Why You Should Embrace the Noah Movie

Noah poster

I am just plain psyched for the upcoming Darren Aronofsky Noah movie. As a filmmaker and as a Christian, no matter how many times Hollywood disappoints me I never cease to get excited when it comes to an on-screen adaptation of a biblical story. I never stop hoping. I love seeing my faith brought to life through art.

Of course, this movie is causing a lot of controversy in the Christian community for not being “biblically accurate.” Many people of faith are even publicizing their plans to boycott the film. Here’s why I think they are wrong.

Why the Bible Should Be Made into Movies–All Kinds of Movies

Regardless of your faith background, it is hard to deny that the Bible is one of the most influential (if not THE most influential) works of history and literature ever written. Ever! I don’t care if you’re Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Wiccan, or Atheist. This is a centuries-old fact of Western and now even global culture.

How is it right that less-important (though admittedly great) works are made into hedonistic blockbuster films a la Troy and even popular video games a la Dante’s Inferno while many believe that the Bible remains “too holy” to bridge this cultural gap? Why do classic mythology and literature get to shape our culture through the permeating medium of film and video while the Bible collects dust in a church pew?

The Bible needs to be made relevant, and little is more relevant to today’s society than the movies.

Why aren’t there more action films about the judges, the mighty men of David, the fall of Jericho, Elijah’s challenge, or the fiery furnace? Why aren’t there more classic war films about Saul and basically any Old Testament king or general? Why aren’t there more romances and dramas about the stories like those of David and Abigail or Samson and Delilah? Well-told stories like these could make disconnected, apathetic audiences relate with and invest in the characters, and maybe invest in looking deeper into the Bible as a result. That’s something I’d like to see more of–the gritty reality of inspiring biblical tales paired with solid artistic direction to make great films that people like.

I could be proven wrong, but I think Noah is that film.

Of course the production team has tweaked some details of the account to make for a more well-crafted story, adding characters and conflicts for depth and character development. Honestly, when doesn’t this happen in a historical account being adapted for film? Some of the details of reality are either dull and boring or just not conducive to being depicted onscreen. Filmmakers have been tweaking true tales for the big screen ever since Battleship Potemkin. It’s called dramatization.

Also, Paramount had the big-boy pants to post this “disclaimer” at the start of the picture:

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.

Rob Moore, vice-chairman of Paramount Pictures, was even quoted as saying that Paramount is “very proud of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.” How wonderful and once-unimaginable is it that a movie based on a Sunday School story is something that the most experienced and influential Hollywood bigwigs can be proud of? I find that amazing. What more could we want from these people? They are skilled media makers, and they are respectful of the spiritual significance of the Bible. They are bringing our Bible to life for a media-driven generation. They are making great art (I hope) with a great message. 

We have been asking for years for Hollywood to helm faith-themed and biblically-based projects. Now that they are heeding our calls, do we really have to complain about how they have chosen to do so?

Okay, so instead of continuing to talk about a film I have yet to see, I’m going to point you to a great article written for the Christian Post by John Snowden. NOTE: I have since found that this piece may have originally been written by Snowden as an educational packet to give to attendees of the NRB International Christian Media Convention.

This article is cool because, unlike all of the faith bloggers who have slammed Noah without even seeing it (?), author John Snowden has not only seen the film, he has worked on the production team as the crew’s biblical adviser. This concept is near and dear to my heart as the Christian film that I worked on a few years ago had a team of faith advisers who were very special people. I love the role. It is so crucial to the believable marriage of faith and film nowadays.

Anyway, here is Snowden.

———————————————————————————————

There has been no shortage of headlines in recent weeks about Paramount Pictures’ upcoming feature film Noah – with a fair amount of the coverage speculating about how closely or loosely the movie adheres to the story of the title character as found in the Bible.

Unfortunately, those who have felt compelled to criticize the film in these stories haven’t actually seen it – so it’s difficult to understand what exactly they’re criticizing. I have seen Noah – in fact, I’ve been working on it for the last two years as the filmmakers’ biblical adviser.

