I took my daughter to see her first ever movie the other day – a screening of the Disney Classic, The Little Mermaid. The songs were lots of fun, the slapstick was silly and the animation was beautiful, just as I remembered back when I last saw it at the cinemas 28 years ago. But the message! Oh boy!
The message of the film to a young girl is absolutely terrible. Ariel is a rebellious, selfish and disobedient teenager who falls for a guy after just seeing his body and then sells a part of her body (her voice) in order to try to use the rest of her body to get the guy to kiss her so she can completely abandon her family forever. In the end, she gets everything she wants with absolutely no consequences for her foolish behavior. She learns nothing. She doesn’t change. She has absolutely no character arch.
The worst line in the whole film comes when Sabastian the crab, who has been charged with protecting Ariel, offers to help her get her voice back and reverse the deal Ariel has made with the Sea Witch. He looks into her immature, tear-filled, 16-year-old eyes, and says to her that if he helped her get out of her deal with the devil then she would “just be miserable for the rest of her life”. Come on! She’s 16! She’ll get over it! And what a way to re-enforce to a girl that her happiness “for the rest of her life” is wrapped up in whether she can be with a guy! When that line happened, my wife and I shook our heads and laughed at how terrible it was.
Now some may say that we shouldn’t have taken our young daughter to see such a film, but hey, we are raising her to critique these sort of messages and every day we pour into her the message that her worth, value and true happiness is found in the God who loves her and made her in His image. I’m not too worried that one movie will counteract all that.
Also (and here’s the real point of this article), there’s another interesting story thread in the movie that I can point out to her. It follows another flawed character who makes mistakes, but unlike Ariel, this character learns a lesson and actually changes. This is the story of King Triton, Ariel’s father.
A Flawed King
King Triton is not a very good king. He rules with an iron fist and when his daughter Ariel disobeys him, he responds with a violent rage that is just as immature as his daughter’s actions. But the one good thing about King Triton is he sees his folly and learns his lesson. Once he discovers that his anger has driven away his daughter, he cries out “Oh, what have I done? What have I done?”
Not only does he learn about parenting, but as I’ll explain, I saw in his story some wonderful parallels to the story of the gospel.
The Gospel According to The Little Mermaid
The first part of seeing the gospel themes in The Little Mermaid is to stop thinking of Ariel as the hero of the story who we should try to emulate. Rather, think of Ariel as a representative of humanity. Like Adam & Eve, she lives as a royal child under the rule of the king and yet she yearns for freedom. As she puts it, “Wouldn’t you think I’m a girl. a girl who has everything”, and yet she sings “I want more!” She is naturally interested in and curious about the human world, which is a good thing, but her stubbornness and arrogance leads her to disobey her father and ignore his warnings not to go to the ocean’s surface.
It is there she sees an attractive human and her immature superficiality leads her to immediately falls in love. All her healthy and natural desire for knowledge about humanity gets replaced with an intense focus on this one human. Like Eve with the apple, the Prince was “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6) and now she was willing to reject life with her father and his kingdom in order to get what she wanted.
She goes to see Ursula, the Sea Witch, an evil character who Sebastian calls a “demon”. The parallels between Ursula and Satan are interesting. Both used to live with the King but at some point in the past both were “banished and exiled” from the kingdom. The scene between Ariel and Ursula plays out just like Genesis 3:1-7. Like Satan in the garden tempting Eve, Ursula tempts Ariel with false promises of having all her desires fulfilled. Eve bites the apple, Ariel signs the contract, and both are left naked.
The difference between Eve and Ariel is that Ariel has no shame for signing over her life to the Sea Witch. In fact, she really never feels any shame about it. It’s only when it all doesn’t work out and she’s trapped by Ursula’s contact against her that she finally says, “Daddy, sorry! I didn’t mean to!” Yeah right. Of course she meant to. That’s regret she’s feeling, not genuine repentance. Eve on the other hand (and her hubby Adam), get to that emotion much quicker. But either way, for both Eve and Ariel, it is when the King arrives that they realise their foolishness and the fact that they are completely helpless.
They both are left guilty standing before the King with a document that condemns them. A document that, as Ursula declares, is “legal, binding and completely unbreakable.” For Ariel, it is the contract that she made with Ursula. For Eve (and for all humanity), it is the record of our sin as referred to in Revelation 20:12. It’s what Paul describes in Colossians 2:14 as “the charge of our legal indebtedness”. We stand before our King, with no hope, with no appeal, with no chance of saving ourselves. Ariel is not a model for little girls to follow. She is a mirror for the human race.
The Wonderful Exchange
So, if we have no hope of saving ourselves, how then can we be saved? Well, again, The Little Mermaid tells us.
