The ‘prophet complex’: Does Ken Ham have more in common with Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ than he thinks?

Ken Ham and Russell Crowe's Noah may have more in common than you thought. (Photo by Paramount Pictures.)

Editor’s note: The following is a guest review of Paramount Pictures’ “Noah,” a film adaptation of the flood account in Genesis that has garnered all sorts of attention from the evangelical community and the public at large (much of it negative, at least in the case of the former). I asked our reviewer, Warren Collier, to specifically take into account and respond to the — in my opinion — rather over-the-top criticism leveled at the new movie by Ken Ham. Fair warning: This review contains spoilers.

I think the release of Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” comes at a serendipitous time. Recently, there’s been an influx of Christian-ish movies such as “Son of God,” “Heaven is for Real,” and “God’s Not Dead”. Also, Bill Nye’s recent debate with Ken Ham hurled young-earth creationism — and their belief in a historical flood — into the public eye for a brief time. So it comes as no shock to me that both secular and religious circles are all abuzz about this movie.

When I first heard about “Noah,” I assumed that YEC spokespeople like Ken Ham and Ray Comfort would be, at least, a little excited. For those who believe Noah’s flood really happened, why wouldn’t you want to see a modern day retelling of “history” in full Hollywood cinematic glory? So imagine my surprise when I learned that Ken Ham has blasted Aronofsky’s film as “anti-biblical.” I had plans to watch the film anyway, but knowing the movie got Ham more fried than overcooked bacon really got me interested.

Personally, I think Ham gets a little nitpicky with how much the film deviates from the biblical account. Let’s be realistic here. You have to expect that a big-budget film will need to take some artistic license, especially when the source material is only a few short chapters from Genesis. So in my opinion, there is no point fretting over discrepancies like how many humans were on the ark or descendants of Cain stowing away on board the ship. I can even make room for earth-encrusted fallen angels that help Noah build the ark (though, I’ll admit, that part was a little weird).

One of the more memorable scenes in the movie is when Noah recounts the story of creation to his family inside the ark. As Noah tells the story in nearly the same language as Genesis 1 (which, when I heard it read aloud, convinced me even more that it is meant to be read as prose poetry), we are treated to beautiful visuals of the big bang, the formation of stars and galaxies, and the creation of life through evolution.

I was surprised that Ham made no mention of this in his laundry list of objections. Perhaps it is because despite the obvious reference to evolution in the film, Adam and Eve are still clearly depicted as a separate special creation that partakes of the forbidden fruit. So really, the film portrays an old-earth creation model rather than theistic evolution, as some have said.

Another of Ham’s complaints is that the movie serves as a poor tool for Christian evangelism (since, of course, we all know how important evangelism is to Ken Ham). In my opinion, the movie does not stray that much from the original story and I think it really could stir up interest in the source material. Now I may be biased, but after watching the movie, I was immediately curious about rereading the first several chapters of Genesis, which I, in fact, did as soon as I got the chance after leaving the theater. So, thanks, Mr. Aronofsky, for motivating me to pick up my Bible again.

But maybe Ham is onto something here: I don’t think Noah can be used as an evangelism tool very effectively. Not because the movie didn’t follow the biblical account, but because believing in a literal flood and a literal ark does nothing to bring people to Christ. The story of Noah is about how the sin and wickedness of mankind can grieve the heart of God so terribly that it might just be easier to press the divine reset button on creation. Yet even in the midst of our depravity, God can still pierce through our darkness and provide a small drop of mercy where life can be reborn.

It is a powerful myth. And in that sense, it is a true story. That message is not lost at all in the film. In fact, it is front and center.

I do agree with Ham on one thing. Here is what he says about how Noah is portrayed in the film:  “…he’s a delusional, conflicted man, more concerned about the environment, animals, and even killing his own grandchild than he is with his family and his relationship with God.”

In the beginning of the movie, Noah is one of the few honorable people left on earth with a very intimate connection with “the creator” who speaks to him in dreams and visions. But as the film progresses and especially after everyone is on the ark, he becomes somewhat psychotic. He is convinced that his family’s sole purpose is to build the ark just to save the animals. They would then eventually grow old and die, thus wiping humanity off the face of the earth. He is so consumed with this belief that he even vows to kill his own unborn grandchildren to ensure the end of the human race.

I can definitely understand why Christians, especially YECs, would take offense at such a barbaric portrayal of Noah. However, I was intrigued by his descent into madness. Here’s why: I think what happens to Noah is a warning to all who claim to obey God’s will. At first, we may willingly submit to whatever God has planned and obeying him usually brings blessing upon us. When we believe we are doing God’s will, there is little that stands in our way, as we see Noah do early on in the movie.