I will confess, when the studio first approached me about consulting on the project I had mixed emotions, weighing my caution of Hollywood’s ability to take liberties with stories and values against my standard for good theology and a healthy presentation of Bible stories, theology and mission. Paramount was adamant about having a practical, integrated adviser in the process from start to finish, which impressed (and surprised) me.

I read an early draft of the script and was particularly impressed with their exploration of judgment and mercy. I accepted the offer and quickly found myself fully engaged with the creative team, talking about Noah, God and Jesus a lot. And they listened. And asked more questions. I’ve read probably more than 10 drafts of the script, given longwinded feedback on each, seen every piece of footage that was shot and been flown around the world … twice.

With all of that work under my belt, and the March 28 premiere just a little more than a month away, I am happy to offer the following 10 reasons I believe we as a church can find very valuable reflections on Noah, God and theology in the film. This isn’t to suggest the movie matches everyone’s read of Noah perfectly, but it is a very worthwhile time to spend understanding how a couple of very thoughtful filmmakers interact with Noah.

1 – Noah Has a Relationship with God

In the film Noah, Noah hears from God at times, wants to hear more from God at other times, is directed by God, and acts singularly different than his contemporaries in following God’s directives. Scripture is overtly quoted by many characters in Noah. God’s words from the Bible are unmistakably a part of this film. The film is pro-God.

The Biblical text lists out what God said to Noah but never tells whether that was verbal or written communication, though most would assume it verbal. In our film, God gives visions to Noah just like God gave to several prophets and many key Biblical figures (Joseph, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and John to name a few). I pray one day my sons will dream dreams and receive visions directly from God, just like God promised us through His prophet Joel.

2 – Noah Acts Faithfully Yet Isn’t Perfect

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That includes Noah. It’s healthy that Noah struggles to understand precisely what God is saying, but, regardless, Noah trusts and acts faithfully. The struggle is not always easy to watch, particularly in the later parts of the film, but the values that come out of this narrative are special.

A woman in her early 20s whom I spoke with about the film (she grew up “churched” but is since disengaged) really appreciated that the film’s Noah heard from God but not in a simplistic way. It felt to her ironically accessible; since she’s never personally “heard” God’s voice, she felt a connection to Noah as he began to trust God’s vision.

3 – Noah Sees and Acknowledges His Own Sin

Noah sees his own sin as no better or worse than those who will die in the flood. This evokes the great scriptural dilemma: God’s plan to fill the Earth with humanity reflecting His glory has been promised, but our sin has stained the reflection of His glory in all of us. Four-thousand-ish years after Noah, Jesus did the work of restoration for us. Noah the movie agrees that we hadn’t earned our salvation back then either. Our long-white- beard, long-white-robe depiction of a docetic (proto-Evangelical?) Noah has not helped our kids learn that we’re all coming up short were it not for God’s grace. That ark Noah built is a gift, not our own proud creation, so that His purposes can be fulfilled through us.

4 – It Keeps Closer to More of the Text Than You Might Have Imagined

The film sticks to many key details from the Text. The ark set was built twice to full-cubit
scale, though not out of gopherwood. It depicts a global flood. No extra people survive the flood who shouldn’t. God speaks to Noah. Noah gets drunk. Tubal-Cain forges iron and bronze. Ham and Noah have a rough father-son relationship. Creation from nothing. Sin. Murder. Methusaleh. There’s a dove and a rainbow, two of each animal (admittedly seven of each clean animal was a detail that didn’t get communicated in the film), an olive branch and lots of water coming up from the ground.

Read the rest of the article here. It’s good stuff!

Cleverbot Poetry

Rebooting my popular Cleverbot Poetry post in hopes of getting some more participation! To join in the creative and artificially intelligent madness, check out the Cleverbot Poetry tumblr.

A few days ago, I had an incredibly intriguing idea for something that I was sure would turn out to be an interesting exercise/experiment for writers.

I decided to write a poem with the help of Cleverbot! 