With Ariel trapped and about to sent to Ursula’s “garden”, the Sea Witch says, “The daughter of the great sea king is a very precious commodity.But I might be willing to make an exchange for someone even better.” And with that, King Triton puts his name on the contract in Ariel’s place. And with that, King Triton gives up his glory and his power and substitute’s himself for Ariel. And with that, King Triton, although innocent, bears the consequences for Ariel’s guilt.
What a perfect image of the gospel.
As the bible says, Jesus – though he was equal to God – relinquished his heavenly place to take our place on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). He bore our sin and took the punishment that we deserved (1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
This is what theologians call “substitutionary atonement”. Or to use less academic language, it’s what the Reformer Martin Luther called a “wonderful exchange”:
“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.” – Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.
And then, at the end of the story, after King Triton’s “resurrection” and the defeat of the evil Ursula, the King looks upon Ariel with mercy and kindness. Although she in no way deserves it, the King uses his power to restore her to her beloved Prince. And so, Ariel has gone through the entire story of the Bible from start to finish. She rejects the King, sins in rebellion, is trapped by her sin, needs a Saviour, is rescued from condemnation by the King taking her place, and then, just like the Bible, the story ends with a beautiful wedding and they all live happily ever after.
Maybe Not So Terrible a Message After All
In the end, I still think The Little Mermaid has a lot of problems with it. But in a weird way, I sort of do want my daughter to be like Ariel.
Not in Ariel’s stupidity, superficiality and sin. I do hope I raise her to be smarter than that.
But like Ariel did (and like I and my wife have), I want my daughter to experience the undeserved kindness of the King. In the gospel of Jesus, I want her to know the joy of the freedom, salvation and amazing grace bought by his wonderful exchange.
I recently finished listening to the audiobook of Kevin DeYoung’s book, “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?”. I found it to be a compelling and clear defence for the bible’s teaching on the issue of homosexual practise, in light of the revisionist arguments that have gone around in the last decade or so. DeYoung systematically goes through the commonly used and critiqued passages with sufficient depth and biblical knowledge, never descending into philosophical or emotional arguments. He also covers some of the common questions and objections that people raise and I feel he answers them with not only biblical faithfulness but also some pastoral sensitivity. There are a couple of things worth noting about the book: Firstly, despite the title suggesting that the book will cover “homosexuality” as a phenomenon or an experience, the book is completely focused on one issue – homosexual activity. Fortunately, DeYoung is very upfront about this in his introduction, but I wish he had made that more clear in the book’s title. He does cover the experience of same sex attraction in an appendix, but the guts of the book is about whether or not the bible teaches that same sex sexual behaviour is sexual immorality. The reason why he has this focus is because that is the bible’s focus on this topic. The bible doesn’t really tackle the idea of sexual orientation or same sex attraction. The bible doesn’t explicitly talk about how this originates and whether or not it can be changed. DeYong’s goal is to defend the bible and so, he puts his energy into being very focused on that goal. The good side of this is that he argues his case very robustly and covers each passage with the attention they deserve. Secondly, this book will mean very little to someone who doesn’t care about the authority of bible. Although he acknowledges that many types of people might be reading the book, he starts with the premise that the bible is God’s Word and should be followed. He doesn’t argue for the bible’s authority. The purpose of the book is to defend what the bible actually teaches on this topic. Whether you actually believe the bible is true, is secondary to DeYoung’s purpose. The reason why this is such an important book is because of people like Matthew Vines, the young “Christian” man who has been going around in the last few years arguing that the church has just been reading the bible all wrong and in actual fact, it doesn’t condemn same sex sexual behaviour at all. Vines seems to agree with the idea that the bible is the authoritative Word of God, but he just suggests that it is our interpretation that we have been getting wrong. DeYoung’s book is a powerful rebuttal to the weakness of Vine’s arguments. The perfect audience of DeYoung’s book would be a Christian, who wants to understand God’s Word, but has been rattled by some of the arguments they have heard being passed around the internet. If that’s you or you’re just a Christian who wants to be greater equipped to answer people’s objections, then I can highly recommend this book. It is fairly short, pretty cheap (around $15) and an important resource in these times when “people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3).
If you are interested in buying the audiobook, you can get it HERE.
Or check out your local Christian Bookstore.
