I haven’t seen Darren Aronofsky’s Noah yet (gave up movies for Lent, grr), but here’s what I’ve learned about it from the blogosphere:
- Noah is a great movie.
- Noah sucks.
- Noah is a biblical movie.
- Noah is completely unbiblical.
- Aronofsky is totally an atheist.
- No, he’s not.
- Noah is just environmentalist propaganda.
- No it’s not, and that’s stupid.
- Noah is just a bunch of subliminal Gnostic messages.
- No it’s not, and that’s even stupider.
- Every Christian should boycott Noah.
- Every Christian should see Noah.
- It’s just a movie.
- Nothing is just a movie.
- ROCK PEOPLE. ROCK PEOPLE. ROCK PEOPLE.
If you read that, you now know everything there is to know about Noah. Congratulations!
It’s been bizarre watching the Christian blogosphere blow up with rage over this reel of celluloid, especially since Christian bloggers tend to be such calm, levelheaded bastions of insightful commentary. But the battle lines have been drawn: if you didn’t like Noah, you’re a backwoods fundamentalist who doesn’t understand art, and if you did like Noah, you’re a self-loathing closet liberal (“liberal” being the biggest insult most evangelicals can think of).
This sort of angry public fistfight among Christians is enough to make me want to get drunk off my ass on homemade wine and pass out naked in my tent, but instead of doing that, or maybe in addition to it, let me provide you with a simple theory about why any Biblical movie is going to be deluged (see what I did there?) with controversy:
- A Biblical movie is a movie based on a book; and
- A Biblical movie is a “Christian movie.”
Both categories are fraught with peril for the filmmaker, but when you combine the two, it explodes into mathematical insanity the likes of which we haven’t seen since that one dude took a power drill to his head in Aronofsky’s debut, Pi.
Let’s start with that first one.
Movies based on books are divisive because…
Every movie based on a book, by its very nature, will divide its audience into four groups:
- Group 1, people who have read the book and just want to see every detail of it regurgitated onto the screen.
- Group 2, people who have read the book and just want to see a good movie.
- Group 3, people who have not read the book and want the movie to read the book for them.
- Group 4, people who have not read the book and just want to see a good movie.
Watchmen and the Harry Potter series appeal mainly Group 1; Blue Like Jazz and Naked Lunch seek to appeal mainly to Group 2; The DaVinci Code and The Hunt for the Red October are going mainly after Group 3; and Group 4 is targeted mainly by movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Die Hard.
Obviously pleasing even one of these groups is hard enough, without pleasing all of them, and each group is going to have its fanatics. This is especially true of Group 1, many of whom will have memorized every letter of the book and will be upset if a line of dialog is even missing a single word; they can also be extremely paternalistic toward those in Group 3, whom they’re terrified will judge the book based on its film adaptation (how dare they imply Charlie Bucket would steal fizzy lifting drinks!?).
If you make your film to please Group 1, though, you’ll frustrate most of the other groups, mainly because a plot that works in book is unlikely to work in a movie.
“Christian movies” are also divisive because…
A Christian movie divides your audience at least six ways:
- Group A, Christians who are looking to have their theological views regurgitated back to them.
- Group B, Christians who are looking to have their theological views challenged, tested, or expanded.
- Group C, Christians who are just looking to see a good movie.
- Group D, non-Christians who are looking to have their theological views regurgitated back to them.
- Group E, non-Christians who are looking to have their theological views challenged, tested, or expanded.
- Group F, non-Christians who are just looking to see a good movie.
(Note that here I’m defining “Christian movie” broadly as “any movie that touches on themes of Christianity,” because I have no desire to argue about what makes a movie “Christian” or not — so I’m including everything from Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie to A Man for All Seasons to The DaVinci Code.)
Clearly, God’s Not Dead is intended primarily for Group A, while Blue Like Jazz appeals almost exclusively to Group B; Group D can’t get enough of stuff like The DaVinci Code while Group E might be more into The Exorcist. And there’s obviously going to be a lot of conflict here. Group A and Group D will almost never agree, and Groups B and E will probably be into different stuff as well. C and F are both a bit more open-minded, but also very hard to predict, and just like Group 1 above, Groups A, B, D, and E will all feel very paternalistic toward the rest.
Got a headache yet? Good. Prepare to go down the rabbit hole.