For those who don’t know, Cleverbot is an Artificial Intelligence robot that is famous for learning from the input of users worldwide. That means that every time a user asks Cleverbot a question or provides a response, Cleverbot learns how to better answer questions in the future. Because of this learning capability, conversations with Cleverbot can often stay on a specific topic for a considerable amount of time and adhere to logic and reasoning like a conversation with humans (well, most of them, lol) would.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Take my first poetry attempt as an example.

User: Want to write a trippy poem with me?
Cleverbot: Do you even know what I am?!
User: Why, a clever bot, I assume.
Cleverbot: What would you say that for? You hurt my feelings . . .
User: Clever is a good thing, and bot is hardly something to be ashamed of.
Cleverbot: I am learning.
User: That’s nice. How about that poem?
Cleverbot: I don’t like Obama. His policies are downright atrocious. We’re sinking further into debt and he hasn’t actually fulfilled any promises he made on his campaign.
User: Is that your idea of a poem?
Cleverbot: And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
User: Haha, I like that one better.
Cleverbot: Really?
User: How about I write a line, and then you write a line, and we’ll go back and forth?
Cleverbot: No.
User: Please? I’d really like to hear what you have to say.
Cleverbot: Harry Potter or Twilight?
User: Harry Potter. No contest.
Cleverbot: Exactly.
User: Glad we’re on the same page. Now, I’ll start the poem . .
Cleverbot: Hi, this is Baskin Robins. Home of the 31 flavors. If you can name 31 flavors in 31 seconds, you can get 31 flavors for free. Your time starts now.
User: Very cute. Here we go!
Cleverbot: It is insulting to be told somethig that they know is completely contrary to the truth that they enforce.
User: You spelled ‘something’ wrong . .
Cleverbot: “Tell me about Penny Fluff.”
User: “She always thought herself more than enough.”
Cleverbot: Nine.

Frustrating and not particularly inspiring; however, I did finally discover the secret! Here’s what I ended up with:

Socrates, and a Misquote At That

Without a soul, who can know what the future holds?

What future? How can I get past today with nothing to live for?
Offer them a new technology, and offer to develop it for them.
Sell yourself to the industry of creating humans more efficiently and less uniquely.
But I’m not doing it for the law. It’s for my religion.
I believe in creation. I believe in choice.
But I’m not a believer.
Why do I lie to myself like I lie awake at night wishing for a purpose?
Do you have a religion?
No? Then let’s share mine.
I can be strong for the both of us.
I can pick you up in my Ferrari.
I’ll carry us away to a time more certain.
Fairly more certain that you are not making sense.
But I forgive you. After all, the world doesn’t make sense.
Or does it?
All I know is that now I have you to live for.

How fun! And how cool is that?

The trick is to not ask the bot for permission to participate in the activity! Simply write what sounds like it could be the first line of an artsy poem and continue in this manner regardless of how the bot responds.

If you would like to submit a poem:

  1. Follow the guidelines above.
  2. When you think you have come to the end of your poem, press “Think For Me” and let the bot’s final line (or a few words from it) be the title of your poem.
  3. Click “Thoughts So Far” and copy and paste the conversation into a word processor.
  4. Format the conversation like a poem. Get rid of the “User” and “Cleverbot” labels and eliminate the spaces in between lines.
  5. Submit to me via email (jet.thurston@gmail.com) and see if your poem ends up in a future post!

Found Poetry from Neil Gaiman

How brave. Beloved poet Neil Gaiman found an old poem from his younger days in his attic and decided to share it with the world:

Found on a placemat in the attic

It’s kind of dead at Davey’s when the clock hits three a.m.
And I know I didn’t come here for the food
For I’m sipping something coffee-like that tastes a bit like phlegm
While I pick at cake that something might have chewed.

There’s a bill upon the table for my unappealing fare
And a bored cashier is waiting by the till.
Then she takes my twenty dollars with a cool intriguing stare
like a kidney-surgeon waiting for the kill.

“You seem like much too nice a girl to work in such a dive.
It’s the sort of place that turns your brain to rot.”
She just smiles and in a sullen voice more poisoned than alive
She tells a tale that turns my spine to snot.

“I have a fearful tale to tell, a bloody tragic lay,
A narrative of horror and of fear.
A story that will make you weep and turn your guts to clay,
before your braincells dribble out your ear.

“Mine is a dark biography, a thing of dread and fright,
A tale that reeks of terror and of woe.
There are not words,” she told me, “to do justice to my plight.
But what the hell,” she said, “I’ll have a go.”

“Nobody could envision it, it’s nasty weird and strange.
Nobody could have dreamed, or said, or thunk.
And none who sit to hear my life will stand again unchanged.
(Some kill themselves, while others just get drunk.)

“I warn you now!” she raised her hand, “if you are faint of heart,
Leave now! Just flee! Get out! Go ‘way! And shoo!
It’s horrible and sordid. Stop me now, before I start,
for every loathsome word of it is true!”

(I honestly no longer remember what her story was, although elsewhere on the placemat is the couplet:

I can’t get into Heaven, ‘cos of all that I’ve done wrong
And I can’t get into Hell because the lines are far too long.

Which may be a clue.)

How to Incorporate Women into the Superhero Shuffle

Hi all! I’m so embarrassed, but during my week-long blog absence, things went a little haywire on Nine to Phive. Posts that I had scheduled promising to finish them at a later date published while completely unfinished–and in one case, completely blank.

So yeah, sorry about that. Josh quit his job this week in a career-changing move, and though he has another more satisfying position lined up, the change had been stressful.

Translation: I’ve forgotten literally everything about doing my life.

Anyway, I’m back! Not only that, I’m actually guest posting over at Ink and Image today, the blog of an old friend with lots of compelling and creative ideas. The gentleman interviewed me about the status of female characters in superhero films. I was flattered that he thought I knew enough about women, superheros, or film to solicit my opinions ;-). His questions were very thorough and led to a fascinating (albeit long, I’ll admit) critique of sexism in superhero film.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“Is including a female member in every major team of heroes a good sign, or should more be done?

I suppose it’s better than nothing, but it feels patronizing in its current state. It reminds me of the character of Token Black from South Park. I don’t think I’m grabbing at straws when I suggest that his presence in the cast is not an honor but an insult–albeit a clever one with a lot of social commentary. I feel the same way about “Tokena McHotchick” on every superhero team, except she does not exist to be ironic and to make a comment on the state of gender relations in the modern world. She often exists just to “appease the feminists” and provide male viewers with a little diversion. She is not a commentary on sexism–she is a sexist creation.

If you’re not going to write her a good character, don’t write her in at all. The fact that she’s female is not enough.

Read the full piece here.

My Amazing, Ever-Changing Faith

faith in motionIn so many ways, I could deeply relate with this article I discovered about spirituality written by a gentleman who once authored a blog called The Agnostic Pentacostal. Interesting blog title, no? I was instantly intrigued by the concept. I resonated with it so much, as I believe it reflects much of the truth of my current situation as a believing Christian who is slowly becoming more and more willing–even eager–to admit those three scariest of words . . .

“I don’t know.”

Let me say up front that I have struggled with pride all of my life. Literally from infancy. I have wanted to be right more than I have wanted anything else in life for as long as I can remember. If knowledge is power, I was on my way to world domination. I just wanted to know all the right answers . . . understand all the mysterious concepts . . . believe all the important truths.

And that was what my faith stemmed from.

I was raised as a member of the Christian faith from day one. My parents were and are devout. They taught me unconditional love, but they also taught me right from wrong–and I clung to that. Now I didn’t just know the right answers. I didn’t even just know the right things to believe. I knew the right things to do. I knew everything that mattered.

Of course, as children how can we really know what matters? In high school and especially in college my faith was shaken by the simple and common experience of coming into contact with other people who “knew” what they believed just as much as I did. I experienced extreme stress as I wrestled with what I knew to be the truth, what others knew to be the truth, and whether or not any of us actually knew what we were talking about.

I became a debater. I thought it was my intelligence that made me so argumentative. Later I became willing to admit that it was my stubbornness. Looking back, I now know that it was fear.