But it is all too easy for us to become overconfident in our role as the “one called by God” and we confuse our own interpretations for God’s. Perhaps you could call it a “prophet complex,” where we begin to believe that our will is one and the same with God’s will. When this happens, we run the terrible risk of falling astray in our absolute certainty. Eventually, after becoming consumed with our “chosen-ness” and holiness, our actions now run contrary to the God we thought we were following all along.

We see this in the movie when Noah’s daughter-in-law gives birth to twin sisters, a perfect example of divine providence for his two other sons who do not yet have wives to perpetuate the human race (the movie conveniently ignores the obvious incestuous implications the family faces, so I will too, for now). Noah completely fails to see the miracle that has occurred. He is so convinced of the wickedness of humanity that he cannot even comprehend God working in their midst. He has replaced his own will for God’s will without realizing, and it nearly has tragic consequences.

Now in the real story of Noah, this never happens. But Aronofsky’s Noah is not alone in his folly. I think all God-fearing men and women are at risk of falling into the same trap of conflating God’s truth with our own truth. The same applies when we read the Bible. Perhaps we should all take our understanding of scripture with a grain of salt.

The word of God is a firm foundation, of course, and we should have confidence in the Lord. But once we start to become absolutely confident in the “real” meaning of specific passages of scripture, I think we run the risk of committing the same sin as Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I thought it was truly sad when Ken Ham declared that absolutely nothing would ever change his mind about his literal interpretation of Genesis during the debate.

Now maybe it is unfair to equate Ham with Noah. I mean it’s not like he’s trying to build his own life sized replica of the ark. Oh wait…

Warren Collier is a Christian who fully accepts the science behind the age of the earth and the origin of species. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and works as an educator in California.

  • Brilliant.

    • Thanks, Heather! I thought Warren did a fabulous job, too 🙂

  • Larry Bunce

    Noah is one of the great stories of our culture, whether or not we take it literally. Putting the story in front of millions is a good thing culturally, whatever the slant the producers put on the tale. One disadvantage the major Bible stories have is that we are exposed to them as children in Sunday school, where we get the idea they took place in simple pastel drawings. A movie gives us a chance to consider the reality of the people and events.

    As to the poetic language of the original Bible story, one of the reasons the King James Version is so beloved is that it was written to be read aloud. The teams working on translating a passage would meet and read their work to each other collectively. If a passage proved difficult to be pronounced by a group, they would re-word it. So much for the KJV being God’s literal words, but it gave us a masterpiece of English literature, and reads well.

    In case anyone hasn’t heard Bill Cosby’s take on Noah, it is on YouTube:

  • Jordan Peiffer

    Hmm. This movie, like such adaptations of Bible stories tend to do, has caused a stir, hasn’t it?

    I’m somewhat doubtful about it, myself. I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I heard a few things from a friend who has seen it. She also led me to this article, which you might find interesting:

    I realize it may seem a bit heavy-handed, especially that opening title. But frankly, if what it says is true, then I’m not sure I’d think much of the movie. I understand that Aronofsky’s an atheist, and I definitely get that certain liberties were taken with the story. That’s fine. But if it’s as odd as it sounds, and “The Creator” is portrayed as being A: totally silent, utterly mysterious, and potentially non-existant, and B: a purely angry, malevolent, human-hating destructive force, with no trace of the God we who believe in Him know, and the source of “wisdom and enlightenment” is the Serpent-skin, (frankly, that set off a warning siren) then I doubt the movie is any better for evangelical efforts than you thought God’s Not Dead was, if not worse. Okay, the director’s an atheist. But still, what message is it sending here? If it’s as bad as it sounds, I think I’d prefer The Genesis Movie 3D. At least that can be seen more as a parable brought to life, and not a very theologically twisted Bible story.

    • You’re welcome to your opinion, of course, and I see where you’re coming from. I can definitely understand why perfectly reasonable people would be uncomfortable with such liberties being taken with a biblical figure. My view could basically be summed up as, “It’s a movie.” It doesn’t matter if a movie is “biblically based,” or “biblically inspired,” or so on and so forth, it’s still a movie. And if you go to any movie expecting to see perfect theology on-screen, then you might as well stay at home.

      We get our theology from scripture, and from the Spirit’s guidance as we read and interpret scripture. We go to the movies to be entertained, and at best, to experience some deep, general truths about life and the human condition — which I believe is the ultimate goal of art.

      • Jordan Peiffer

        Well, I can understand that position. For me, I often find movies to be inspiring in their own way, so finding one that was both inspiring AND based on a Bible story would be awesome. I guess I was hoping that this one would be, so I’m disappointed to find that it doesn’t sound like one after all. Maybe I should see Passion of the Christ. I suppose I might be overestimating the negative potential of Noah, but then there’s a big difference between perfect theology and turning the serpent’s skin into some kind of “holy relic” or something.

        But I suppose I may reserve any further judgement until I’ve seen the movie myself.