If you’re more into videos, here is Kevin DeYoung going through the material. It’s not as detailed as the book, but it’s at least an overview:
With the fourth instalment to the Jurassic Park film franchise now in cinemas, I have been musing about its parallels to another great series – The Alien Quadrilogy. Now, as you start thinking about parallels between any two things, you will often see connections that don’t actually exist. I heartily guarantee that that is what I have done here. But hey, if you like movies like I do, and you don’t mind having fun comparing two awesome film series, then read on! (Also, it is worth noting that I may be discussing some key plot points or themes from all of the movies, so **MULTIPLE SPOILER ALERTS**)
The first, and simplest parallel is that they are both sort-of “monster” movies, and the beasts in each series are called that as well. In Aliens, the young girl named Newt says: “My mommy always said there were no monsters – no real ones – but there are.”, and in Jurassic Park, the young girl named Lex says: “Don’t let the monsters come over here.” The movies follow a lot of the standard monster movie plotlines, with scary things lurking behind every corner and people in peril trying to fight or flee from strange and deadly creatures. In both series, the threatening monsters are lizard-like, generally standing on two legs, with a long tail and a mouthful of sharp teeth. In a real stretch, trying to parallel these two monsters, I even recall that in Alien 3 one of the characters, Golic, calls the alien a “dragon” and there is a theory that dragons became part of our mythologies across the world in various cultures due to ancient interactions between humans and dinosaurs.
Having said that, the reason why I say they are “sort of” monster movies, is because in both series the young girls are actually wrong to call them by that name. As Dr Grant says in Jurassic Park, “They’re not monsters, Lex. They’re just animals.” In neither series are the creatures portrayed as mythical or magical. They are simply a different species (however physically superior) to humans – one being an alien and the other being a dinosaur. In regard to storytelling, this adds to the drama in a way that wouldn’t be as effective if they were actually “monsters”. You can imagine them being real and you can put yourself in the shoes of the humans. Fortunately though, because both aliens and dinosaurs are not part of our present lives on earth, their separation from our experience makes them more fantastical and open to more interpretation. This of course makes for great cinema, as both aliens and dinosaurs can be grounded in reality and fantasy at the same time.
Man vs Nature
There are many common themes scattered throughout the Aliens and Jurassic quadrilogies. There is the whole “man vs nature” battle, exploring the folly of human beings to think they can control a powerful natural force, as represented by the aliens/dinosaurs. For the Jurassic series, this is the #1 main theme in Jurassic Park as Dr Ellie Sattler says, “The question is, how can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem? And therefore, how could you ever assume that you can control it?” It is also a small theme in The Lost World, where the character Sarah Harding thinks she can only “observe and document, not interact.” and Ian Malcolm points out that that is “a scientific impossibility. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. What you study, you change.” It’s not so much of a theme in Jurassic Park 3 (the weakest of the quadrilogy) but it definitely comes back as a big theme in Jurassic World, where there are characters trying to train dinosaurs, contain dinosaurs, genetically modify dinosaurs and use them for a variety of evil purposes. In the Aliens series, this theme is strongest in the second instalment, Aliens, with the arrogance of the marines thinking it will be easy to kill the aliens, but like the Jurassic series it definitely comes back in the fourth film, Alien: Resurrection, where there are characters trying to train aliens, contain aliens, genetically modify aliens and use them for a variety of evil purposes.
Touching on “genetic modification”, I would actually say is its own theme worth discussing as it plays into both series in important ways. In the Aliens series, the alien takes on the genetic characteristics of the species that it bursts out of. This is not pointed out in the first two movies (though it is consistent with their humanoid arms and legs), but it is demonstrated in Alien 3 where the alien bursts out of a dog (or a bull in the far superior director’s cut version) and consequently runs around on all fours. This genetic modification means that the alien can improve upon and have an advantage over the species in its vicinity (if a ridiculously fast life cycle and acid for blood wasn’t enough). In the Jurassic series, the dinosaurs only exist because they have been genetically combined with the DNA of frogs. This genetic modification meant that the dinosaurs could spontaneously change gender to get past the “all dinosaurs are girls” limitation and ensuring their advantage over the humans. In both cases “life will find a way” for humans to be on the menu.
As well as this, the writers of both series apparently run out of good ideas and in the fourth film of both series, the arrogant humans begin making genetically modified hybrid creatures. In Alien: Resurrection, Ripley (or the clone of Ripley) is a genetic hybrid of human and alien and there is also a big bad alien that is a genetic hybrid of human and alien as well. In Jurassic World, the big bad Indominus Rex is a genetic hybrid of T-Rex, Velociraptor, Carnotaurus, Giganotosaurus, Majungasaurus, Rugops, Cuttlefish and tree frog. And why did the scientists in both series use genetic modification in their respective fourth film? So they could turn their monster into a weapon to be used by the military. Yikes! If that’s not a parallel, I don’t know what is! Personally, I think both series were just trying to “increase the wow factor” and by the fourth movie in the franchise, they didn’t leave themselves many places to go other than creating weaponised hybrid monsters. It may have nicely fit in the overarching “men vs nature” theme, but as I’d have to agree with Chris Pratt’s character, Owen Grady when he says, “Probably not a good idea.”