The mathematical insanity…
Now, I’m no mathemagician or anything, but it seems to me that 4 × 6 = 24.
So there you have it.
Okay, well, it’s not exactly as mind-blowing as finding the name of God in the digits of pi, but think about the insanity of TRYING TO MAKE A MOVIE THAT APPEALS TO 24 DIFFERENT SPLINTERS OF THE VIEWING PUBLIC, even irrespective of their other demographics (we haven’t even touched on age, gender, race, etc.; nor have we touched on people of other religions, like Jews — who obviously would have a special interest in Noah as well).
Group 3A (Christians who have yet to read the Bible and want the movie to tell them what it says while scratching their itching theological ears) will obviously be after a completely different movie from Group 2E (non-Christians who have read the Bible, and don’t believe it, but think it would make a cool movie that they might learn something from). Group 3D (non-Christians who have not read the Bible but assume it’s an embarrassment to Western Civilization and want a movie that confirms that) will never agree with Group 2C (Christians who have read the Bible but just want to turn off their brains and enjoy some popcorn and special effects).
And then there’s 1A.
These are the people who have read the Bible a thousand times, memorized every word, and think their theology is 100% correct. The events of the Bible happened exactly as they imagined them (no doubt influenced by Cecil B. DeMille and those Noah’s Ark graphics in their Church nursery, but don’t tell them that), and mean exactly what they say they mean, and everybody else is wrong. There’s no room for expanding their perspective with the rich history of Christian exegesis and theology — no need to read any Augustine or Aquinas or Luther or even Lewis — the stuff there on the page happened and nothing else did.
So when the Bible says “There were giants on the earth in those days,” it obviously doesn’t mean rock monsters because it doesn’t say “rock monsters” (it doesn’t say “flesh-and-blood giants” either, but so what?). When the Bible says “tend the garden and keep it,” it obviously doesn’t mean we should actually be careful how we make use of the earth, because that’s what those damn Democrats want us to do.
And obviously, because they’re right, Group 1A is going to be extremely paternalistic toward all the other groups. And let’s be honest: groups like 3C (which will contain a lot of new converts) can be pretty vulnerable. And while a stern warning might be helpful to them, eventually what they need — what we all need, including the 1As — is the ability to honestly discern truth from falsehood while remaining open to the possibility that we might be wrong about some things: the ability to distinguish between good theology and theology we want to hear.
Obviously, I could keep going here. Someone with no life could make a table explicating all 24 dispositions, if they wanted.
Someone with no job.
And no girlfriend.
But this is getting long, and all good mathematicians will tell you that when your proof gets too long it’s time to end it. So let me just close with this thought:
THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING IN ANY OF THESE 24 GROUPS.
Obviously I’ve poked a bit of fun at the 1s and the As, because I tend to find them the most obnoxious, but there is nothing inherently wrong with being in any one of these groups, so long as:
- You understand that not everyone is where you are in your spiritual and intellectual journey, and
- You’re not a jerk about it.
There is a huge gulf between “I found this film unhelpful to my spiritual life” and “No one ought to ever see this movie,” and you need to understand it. Similarly, there is a huge gulf between “I liked this movie” and “This movie will save the world,” and you need to understand it. Understand that other people interpret art differently from how you do, and that’s okay. Understand that some people may be stronger or weaker in their faith than you are, and might need to hear different things, and that’s okay. No movie stands a chance of shattering the ancient orthodoxy of the Church, nor will any movie convert the world. They’re all just pebbles bouncing against the walls of the kingdom Christ is building for himself.
While I’ve found myself in about half of these groups with various movies and at various points in my life (I can’t really claim to have ever been in any of the Ds, Es or Fs, since I’ve been a Christian since my baptism as an infant), I tend to gravitate toward 2B. I don’t see the need for a movie to slavishly reproduce its source material — the source material already exists, after all — and I’m not afraid of new ideas “corrupting” my faith because I’ve studied art and theology extensively and trust the Holy Spirit to see to my sanctification.
That doesn’t mean, though, that I think everybody is, or ought to be, where I am. We all ought to be seeking to grow in our thinking, and we all ought to be seeking truth in everything we consume, but there will always be people at every station in their spiritual walk.
And that’s okay. As long as we all love and support each other.
I wrote some other stuff, and you can read it, assuming you can read: