Considering “Noah”: What Makes a Good (or Accurate) Bible Film?

Posted on April 20, 2014 by


Bible Gateway Blog

Are you planning to watch the Noah movie? Unless you’ve managed to stay completely off the internet in recent weeks, you’ve witnessed some of the many ongoing discussions, reviews, and debates about the film’s merits, both as a work of art and as a dramatization of an important Bible story. The movie premieres today in U.S. theaters, so everybody can finally weigh it against their expectations.

Whether you’re going to see the film or not, we’d be remiss if we didn’t encourage you to read the Bible’s account of Noah and the Great Flood. It’s found in Genesis 6-9, and is a surprisingly quick read—particularly if you’ve never read this classic story, take five minutes to check it out.

And once you’ve read the original story, you can consider whether or not the movie looks promising:

I haven’t seen Noah, and beyond an appreciation for some of director Darren Aronofsky’s past films, I have no particular expectations about this new film. However, I think this Christianity Today interview with Darren Aronofsky is useful reading for anyone who is primarily concerned about the film’s fidelity to the biblical account. In it, the filmmakers describe Noah not as an attempt to reproduce the biblical Noah story, but as a sort of contribution to the midrash—the Jewish rabbinical tradition of stories and interpretations meant to explore and expand on the scripture narrative:

Christianity Today: In developing the script, you have the biblical text, obviously. What attention did you pay to other sources, such as the Book of Enoch [an extrabiblical Jewish source traditionally attributed to Noah’s great-grandfather]?

[Filmmaker] Ari Handel: We read a lot. We read Enoch, we read the Jubilees, we read a lot of midrash [Jewish literature that explains Torah], we read a lot of different legends, and in midrashic tradition, there are tons of competing stories and legends and ideas circulating.

Which is to say, the Noah film is based on a lot more than just Genesis 6-9; it’s based on a slew of Jewish and other extra-biblical texts and legends, as well as the filmmakers’ own perspective. The discontinuity with the Genesis account here strikes me as subtly different from the changes that Bible-based films usually introduce into their stories for the sake of drama. Most such movies aim for faithfulness to the original text but make compromises; Noah, by contrast, doesn’t set strict faithfulness to the Genesis account as a top priority in the first place.

Does that affect our ability, as Christians, to enjoy or draw insight from Noah?

The answer, of course, will vary from person to person, Christian to Christian. Here are a few questions to consider in light of all this:

  • When reproducing a Bible story in film, is strict adherence to the biblical account’s details always the best goal? Could you imagine a scenario in which a non-literal adaptation might be more faithful to the heart of the story?
  • If you allow for some dramatic changes, are there nonetheless certain elements of the Noah story that must be present in an adaptation of it? What are those key elements in the Noah account?
  • Is there value in coming up with new interpretations and asking “what if?” questions about Bible stories, or is that spiritually dangerous? How do you draw the line (if any) between useful speculation about a Bible story, and harmful distraction?
  • Is there a “gold standard” for Bible story film adaptations—a film that you feel perfectly combined faithfulness to the source material with cinematic storytelling skill?
  • If you’ve seen Noah, do you think it captures the spirit of the Bible story? Why or why not?

Whether you watch Noah or not, whether you think it’s a great film or a travesty, hopefully its time in the pop culture spotlight will give you a chance to have some good conversations about the Bible this weekend!