A big theme in both quadrilogies is the Corporate Machine. In the Aliens series, the corporation is Weyland industries – a company that travels to distant worlds and turns them into financially viable habitats. In the Jurassic series, the corporation is InGen – a company that travels to distant islands and turns them into financially viable theme parks. Both companies are greedy, idealistic, deceptive and interested primarily in how they might use the creature, rather than protect the people it might kill. In the first movies of both series, there is no one person who represents the coldness of the company – In Alien there is the robot, Ash (who is cold but not really human) and in Jurassic Park there is Dr John Hammond (who is human but not really cold). In the second movie of both franchise they really bring in perfectly slimy, corporate villain in the character Carter Burke (Aliens) and the character Peter Ludlow (The Lost World). Both of these villains are not personally violent or aggressive. They simply represent the interests of the corporation and in the second movie of both series, they share the storyline of being willing to put people in harms way in order to try to capture the creature and bring it back to the general population.
Another theme in both quadrilogies is women and motherhood. This wasn’t going to be the way for Alien, as the iconic lead female character of Ellen Ripley was originally a man named Martin Roby in the first draft of the script, but the producer decided to change it to a woman, casting the then-unknown actress Sigorney Weaver in the role, and the rest is history. Aliens, the second in the series, saw the return of Ripley as the kick-ass female heroine, but they added a new element, the little girl, Newt. The maternal themes are very strong as Ripley does everything to protect and rescue Newt from the other motherly figure in the film – the Queen Alien. The final battle involving Ripley, the Queen and Newt is fantastic and a great scene of feminine strength, containing the most awesome line of the entire quadrilogy… “Get away from her you BITCH!”. This motherhood theme is even more emphasised in the director’s cut of Aliens, where we have a scene that was cut from the theatrical release. In it, we find out that Ripley had a daughter back on earth, but sadly, as Ripley was in hypersleep for 57 years (between the first and second film), her daughter had died at the age of 66, only 2 years before Ripley was woken up. This grief of the lost of her child, was clearly supposed to be part of the maternal driving force behind her desire to look after Newt at all costs.
In the next two Alien films the motherhood theme continues with Ripley being impregnated with a Queen alien in Alien 3, which she discovered while getting an ultrasound (evoking a very maternal scene) and even when the alien bursts out of her in the final scene she holds it to her breast lovingly. In the fourth film, Alien: Resurrection the final scene shows the hybrid alien rejecting its real Alien mother and turning to Ripley believing she is actually her mother.
In the Jurassic quadrilogy, womanhood and maternal themes are also present. In almost all four films there are strong female characters: In Jurassic Park, there’s the strong, intelligent paleobotanist, Ellie Satler who doesn’t mind digging her hands into a giant pile of dino poop, and has the funny line, “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.” Alongside her, there’s also the young, sassy character of Lex, who is a computer hacker and ends up saving the day by getting the security system back on line. In The Lost World, we have Dr Sarah Harding, a rouge behavioural paleontologist who doesn’t worry about being around dinosaurs because, as she says, “I’ve worked around predators since I was 20 years old – Lions, jackals, hyenas.” There is also the annoying 12 year old character, Kelly Curtis, whose gymnastics scene is regarded as one of the most ridiculous in the entire quadrilogy, but she is also noted by fans as being the only person in the entire series who successfully kills a velociraptor, so she’s not at all a damsel in distress – just a terrible actor.
The Lost World, also has the theme of parenthood amongst the dinosaurs at its core. Dr Sarah Harding says that the reason why she is on the island is because she is “trying to change 100 years of entrenched dogma. Dinosaurs were characterised very early on as vicious lizards. There’s a great deal of resistance to the idea of them as nurturing parents. Robert Burke said that the T.rex was a rogue, who would abandon its young at the earliest opportunity… I can prove otherwise.” And the conclusion of the movie is that she does prove otherwise as shown by the very final scene of T-Rex couple caring for their young, along with other dinosaurs doing the same.
In Jurassic Park 3 & Jurassic World (the two Speilberg didn’t direct), the themes of motherhood are present, but sadly they drop the ball in terms of strong female characters. In fact, recently there has been much discussion about Jurassic World’s character, Claire Dearing, and whether her character is in fact, a sexist caricature. After seeing one scene with her in it, Joss Whedon (writer/director of Marvel’s Avengers) tweeted that he was “wishing this clip wasn’t ’70s-era sexist. She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force – really? Still?” In Jurassic World, Claire is a hard working single woman who manages an enormous theme park, but instead of being portrayed as intelligent, strong and resourceful, they made her emotionally stagnate, incompetent, ignorant and generally a bad person for being too busy to look after her nephews. In a conversation with her sister over the phone she pines for the sad reality that she thinks she’ll never have children, and he sister quickly encourages her, “Don’t talk like that. It’ll happen for you. One day.” and a little later her sister begins crying and tells Claire that she’d understand if she were a mother. I’m not saying that the desire to be a mother isn’t a worthwhile theme. It just wasn’t done with any sophistication or with respect to single working women. If this weren’t enough, the velociraptors, which were untameable female killing machines in the first film, are in Jurassic World, able to be trained by Owen Grady because he is the “alpha” and in the end, Claire seems to get her wish of being a mum when Owen tames her as well, grabbing and kissing her in that painfully old fashioned mucho man way. The one glimmer of hope was when the comic relief character, Lowery Cruthers, swoops in to give his female coworker a similar kiss and she stops him and explains that she has a boyfriend. It was probably the funniest moment of the film and for me, it redeemed a little bit of the 2-dimensional gender stereotyping.