Pretending that I knew the meaning of life or where I was going to go after I died forced me to pretend that I knew everything. Abortion, women’s roles in the church, sex, drinking, the afterlife–I was master of it all. I had to develop a persona–a fake me that looked like a girl thriving on confidence, hyper-intellectualism, and sometimes humiliation of people who pretended they knew were talking about. The girl was such a hypocrite.

I hated that girl. She had to go.

One day I had a conversation with my younger sister about a “truth” that we had been taught growing up that she had drawn a very different conclusion about in her adulthood. I was still clinging to my Sunday School lessons and was so ready to tell her how wrong she was. Then I had a thought– “I love my sister. Why would I hurt her feelings by telling her she’s wrong when I can’t prove that?” It honestly hurt me to think about it. “What if–what if she’s not wrong?” I swallowed my pride, smiled and said the unthinkable,

“You could be right. I don’t know.”

She smiled too and said, “Wow, you’ve changed.”

I can’t even begin to explain or describe the peace that has come over me since making this change.

All I know is that I like the me who admits she doesn’t know better than the me who thinks she does.

Now I don’t want to know the “truth” or the “right answer” nearly as much as I want to

  1. know myself,
  2. know the people of this world where I’ve been placed,
  3. and know the God who placed me here.

That is faith to me.

I don’t know why bad things happen . . . but I will praise God in the midst of them.

I don’t know if homosexuality is a sin . . . but I will not sin by casting judgment.

I don’t know if I believe in evolution . . . but why not? I have evolved so much myself in such a short time.

I want to keep evolving. I want to keep changing. I want to keep moving. My faith is a fluid thing, and I think my God wants it that way.

Why the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate Should Not Have Even Happened

I am a person of faith–a Christian, in fact. I believe in creation by a supreme being I call God. I may also believe that said supreme being used a process known as “evolution” to mature the world to its current state. I am, essentially, on both sides of a very contentious fence.

By all accounts, I should have been eager to watch the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate that was televised this past Tuesday.

I was not.

Not only was I happy to not take part in this cultural phenomenon, I wish that it had never occurred. I may be overly cynical, but I could not foresee any good that would come from it–and looking at the reactions that the debate has spurred, I can see that I wasn’t far from the truth. I am still seeing angry posts to news sources and social media almost a week after the fact. Friends and family members who have so much in common including years of history who are at each other’s throats because they disagreed about the outcome of this debate–it’s just not right.

Here is why I believe this debate should not have even happened.

1. Creation and evolution, like faith and science, are not mutually exclusive.

False dichotomies drive me crazy. “Either A is right or B is right! Hurry up and fight it out so the public can make up their mind!”

According to a survey by the Washington Post, 24% of adults believe that a supreme being facilitated a process of evolution. This theory is equal parts religious and scientific. It possesses elements of the tenets of creationism and elements of those of evolution. It is a well-balanced, faith-filled, reason-based response to a challenging question.

But this type of response is not sensational. The media is not interested in perpetuating this type of response or telling the stories of the people who believe it. The media wants a fight. Our society has created “sides” on this issue, and the media has jumped on it and refused to let it die because the fight is profitable and entertaining.

2. If an informative debate was the goal, it should have been between debaters with better credentials.

Obviously Nye is well-known in the science community. He’s the Science Guy, after all! But the fact is that his background suggests that he is an educator and entertainer moreso than a scientist. I’m curious as to why he was chosen as the representative in this “great debate.”

Ham may be the founder of Answers in Genesis, but how can one be a professional creationist? Shouldn’t he be an educated anthropologist or a theologian or (gasp!) a biologist before we consider him qualified to speak authoritatively on the evidence for creation?

Because of the (in my opinion) less than expert status of the people involved, this debate felt like little more than a battle of who believes in their worldview more.

3. This issue is absolutely beaten into the ground.

Tensions are so high on either side of this debate and have been for years. Continuing to argue this issue in the public sphere has further perpetuated a false dichotomy that creates a closed-minded “us” and “them” attitude. The animosity around the issue has caused people to be extremely stubborn about their current position to the point where I highly doubt that any debate could sway them. The vast majority of people who watch these debates walk away thinking that their “side” won! They hear and see what they want to hear and see.

