Are we future-positive or future-negative? When we look out at the world today—at its strange combination of human wonders and atrocities, overlaid as they are atop the natural and integrated beauty of the earth itself—the question of what will happen next is not easy to answer.
Will we achieve a utopia of technological innovation that finally allows human beings to reach their highest potential? Or will it be a dystopian meltdown, where our most horrific nightmares come true in nature’s collision with our toxic, synthetic social and scientific order? Maybe we believe the future will be a hybrid of the two and that one will be the gateway to the other. But then the question becomes, Which way will that gate swing? Are we moving away from or toward global ruin? It’s like the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel: Are we leaving the darkness, or are we about to be run over?
The revisionist story of Noah and the Flood speaks to this question.
THE MOVIE NOAH
The human psyche seems to have a natural attraction to the future-negative apocalyptic storyline. Even as we hope that human creativity and innate goodness will lead us away from the cliff of self-destruction, we worry. Most would say, “And rightly so”; our track record of mixing good and evil is quite solid. We are a unique species in our intelligence and capacity to create, but we are also imbued with a sense of self-doubt.
It is on this conflict between doubt and ability, good and evil that writer-director Darren Aronofsky floats his story of Noah.
Flood mythology is found in many cultures across the planet, and while this is interesting in itself as an indicator that something significant occurred in humanity’s distant past, Aronofsky focuses on the mind of Noah and his sense of life’s meaning. The deluge itself is a computer-generated masterpiece, but it is secondary in this story. It is Noah’s sensibilities, as cobbled together by Aronofsky and his writing partner Ari Handel, that are the heart of the tale. Noah certainly feels conflicted and confused, victimized and vengeful. How these drivers play out is the core of the film. It tells us something about how the moviemakers view human relationships and our place in the world—but with no less fantasy than a film based on Tolkien sources.
While imaginative, this Noah caricature should not be syncretized with the biblical Noah; this man is neither “righteous” nor “blameless” (qualities that show a resonance with God’s character of love) but is instead vacillating and without moral mooring. This Noah would not be described as “walking with God” (Genesis 6:9). It must be noted (spoiler alert) that in the end, he does exhibit behavior that could be called merciful and loving, but these are portrayed as being in spite of the god who initiates the Flood and who begrudgingly furnishes a rainbow to end the story (Genesis 9:13).
Still, moviemakers need not be true to their source material. After all, the Flood concept can be accessed from many viewpoints—in this case, a radical environmentalist view. Here it is not the family of man that is being saved (along with other terrestrial life); it is the innocent that need saving: the animals. Humans are the guilty and worthy of death. That is the conclusion he gathers from the vague visions he receives from a higher power that Mrs. Noah names the Creator. She asks Noah if He spoke to him, and he answers, I think so, indicating how vaguely he fathoms his mission.
In the end, he decides, it was humans who “broke the world”; the Creator’s original paradise would be restored through the washing of the Flood, but this time with no men—mankind must end. Creation will be left alone, safe.
The audience must conclude, then, that the Noah family are apparently along for the voyage either as a reward for being vegan or as payoff for building the ark; at least now they can all die of old age on land rather than drowning with the rest of humanity. Noah somehow finds solace in this second option.
So where does this take us as a future-positive or future-negative thesis? Because the movie ends with humans being admonished to again multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28; 9:1, 7), we are meant to ask ourselves, “Well, how has that been going? Are we doing a better job of it?”
A FABLE FOR EARTH DAY
The makers of Noah clearly hope the movie will focus viewers’ attention on how humans are treating the planet today. Like the 2009 film Avatar, it is a fantasy meant to illustrate that we have become separated and distant from the natural world. This distance does have negative consequences, and certainly many of our modern activities are having increasing impact on the planetary systems that sustain us all. Making movies to challenge the misperception that human activity has no pushback is one way to bring this problem into the public arena.
Almost a half century ago, Earth Day also began as a way to focus the public on environmental degradation. Its creators believed this focus would generate political interest in environmental legislation.
The concept of Earth Day came to Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson’s mind “while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called ‘teach-ins,’ had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me—why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?
“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try” (“How the First Earth Day Came About”).
In a speech on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, Nelson noted that the discussion was not just about nature and the animals. It was time, he said, that we also started taking better care of each other: “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”
The problem of moving toward that positive future while avoiding the ever-present possibility of the negative is our collective global challenge. Unless we recognize that we must rise above our natural tendency toward self-centeredness and separation, overcoming these challenges will be impossible, just as it was for the pre-Flood world. According to the Genesis account, pre-Flood society was filled with violence and a near-total disregard for its dependence on and obligation to the true God. In Noah, the attitude of the day is eloquently stated that man is not ruled by the heavens; a man is ruled by his will. And so disaster ensued.
This aspect of the movie is accurate; it shows that self-will passed beyond the Flood to our day. God has promised not to intervene in human affairs until a final, critical moment (Matthew 24:36-40; 22). In that moment there will come a course change. The kingdom of God—the most profound future-positive that can be imagined (1 Corinthians 2:9–10)—will finally emerge from the waves.