Now you may think I’ve just been cherry-picking themes that match and ignoring the themes that are different between the two series… and you’d be absolutely right. There’s heaps of things I’ve ignored because they don’t line up. I make no claim that these films were deliberately trying to copy each other. I’ve just been noticing some things that do seem to match. I’ll finish this post with a summary of each film, side by side, so you can see the parallels that I have been noticing.
Film 1/4: “Alien” & “Jurassic Park”
A small group is requested to travel to a distant, isolated place where they discover an amazing species they never believed could exist. This lizard-like creature then begins killing everyone and they spend the rest of the movie hunting, running away, hiding and trying to escape to safety. This movie is the first of the series and it is a simple, classic and brilliantly directed movie. It is regarded by the fans as the best one of the quadrilogy.
Film 2/4: “Aliens” & “The Lost World”
One character from the first film is vowing never to return to the place where the lizard-like creatures were, but after they are told that other people have already gone there and they have lost contact with them, they are convinced to go there to try to rescue them. As a sequel, this film tries to be bigger and badder than the first. Naturally, therefore it contains more creatures, more colourful characters, more explosions and more dramatic action sequences. It has a slimy corporate sleaze-bag as the main villain who wants to take the creatures back to civilisation, but who in the end, gets eaten by the very creature he is wanting to exploit. This film also reveals that the creature is not just a dumb animal, but it also has a human-like parental desire to protect its young.
Film 3/4: “Alien 3” & “Jurassic Park 3”
Characters get accidentally stranded on an isolated place where they – and everyone else – is in danger of being eaten by one of the creatures. As this film is the third in the series, they creators felt the need to make it more interesting, and so the creature is different from the previous films and can do things that has not been seen before. Due to this straying from the formula, this third film was not received well and by many is regarded as the worst of the quadrilogy. They couldn’t even think of a clever title! They just got the name from the first film and put a number 3 on the end. Oh, yeah, one last thing… The first name of the main hero is “Ellen/Alan”.
Film 4/4: “Alien: Resurrection” & “Jurassic World”
Set many years after the last films, now the corporation is keeping many creatures in captivity where they are observed by humans behind the safety of glass walls. Everything is now quite commercial and driven by the greedy desires of the big company that believes that they own the creatures and can do with them what they wish. This arrogance leads the humans to experiment with genetically modified hybrid creatures, mixing various species together in order to try to make something completely unique. Their ultimate goal is to weaponise the hybrid creatures so they can be used by the military. Naturally, their arrogance leads to their own destruction as the creatures escape captivity and begin killing everyone in their path. A small group, led by the one person who has a special bond with the creatures, sets out to hunt down the creatures and save the day, but the final big confrontation actually happens between two of the creatures – one, the new genetically-modified hybrid creature and the other, an old-school female creature, harkening back to the earlier films. This last film draws together many of the themes of the previous three, but is not as well crafted as any of the others in my opinion.
Film 5? There is talk of the series continuing, but we will see if anything eventuates.
So, there you have it. My musing about some of the parallels between two awesome quadrilogies.
If you can spot any more parallels, please put them in the comments below!
This is titled “Simon’s review of Noah – the film” because my last blog was titled, “Jesus’ review of Noah“. If you haven’t read it, please do, as I talk a bit about the movie (before I had seen it) and I discuss what I think is a fascinating topic – namely, what Jesus said about the original Old Testament story of Noah. If you’d like to read it, CLICK HERE.
About 40 minutes ago I had just finished watching Darren Aronofsky’s new film, “Noah”. I went into the film with a few clear expectations…
1. It was not going to be biblically accurate. Even Aronofsky called his own film, “the least biblical biblical film ever made”. So there was no way I was going to get offended by the fact they were going to stray from the source material.
3. Darren Aronofsky is an atheist. “I’m Godless.” He has said, “And so I’ve had to make my God, and my God is narrative filmmaking.” So I didn’t expect a reflection on biblical themes or a portrayal of “the Creator” (as God is constantly referred to in the film) from the perspective of someone who has an intimate relationship with God.
4. It’s had mixed reviews.
Some have said it’s amazing. Some have said it’s just a bad film. Lots of Christian commentators have critiqued its distortions of the Bible and its message. So I was going in with not very high expectations.