Sadly, I think creationists are often more guilty of this than people who believe in atheistic evolution. When asked what could possibly change his mind, Ken Ham says “Nothing.” When asked the same question, Bill Nye says, “Evidence.”

What does that say about creationists? Nothing good. We/they certainly shouldn’t be debating with attitudes like that.

4. This issue simply does not matter.

I know I’m going to make some enemies (potentially on both sides of the debate) over this, but I am convinced that the origin of the world doesn’t matter a shred when it comes to our day-to-day and even eternal existences.

A friend of mine said it best when he posted something along these lines on Facebook:

“I don’t think there will be a ‘length of creation’ portion on the entrance exam to heaven.”

The truth shines brightly through his sarcasm. The state of our souls does not depend on our specific beliefs concerning the origins of the universe and/or the origins of our species. It does, however, depend on how we treat people. In the form that they have taken, public debates like this one are about being right, not about being righteous. They are about proving a point, not about communicating with a person.

I have a big problem with that, and I would like to see it stop.

‘Frozen’ Fan Art to Melt the Heart

If you (along with the majority of the world’s school children . . . and twenty-somethings for some reason) are a fan of Disney’s latest out-of-the-park blockbuster Frozen and you haven’t yet seen the breathtaking fan art by graphic design student Nadia, you haven’t lived.

In the first place, the girl has mad talent. Her visual style is beautiful, colorful, and heartwarming. It’s a romanticized version of reality very true to the Disney aesthetic but with her own unique twist. The lighting, the costume design–it’s all spot-on.

In the second place, if you let any of these characters into your heart at all throughout the course of the film, you’ll be very moved by her take on Kristoff and Anna’s life after the end of the film. I love that she went beyond the patent fairy tale ending and actually showed what “happily ever after” would look like for these two characters. Website The Daily Dot mused that even a sequel to Frozen wouldn’t be as satisfying as these images, and I have to agree. Any sequel would have to include a new danger, a new villain, a new drama of some kind in order to be Disney-film-worthy. The story that Nadia has chosen to tell, however, isn’t about a love that moves mountains or triumphs over evil–even though it could! It is about the quiet, caring, unconditional devotion that carries a relationship through the years. There may be times of extreme stress as well as times of extreme dullness, but as these pictures remind me, it’s the moments in between that make a life.

Nadia insists that she didn’t intend to make their relationship progress with each picture, but take a look for yourself and watch “Kristanna’s” love unfold in an adoring fan’s gorgeous take on the tale.

The above picture is definitely not as polished as some of her others, but it’s too funny not to include! She’s thought to depict so many moments that would be absolutely inane as “plot points” but that are important and precious in real life. Absolutely adorable.

The beautiful royal family! I love that Nadia made sure to keep Elsa as a part of Kristoff and Anna’s story. She’ll be such a loving aunt.

Nadia admits on her tumblr that, while she loves everything about Frozen, she is very partial to the Kristoff/Anna relationship (well, obvi). To me it seems pretty clear that what she really loves is Kristoff–

. . . which becomes apparent the more times he is depicted shirtless–wet and shirtless. Haha, it’s okay, Nadia. Disney dreams up some handsome dudes!

This is Prince Joseff. Don’t remember him from the movie? That’s because he wasn’t in it! He’s the firstborn son of Anna and Kristoff who Nadia completely made up! How sick is that? She developed a whole character for him. He looks a lot like Kristoff but with Anna’s eyes and smile. Download the full-sized image to see all of the details she added in print. Also, based on the range of emotions she’s drawn here, I’d say the gal might have a future in animation if she has the interest.

I have to admit, I love fan contributions to fictional universes. Fan art, fan fiction–it’s all good to me. I wish I had Nadia’s skills just so I could make fan art. No other purpose. Anyway, expect another post at some point about fan art in general. Maybe by some miracle I’ll be able to wheedle an interview out of Nadia!

All images taken from Nadia’s deviantart gallery.