I don’t see a lot of movies – at least not until they come out on DVD/BR. I have a couple of reasons: first, I prefer the comfort of my home to the cold, unsanitary, and uncomfortable quarters of a cinema; second, there aren’t many decent and intellectually honest films worth two hours of my time coming out of Hollywood, or wherever they make films these days. Waiting until a film comes out on DVD/BR gives me the opportunity to read various critiques and hear other people’s opinions, before I commit to watching it myself.
Still, there are three films that have been released this Lent/Easter season that I’d like to see over the next few weeks: Son of God, God’s not Dead and the Russell Crowe movie Noah. I find it interesting that the Christian community is universally behind the first two films; while a significantly large majority of Christian leaders seem to be literally frozen with fear of the spiritual damage forthcoming from the Noah movie, should their congregations view it.
On the one hand, Christian leaders complain that Hollywood makes so many godless films – then when they undertake a Biblical blockbuster, these same leaders complain that the non-believing producers and directors don’t constrain themselves to the word-for-word storyline of the Bible. I think it’s a sad commentary on the unsatisfactory job these leaders must have done in educating their members on the Word of God, that they worry that they’ll be so easily led astray by the artistic license a director takes to fill gaps in a Biblical event, not addressed by the scriptures itself.
They seem to quickly forget that no movie ever gets all of a biblical story exactly right. Even The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, two of the most acclaimed Biblical epics of all time, didn’t get it all right. Cecil B. DeMille and company took a great deal of license with their respective Exodus and Crucifixion /Resurrection events. Nevertheless, most Christian “old-timers” have seen both and appreciate the efforts put forth by the producers. Expecting movies, many of which are working with scant source material, to stick strictly to the biblical storyline is preposterous.
Suppose Noah went literally by the book. Would audiences spend $10 or more to listen to Noah preach for what represented 120 years, then watch Noah and his family sit around in the cabin of the ark, taking time out daily to feed and clean up after the animals, for the 40 days it rained, followed by months of floating until the water receded and a bird was released to provide evidence that the earth had started replenishing again? I don’t think so! Paramount, at the demand of Christians and Jews who viewed a first cut of the film, added an “explanatory message” to the advertising: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”
I’ve even read several blogs where Christians focused on Russell Crowe’s sketchy religious background, as a reason to avoid the film. The man is clearly not perfect; but neither was the woman brought to Jesus for stoning. In a 2007 article in Men’s Journal, he revealed that, because of some religious ambivalence on his parents’ part, he and his brother grew up with very little spiritual influence in their lives. But Crowe did have his two sons baptized in the chapel he built in Australia for his wedding. “My mom and dad decided to let my brother and me make our own decisions about God when we got to the right age. I started thinking recently, `If I believe it is important to baptize my kids, why not me?”
He obviously lacks direction in his spiritual life, and he’s not following any specific doctrine, but he’s searching. He even acknowledged he’s been doing a lot of thinking about the Bible’s Ten Commandments. “I just have this thing where I look at the Ten Commandments and think to myself, that seems like it was written by somebody other than a human being… it just seems like if we adhered to those 10 really basic rules and applied them to everything—even traffic rules and parking fines-we could take thousands of laws off the books. There are some pretty fundamental things in there: respect your parents; don’t kill people; do to others what you’d like them to do to you. That, to me, sounds like a foundation on which to build a society.”
Russell Crowe sounds like a lot of people that wander into our local church, seeking an answer to the problems they’re going through and the tugging on their heart-strings that they feel whenever someone mentions the name of Jesus. Films like Noah give a Christian with boldness an opportunity to discuss these things with their buddy at work, an old class-mate they run into at the mall, or even with cousin Susie who’s living an alternate lifestyle and has no interest at the moment in going to church.
I recently heard a useful quote: “The Gospel travels more easily over a bridge than over a chasm.” Think of Biblically themed movies as cultural bridges for the Gospel. Walk over the bridge; don’t blow it up like it was the Bridge on the River Kwai. Affirm the good rather than criticize the erroneous. Be optimistic that our support will ultimately lead to a better product.
It doesn’t do any good to be angry about a Hollywood film that may or may not accurately depict who Noah talked to and argued with while he was building the ark, and who may or may not have helped him. There are too many more important issues related to your friend’s, your family member’s and your acquaintances’ salvation. Critical believers tend to alienate unbelievers, even those who are considering the claims of Scripture. Peter says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” He doesn’t tell us we should berate everyone and everything we don’t find aligned perfectly with the Bible.
I admit, if this were a movie about the life of Jesus, and the producers had taken dishonest liberty with His lifestyle (such as The Last Temptation of Christ did several years ago), my response would be much different. It is much better for Hollywood to explore themes surrounding characters of the Hebrew Bible and miss by a little.
I was recently reading a Christian news article which raised an interesting Pauline scenario, which is very apropos to this subject. Imagine how different Mars Hill would have been had Paul been like many 21st century American Christians. “As I look around I see you are very, very religious. This, of course, is a terrible thing. Look at all these altars. You people are blind and you don’t even know it! You have altars to cows, horses, and false gods of every ilk! Look. Here’s an altar to an unknown god. What a waste! I cannot believe God has not smitten you all with boils and unimaginable plagues. You ungodly, pagan, unrighteous, rebellious, blind, deaf, dumb, false god worshiping bunch of liberals! You should tear down all these altars including the one to the god who will be named later! Just believe in Jesus. Morons!”
We all know this is not how that conversation really went. On the other hand, if you’re not sure, check out the 17th chapter of the book of Acts.