5. There are rock monsters.
These creatures are very loosely inspired by the “Nephilim” from Genesis 6:4. I didn’t know how much of a part they played, but I knew they had been getting lots of flack. So I was at least prepared for their presence in the film.
So, having all that in the back of my mind, I went to see it tonight with my wife, ready for anything. I thought I was prepared. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. Here are a few of the things that surprised me…
(Spoiler Alert! I will be conscious that you may not have seen the film, but I probably will reveal a few details that you do not get from the trailers. I’ll try not to spoil anything that would spoil the experience if you do go see it)
1. I hated the rock monsters.
Not because they were an unbiblical and unnecessary silly addition to the film. I just thought they looked crap! I can cope with an atheist butchering a bible story. What I can’t cope with, in this day and age, is an esteemed director like Aronofsky letting such shockingly bad CGI get on the silver screen! They looked like they were either puppeteered against a green screen or done with stop motion! Maybe they were animated in that way to pay tribute to Ray Harryhausen (the master of stop motion monsters) who died last year. Personally, I think they added very little to the film and were more of a weird distraction that made me feel like I was watching Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” at times. Hey, Jennifer Connelly was the lead actress in both those films so maybe it was intentional!
2. It was pretty cool.
It had a consistently interesting and cinematic look to it. The costumes were cool, the sets were cool, the acting was cool, the actors were cool, the sound effects were cool, the visual effects (apart from the rock monsters) were cool. It was a cool movie. Well worth seeing on the big screen for the visual feast that it was.
3. It wasn’t at all Godless.
I had heard some criticisms that God is absent in the film just because the word “God” is not used. But the “Creator” (as God is called) is not only mentioned throughout the film, he clearly and unambiguously makes things happen. I was worried they were going to sort of make out that it was all in Noah’s head. Now, sure, he received the message to build the ark through dreams (whereas in the Bible God just speaks to Noah), but God is very clearly acting when a forest miraculously appears and all the animals come to the ark and the worldwide flood comes along. Even the rock monsters are evidence of a divine being. There’s no hint that Noah is just making it all up or it was just a localised flood or something like that to turn it into a Godless story. God is depicted as just and merciful, directly active and working through the lives and choices of people. There is a reoccurring theme of characters asking why God is silent (it’s mentioned by at least three separate characters), which was disappointing because that’s the exact opposite of what the original story says, but at least God was present throughout. If you know your Bible, he was a lot more obvious in this film than he is in the Book of Esther, that’s for sure!
God’s direction and command was an interesting theme in the film I thought. When Noah is given the command to build the ark because the flood is coming, that is all pretty clear (albeit given through a series of dreams). And it’s the right thing to do, no question. But later (spoiler alert) when Noah feels that because humans are so sinful, even he and all his family should not be spared and so he plans to kill his granddaughter so the human race will die out, there is no dream from God. There is a sort of dream sequence where he sees the evil of mankind and realises that he and his family have the seed of evil in them as well, but the idea that everyone must die to save the earth, is one mission that he concludes on his own. He feels that that is what God wants him to do, but everyone else disagrees with him and he has no vision or sign to prove otherwise. Just is own convictions. It has echoes of Abraham being commanded to kill his son Isaac, just without the command.
I thought it was great reminder to not just conclude what God might want you to do when he has not given you instruction on the matter – especially when it comes to something you can’t take back, like killing someone! I’ll try not to spoil what he does with his moral dilemma, but I was a bit disappointed with how they handled it. There were lots of opportunities for the message that “mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13) to shine through, from the rock monster who asks God for forgiveness and then is saved, to the act of a character being healed from her barrenness, to the perfect provision of the girls (it’s a bit creepy but you have to see the film to understand the point of that one). But in the end, it all sort of got watered down to, “mercy only triumphs over judgement when it’s mercy for your own cute granddaughters that you’re feeling loving towards”.
4. It was all about how sinful humans are.
Now, some have criticised the film for being just environmentalist propaganda, and sure it laid it on pretty thick especially with Noah and his family all being vegetarians (though correct me if I’m wrong, but were they wearing leather?). Despite this, the idea of humans destroying the earth was just one of the ways that “Man” is shown to be corrupt. They rape, steal, kill, covet and generally are just plain bad… except the girls of course. Interestingly, the women are all good in this film. There was not one really evil woman in the entire story. But that aside, the theme of how bad we really are, was scattered throughout. The flood itself is seen as a just judgement for mankind’s wickedness. The big question that is raised, is “Are Noah and his family innocent?” At first Noah is content to ride along with the animals (who are deemed innocent because they live as they did in the Garden of Eden), but about half way through the film, he realises that even he and all his family have mixed motives and sinful inclinations. His wife tries to get him to see that there is also good in all of them as well (I had flashbacks of Luke Skywalker trying to convince Darth Vader), but he concludes that the world would be better off without us. Even in the end, when it doesn’t all end in humanity’s extinction (shock horror), Emma Watson’s character asks him to stick around and not kill everyone so he can be a grandfather and help us all be better this time.
