Thursday, February 27, 2014

Challenge or Confirm

I've been excited for the upcoming Noah movie since I first heard about the idea almost two years ago. Darren Aronofsky has been among my favorite directors since I had the shocking pleasure of being utterly confused by Pi (and wondering why the Hassidim were ruthlessly beating a crazy man with a brain tumor - seriously, see that movie, it's nuts!). He's the mind behind Black Swan and the thought of him tackling Noah was/is almost too good to be true.

There's so much to the Noah story that can be explored. It's set well before there is an Israel or even really much defined relationship between humans a God. There's so much history and mythos and speculation about even the reality or extent of the flood. The story crosses cultures (there's a flood story among the ancient tales of Peru, even) and Aronofsky is also a smart, creative, unique mind - raised Jewish and steeped in Hebrew Scripture. Noah's been his favorite biblical character his entire life.

I'm less than impressed by the trailer, but I still have high hopes for this one.

Then, of course, Entertainment Weekly came in the mail. There's a pretty lengthy (for EW)story about the biblically themed movies coming out this Spring (also Son of God and Ridley Scott's Exodus). Much of the article centered around the controversy Aronofsky is sparking among "Christian" moviegoers (whatever that means) and the ways in which movie studios have (successfully or otherwise) attracted Christian viewers.

Everyone's making nice now, but they screened five different cuts of Noah and it sure sounds like Aronofsky is walking the company line. I hope they release the movie he wants to make.

The main objections are the extra-biblical elements that necessarily have to go into a Noah movie. Scripture says scant little about Noah - and the things it says are less than flattering. Aronofsky has to make things up to flesh out the narrative. A lot of Christians don't like this.

I get the perspective that says "the Bible is perfect and if we touch it we're being sacreligeous," even if I don't necessarily agree with it. It's even more complicated with Noah, who exists, essentially, in pre-history. There's a lot of anthropology and history that can be brought to bear - stuff that often challenges the traditional interpretations of Bible life.

"Christian" at the movies seem to like very simple things. They want a story that affirms what they believe - and there is very little demand for quality film-making. I can't begin to tell you how terrible most of the movies that get pitched to churches really are. Awful, unbearable things - that most people I go to church with seem to like just fine. I'll never get that (and it's why I'm scared to death of Son of God).

I want movies that challenge my faith. I want to be exposed to different approaches and perspectives on biblical stories and themes (so long as their done intelligently - looking at you, Ridley, and your rock-star, Christian Bale Moses who might have been "cynical about the idea of an afterlife," - and all the Hebrew scholars groan). I like to challenge my thinking, my perspective. In my view, that's what faith is all about.

A faith that doesn't want to be tested is no faith at all. Maybe that's the real problem with mainstream evangelical culture - perhaps its more participation in a system of belief than any actual faith at all? Do we really lack security of our beliefs to such a degree that we're desperate for any sort of confirmation, even if it's weak and shallow? I sure hope not.

Yesterday, when I was sending out feelers for topics for this post (sorry I didn't actually take any of them), my cousin suggested "why old-school Christians aren't the enemy." I didn't follow up on that because I wasn't sure exactly what he meant by "old school." I'm not sure it's a matter of old-school vs new school, because our preferences always change and we tend to rebel against what's gone before out of sheer novelty. I see "modern" Christians and "traditional" Christians operating in this same mindset with a different kind of window dressing.

I don't see more or less value in modern or traditional or whatever accountrements we use to dress up our faith. I'm primarily concerned with a faith that means something, a faith that has been tested - a faith that is willing to be tested. Whether that hesitancy to question and challenge faith comes in fancy new packaging or entrenched in the "old-school," I hope it gets called out and confronted. Real faith is an unwavering belief that things will work out in the end. Being scared of every movie coming down the chute just doesn't match up.

I could care less if Noah is faithful to the modern, Sunday School version of Noah - with the cartoon animals having a grand old ball on the wooden cruise ship of a hardworking, upstanding citizen - because that version is mostly crap. I'd love for Aronofsky to infuse some cultural elements into the narrative that more appropriately place it in the proper historical context than in our modern-revisionist view of the Bible.

Because, in the end, my faith is stronger than a cinematic expression. It has to be able to stand up this kind of challenge (if indeed there is any challenge at all) or it's not really faith.

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