Dear Mr. Aronofsky,
I’m sure you’re up to your eyeballs right now after the opening weekend of your movie, Noah, but I wanted to write anyway. I saw your film earlier this week and have enjoyed thinking through much of it since. I rarely go to the theater for new movies (let alone so close to opening weekend), but this one seemed to make sense both for the visual spectacle of the story as well as the inevitable conversations it would generate. While I have not seen any of your previous films, I’m glad to have seen Noah.
I’m glad to have seen Noah for several reasons, the first being because – like you – it’s one of my favorite stories. I loved how you set the entire film under “the Creator” and that, regardless of whether they were for or against Him, the characters within the film lived with what seemed a constant awareness of His reality, as those in the Ancient World were much more apt to acknowledge than in our modern day. In addition, I appreciated how you did not qualify the story of the flood as merely a legend to be believed or dismissed, but treated it as factual in its occurrence, much like the Bible and multiple ancient texts do.
I imagine you may have taken some flack for choosing this story to tell, but I’m glad you did. I appreciated how you directed Russell Crowe in his portrayal of Noah as a watchful father to his sons and a loving husband to his wife in the first part of the film. You (with Mr. Crowe’s capable help) really teased out a tenderness and affection in the title role, much like I imagined God must have developed in the real Noah of the Bible. I’ve always tried to imagine what Noah must have felt like leading his family to build the ark, answering his critics for his bizarre actions while knowing what was coming, and wrestling with the guilt of surviving something that no one else living at the time (save his family) did. I was touched by Mr. Crowe’s portrayal of the emotion of all this in the beginning and at the end of the film – especially with Noah’s renewal of the covenant – and appreciated your direction in it.
As you might imagine, I do have some questions. Since the narrative in the Bible is only about 2,400 words (and none of them are Noah speaking), I’m curious what inspiration you turned to in order to flesh out your two-hour-and-twenty-minute movie. From my perspective, while there were plenty of curiosities, I felt that you generally kept with the main biblical story up until the flood, but even after the flood (and despite taking a pretty big narrative off-ramp before getting back on the main road of the story), I recognized your attempt to present a Noah laboring under the stress of so many years pursuing what He understood (or thought he understood) about God’s will. In fact, the scene toward the end of the film in which Noah lies drunk in his nakedness made more sense of that particular passage than I had ever seen before on the heels of all he had just been through.
Was there another text or source that you were using? Did the emotion come out of your own past or experiences? Have you felt the kind of blinding psychopathic anger and confusion in your own spiritual journey that you depicted in the film’s abrupt departure from the biblical storyline? It was so different from the scriptural text that I couldn’t help but wonder what might be behind that particular diversion. Because of my own faith and familiarity with the story, I realize there are challenges in telling a story that the audience might already know (and I also realize it’s hard to dramatically top the flooding of the world), but it seemed to me you were going for something particularly deep and emotional in taking Noah’s character down such a cold and dark road of wrath before having him step back into the warmth and light of love. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and hear more of your thought on that if and when you ever happen to be traveling through Oklahoma City.
As I don’t know you personally, I’m not sure how interested you are in some of the controversy your film has caused within the Christian community (not to mention the greater culture at large). While I’m sure the reviews and responses have helped the film’s bottom line, I have to believe that you are at least somewhat interested in what those of us who love the Bible think of your work. Has it been confusing for you when so many people who claim the same (or at least similar) beliefs have had such dissimilar responses to your film? I’m sorry for some of the hurtful things that have been said, as well as for any feelings of being misunderstood you may have as a result. People do strange things when they’re scared or threatened, and I don’t know why some of my fellow Christians have responded out of such blinding fear. (I often wish my fellow believers would get as riled up about some of the awful doctrine and artlessness we’ve put out in the name of “safe for the whole family” film-making, but I digress.) Please forgive us.
I hope that through the preparation for and process of making the film you were able to grow in your understanding of the Creator God and His covenant commitment to mankind – a commitment that includes both a justice so passionate He was willing to destroy everything He had created in order to quell what we had done with it, yet a heart of so much love and mercy that He was not willing to give up on what He has always desired, namely that we would be His people and He would be our God. As mentioned earlier, I saw several glimpses of this recognition of that reality in your film, but I hope it was personal and not just cinematic for you in the midst of making it. Indeed, as scripture says,
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’
As I do for myself and others, I pray the truth of this passage will become more believable and beautiful in your life. The Creator God has given you much talent, Mr. Aronofsky, and I pray you do not let the world convince you that you are your gifts more than you are His child. The joy of the latter is what makes the endeavors of the former worth it. I hope you experience both in your life and art.
Craig is Head of School at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies in Oklahoma City, where he lives with Megan, their four daughters, and anyone else calling their house “home” at the time. He blogs semi-regularly at Second Drafts.