The funny thing is, we know the rest of the story! Noah’s descendants are not much better! The whole point of the environmentalist theme is to convict us about the fact that we still kill and ravage the planet and we are still full of sin and conflicted desires. The question of the “goodness” of humanity is sort of concluded with a message like: “HUMANS – WE REALLY ARE SINFUL, BUT WITH LOVE IN OUR HEARTS WE DESERVE ANOTHER GO”.
Now, if you know the original story, this has elements of the truth. Noah is described as a “righteous” man, but this doesn’t mean he was perfect. It means he was “right with God”. But he was still sinful, and so was all his family. This is most clearly shown in the fact that the very first thing they did when they got out of the ark was make a sacrifice. (see Genesis 8:18-21) That’s right! They killed an animal and offered it as an act of humility and appeal to God for mercy. And God responds to their sacrifice by promising not to wipe everyone out with a flood ever again “even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). Nothing has changed in the human heart by the end of the biblical story. God’s justice and mercy has been clearly shown, but mankind’s sin remains the same. That’s why the sacrifice was needed.
In fact, the sacrificial system (though only a new thing back in Genesis) was a bigger part of the Noah story than people realise. It definitely was completely skipped in Aronofsky’s version of the story. You see, Noah wasn’t actually told to put two of every kind of animal in the ark. Check out Genesis 7:1-4. He was told to put two of every kid of “unclean” animal, but he had to put SEVEN of every kind of “clean” animal. Why more “clean” animals? Because they were the ones you were allowed to sacrifice. Even before the flood came, the biblical story tells us, God was providing a way for Noah and his descendants to remain in righteousness (right relationship with God). It wasn’t through being more good than bad. It wasn’t through puttin’ a little love in your heart. It was through sacrifice and the mercy of God. It’s actually the sacrifice of a “clean” animal in the place of an “unclean” sinner, that makes way for God’s mercy to a people that actually deserve judgement. This theme is carried all the way through the bible and is ultimately fulfilled in the one person the whole system was pointing to – Jesus. The original story of Noah concludes with the message that “mercy triumphs over judgment through sacrifice”. Which is a very simplistic, but accurate, description of the New Testament gospel.
I wasn’t surprised the Aronofsky missed this message in his film, but I was surprised of how much he explored the theme. Apart from his weak ending, I thought he explored it well and raised great questions and moral dilemmas about the sinfulness of the human heart and whether we can overcome it.
5. My last surprise is that I can heartily recommend this film.
Now, if you’re the sort of person who gets offended by films like “Life of Brain” and “Constantine” due to their biblical inaccuracies, then give it a miss. On the other hand, If you’re the sort of person that bases your knowledge of the bible on films like “The Da Vinci Code” and “End of Days”, then please also give it a miss. Remember Aronofsky’s comment that it’s “the least biblical biblical film ever made” and just go read the Bible itself. Noah’s story is only 4 short chapters (Genesis 6-9).
But if, like me, you are interested in what a weird atheist director like Darren Aronofsky might do with a tale like Noah, and you’re fascinated by how the world explores issues like judgment, mercy, love, sin and human nature, then you don’t have to boycott this film to make some sort of protest. If you have the ability to think and critique and discuss and reflect, then go see this film with a big bag of popcorn and a good friend to chat about it afterwards!
There’s lots of movie reviews about the new film “Noah” by director, Darren Aronofsky. Some praise it, some can it, some grieve that it’s not a close enough depiction of the actual Bible story, and some have even said that the film is “the least biblical biblical film ever made”. Actually, that last quote is from the director, Darren Aronofsky himself (see here), so I don’t know what some Christians are getting so offended by. It’s not a biblical film. End of debate. The film has even been released by Paramount with the following clarifying statement:
“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.”
Well, I think it’s maybe a bit of a stretch to say the story of Noah is a “cornerstone of faith”, but at least they point to where you can actually read the biblical account.
Some people debate whether the story of Noah is true history or just a fable. Whether it can be adapted with rock monsters, or whether it is just totally irrelevant for modern audiences. What interests me, as a follower of Jesus, is whether Jesus has anything to say on the topic.
You might not worship Jesus as I do, but most people have a general respect for Jesus and his teaching. Christians are criticised if they ignore things that Jesus clearly taught on, like caring for the poor, and they are also criticised if they focus too much on topics that Jesus didn’t specifically talk about, like homosexuality. And rightly so, I say. Jesus’ teaching matters, and if he taught on something clearly, it should be acknowledged as a core part of Christianity.
