Three movies hit theaters this year that deal with religious or theological material; Son of God, God's Not Dead, and Noah. I've seen all three, and only one has my vote as a truly good movie...and it isn't what many of you might expect.
1) Son of God:
First of all, let me say that I'm not against making movies about Jesus, and in fact there are even movies that play with interesting ideas and topics. I love the Gospel of John with the guy who played Desmond from Lost as Jesus (sorry, he's Desmond to me). It was the Gospel of John in video form, and was very well done. I similarly actually enjoyed and thought about The Last Temptation of Christ (HEAR ME OUT!). I thought it tried hard to deal with Jesus as a human being and it didn't necessarily deny His divinity. In fact, what bothered people I think the most about it was that He married Mary Magdalene, but it portrayed a man in his 30's who may very well have wanted to follow the command of God to "be fruitful and multiply." It showed that the last temptation was actually like the first...come down from there, you don't have to go through the suffering. In the end, He actually didn't, but it was truly the "last temptation."
But as for Son of God, I'm sorry, I know the Bible series it is taken from has done very well, but I thought I couldn't connect with Him as an actor, I thought some of the interpretive moves were both unnecessary and cost interpretation at other times. I also wasn't impressed with Mary Magdalene being "one of the guys." And not just one of the guys, but pretty much enough to tell Thomas to shut up at one point while they were getting the boat ready to go across the lake...wow, that's 1st century Jewish feminism :-x. At least with the Gospel of John she learned and tagged along only at the very end...with Son of God, you'd think all the disciples were celibate and didn't have wives who tagged along, but they did and should have featured more prominently if they were going to include her in all the scenes. Overall, bad...I really didn't feel it even gave me something to find that was new in a good way, or old in a faithful way to the text or the culture.
2) God's Not Dead:
Wow. I don't know what to say about this one. Highly simplistic with pretty much every character becoming a Christian by the end, and one of the lamest "text someone God's not dead" at the end of the movie. A friend who is a pastor had that texted to him, and he responded back rightly, "well, He was for at least 3 days." The movie came across as mean spirited at times, including killing the main atheist character (of course spoilers...pansies!) after he converts. Yes, this shows Providence at work, but it was very forced.
Unlike Son of God however, there were a few glimmers of redeemability (word?...eh, I'm a theologian, we make up words all the time!) in it. For starters, the movie did hit at a good point, which was that the problem of evil is one of the strongest arguments against God's existence. It is! However, the movie didn't really address the reality of WHY it is such a powerful argument - namely it is existential. The problem of evil is always presented with something akin to a bystander who asks the question of evil and the goodness of God, but let's be real, you ask it not because you necessarily care about nameless and faceless hypothetical humans...you care about your friend who lost their child, your mother who has cancer, your child who was killed in a car accident, the thousands of people who die in an earthquake and who move us to emotional response! These are things that happen "in the body" and "to the body." The movie hits on that, but neglects to mention that the God who allows for that Himself enters it and asks the SAME THING at the cross - "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Because the movie spent so much time in the mental or emotional realm it didn't really solve this problem in a true way. I also disagree with showing every atheist as a jerk...there are many who are yes, but there are also honest and moral atheists and Christians who act like the back-end of Mr. Ed! This was also not dealt with, as THAT is also an argument used against Christianity. The second scene I loved actually was the grandmother who had advanced dementia who answered Dean Caine's character...the Devil doesn't make us suffer sometimes to hide that we are in a prison...until it is too late. This was actually a very philosophically profound statement without EVEN MEANING TO BE! In fact my jaw dropped when I heard this part of the movie! Other than that...I could have left it and been just as well off. The philosophical arguments were "meh," and pretty much just ended up in being general arguments for God, not necessarily Christianity...and btw, at the end of the movie, not everyone stood up....the ugliest kid was still an atheist...yes, I noticed that movie.
