faith. It also shakes the kitschy, Christmas pageant vibe The Bible suffered from.

There’s real imagination at work here, and plenty of material for Bible study discussion. Aronofsky’s Noah is a solid and vibrant reimagining which cuts to the theological heart of the biblical story.

Rohan Salmond
Cross-platform editor

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