Now, Jesus didn’t give a movie review of Aronofsky’s film, but it may surprise you that he did give a commentary on the source material. In both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke it is recorded that Jesus referred to the story of Noah and taught how we should apply it to our own lives. Aronofsky, said in an interview with MTV (see here) that the biblical story of Noah is “the first apocalypse story – it’s about the end of the world” and Jesus picks up on this exact theme. When Jesus reviewed Noah, he uses it as an analogy of the last apocalypse story – the actual end of the world – referring to his Second Coming.
Now, if you have never read the actual original story of Noah, you should probably read it before you hear Jesus’ review of it. It’s not that long and you can find it in Genesis 6-9. But if you are familiar with it, let’s read Jesus’ teaching from the gospel of Matthew (you can find the same account in Luke 17:22-36).
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:36-42)
Now, for a bit of context, this passage fits in a larger section where Jesus is teaching about the “coming of the Son of Man”. This is referring to the idea that some time after his death, resurrection and ascension, he will return as judge and saviour of the world. If the idea of the Second Coming of Jesus or “Judgement Day” is new to you, then you might want to read other places in the Bible that talk about it (like the whole of Matthew 24-25, or much of the Book of Revelation, or even the end of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament) Hebrews 9:28 sums up the first and second coming of Christ very nicely I think: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
So if Jesus is teaching about the “Second Coming”, why does he talk about the story of Noah? What do they have in common and what aspects of the Noah story does Jesus apply to us as relevant for our lives? He says in verse 37, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” So basically, he uses it as a simile. It’s a sermon illustration. Jesus is saying, experiencing his Second Coming will be like experiencing Noah’s flood. But in what way? Well, Jesus mentions 3 aspects:
1. It will be unexpected.
That seems to be Jesus’ main point. He stressed that only God the Father knows when the Second Coming will happen and concludes with the warning to “keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come”. The story of Noah is used by Jesus as an analogy of this. People were just going about their daily lives (eating, drinking, marrying etc.) and were completely unprepared for the flood to come. In the verse after the passage above, Jesus uses the analogy of a thief coming to rob a house to make the same point. And what is the point? Don’t be like them and be unprepared. You won’t know when it’s going to come, so make sure you are ready for Jesus’ Second Coming. Everyone around you may be unprepared, but don’t you be.
2. Some will be taken away for judgement.
Jesus isn’t in any way afraid or embarrassed to talk about an ultimate final judgement. The idea that God will one day separate all of mankind into two groups – one to live with God forever and one to be separated from God forever – is a reality that is spoken throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testament. Anyone who wishes to engage with Jesus’ teaching (and especially anyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus) must engage with the fact that Jesus taught very clearly about Judgement Day. He spoke about hell. It’s unpleasant. It’s unfortunate. But you can’t argue that it’s un-Jesus. The most foolish thing to do would be to simply live your lives – eating, drinking and marrying – without engaging with this part of Jesus’ teaching. That would really miss Jesus’ point! Jesus uses the story of the flood that took some away to point us to a future event that will also take some away. Not all will be saved and Jesus is warning us to so that we might not be in that group.
3. Some will be left.
The other parallel to the story of Noah and the Second Coming is that not all will be taken away. Some will be left. Some will be spared. Who are these people? Well, in the story of Noah Jesus says it’s those who “entered the ark”. This is quite similar imagery to the parable of the “Ten Virgins” that Jesus tells in the very next chapter (you can read it in Matthew 25:1-13). In both this parable and the story of Noah, those who are prepared go inside something and those who are unprepared are stuck outside the door. Jesus links both of these as analogies of his Second Coming. In the parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus is represented by the returning Bridegroom. In the Noah story, who is Jesus? Is Jesus saying he is like Noah, ushering people into the place of safety in preparation for the coming judgement? Or is Jesus saying he is the ark itself, and that only in him are we protected from being taken away? Either way, he uses the story of Noah to point to himself as the one who can bring salvation.
In his MTV interview, Darren Aronofsky said of his film, “It’s about justice. And over the course of the film, mercy and grace are learned.” Now, I know as a staunch Atheist he has taken a lot of liberties with the text and probably doesn’t care what Jesus thinks about the message of the story of Noah, but I think the above quote is pretty on the money. Both the story of Noah and the Second Coming are not simply about judgement and justice. They are about mercy and grace as well. That is what the Christian gospel proclaims. That is why Jesus came. That is what we see in the crucifixion of Jesus. Justice as God condemns sin in the sacrifice of Jesus, and mercy as Jesus dies in our place and we are offered forgiveness.
I might be seeing Aronofsky’s interpretation of Noah later this week. If you want a review of it, there are tons on YouTube (here’s one I like). But in the end, I’m more interested in Jesus’ interpretation of Noah. Jesus’ review is that the biblical story of Noah is an action-packed, dramatic morality tale that also has a redemptive theme and makes relevant commentary for a modern audience as to how they should live and what their future may hold.
I think Jesus would give the biblical story 5 Stars.