Alright, I know people are probably wondering why I actually loved this movie...so here goes. This movie received an INSANE amount of criticism early on (see for example Answers in Genesis' review which actually misses so much of the point of the movie). Yes, Tubal-Cain wasn't on the Ark. Yes, Lamech isn't killed by him. Yes, Ham and Japheth's wives are on the ark with them (technically they are already conceived when they enter the ark...or at least will be in almost no time). Yes, the Watchers are not in the biblical text, but really pay attention to the theology of the movie...for being made by an atheist...he gets it! Here's what I am referring to:
Creation via evolution? Maybe - that is one part of the movie, but other parts show a possible difference in that narrative...indeed, if it was true, then the view of humanity being guilty and animals not would make very little sense, because "man" ate meat and blood of animals, not Noah or his family - yes, that IS in the text...humanity is not allowed to eat meat until AFTER the flood in the biblical text. The movie also points out that man's technology is not inherently evil, man is! They turned the gifts of the watchers (Kaballah or Enoch as far as text goes could be what was being referred to here) into weapons to kill each other and decimate creation. Rather than care for it as caretakers, they just flat out raped the land! Man is portrayed as full of passions! And yet there are two takes to it. The children of Cain, and Tubal-Cain himself says "I am in Your image!" He is correct! And Noah who feels that the flood is to wipe out the wicked and that he and his family is to be left because they are helping the animals and are "good," finds out when he visits the camp at one point, that HE is also in their image...they share a common fallen humanity!
And what of the fall? Was the movie Gnostic because it portrayed Adam and Eve as glowing? NO! This is actually an OLD tradition, even in Christianity! "Before he dressed himself in the garments of skin man wore a 'divinely woven' attire, his psychosomatic dress which had been woven with grace, with the light and glory of God" (Panyiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ, 52). This is found in St. John Chrysostom's homilies on Genesis with regard to the prelapsarian state. Similarly, Nellas says based on the thought of St. Maximus the Confessor, "if we understand the 'nakedness' as transparency, we can say that the body of Adam was so simple that it was in reality transparent, open to the material creation without resisting it in any way, and without the world offering any resistance to the body - the world had been surrendered to it. The human body, while maintaining its own peculiar constitution and separate identity with regard to the world, was nevertheless not divided from it at all" (ibid., 52-53). St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Maximus the Confessor all say this. They have a body, but they reflect the glory of the very image they are created in!
So we have humans in Eden reflecting the glory of God in innocence, eat of the fruit, are cast out and need to eat by the sweat of their brow, are called evil for raping the land and eating meat, using the gifts of technology for violence against the creation and their fellow man...how is this "anti-Christian?" That is biblical through and through! When Ham picks the flower in the beginning of the movie, he is told by Noah that by picking it, it can't fulfill its function - in fact, the idea is that creation has a full goal that man is to help in seeing through! It anchors environmentalism in a vein that allows for a deified way of seeing creation that an atheistic mentality just cannot fully appreciate without becoming a dead paganistic materialism. We as Christians are to care for the Earth because it is a trust given to us, and the resurrected Christ didn't recreate His body, but rose in it...so any view of the end of the world that thinks that fire is only that which destroys doesn't understand the purifying role of fire (good lecture by Fr. Thomas Hopko on the meaning of Christianity and the Apocalypse btw). In fact, when Tubal-Cain kills animals on the ark, I pulled back almost in horror! It was said that if one died, a piece of creation was lost forever...and you see it happening! It should horrify us to know about the extinction of animals or plants...but it should equally horrify us at the death of a human created in the image of God! The death of any human person is a tragedy...without the resurrection of course!
I even like how Noah experienced the "dark night of the soul," where he was confused as to his role...and he became a king douche! Even a man of God is not perfect, and God does test often by NOT talking or revealing things to a prophet. At one point, Noah points out the bad in his family to his wife who saw only the good...but he left out his judgmental and unmerciful self. It wasn't until he spared his grandchildren at the end where his role as the Christ figure was fulfilled. God smiled on that in the movie...and it was one of the most "Christian" moments...it is mercy and forgiveness which Noah forgot. Tubal-Cain was the man who makes his way into the wedding without the garment. He hasn't washed himself of his former ways...he revels in them, and sullies his host's home as a result. One of the odes of the Canon of Holy Saturday Matins in referring to the type of the resurrection with Jonah has him say to those of Ninevah, "by observing vanities and lies you have forsaken your own mercy." No one in the world is perfect or good apart from God...this is stated in the Gospel, when Christ says, "no one is good but God alone." The ark is meant to house the "innocent," but it was lack of mercy that cost "niel" (or Nile?) her life in the movie. Ham even showed more mercy and forgiveness for his father for that...those of us who claim to be in the Church should not hold it over others or judge them...that judgement belongs to God alone. We are to be judged by what we have done "to the least of these" for in doing so, we do it to Him.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. Let us call brothers even those who hate us, and forgive each other by the Resurrection.