One of the popular trends in Hollywood recently has been adapting famous Bible stories into movies. The original popularity of some of these projects such as The Prince of Egypt and The Passion of the Christ spawned a growth in religious and secular portrayals of spiritual stories. Several religious-based film companies have begun releasing films based on biblical principles and attempting to bring Christianity into mainstream entertainment.
Some of these films have sparked controversy, such as Son of God, which has been criticized for portraying Jesus as a model and westernizing the gospel.
This week, Noah, a movie based on the famous biblical character and directed by Darren Aronofsky, will be released. Aronofsky has received criticism for saying that his version of the story would be far removed from biblical tradition.
The scandal that has arisen surrounding the release of Noah raises the question of the purpose of these movies. Aronofsky claims that the movie is a theatrical interpretation, not a spiritual rendering of the story. Cinematically, this makes sense because many biblical stories would not translate well to the big screen without a little tweaking.
The problem with translating the Bible to the big screen is that while the stories are unquestioningly valuable for cultural and spiritual growth, they are not always great for cinematic satisfaction. Movie heroes need to be sympathetic and get us on their side. If Noah allows all the humans on earth to perish so that his family can survive without even struggling with the massacre, audiences are not going to root for Noah.
The Bible wasn’t written for entertainment. Hollywood’s recent attention to biblical narratives is wonderful for providing visual context and sometimes compelling story lines, but is not meant to be a spiritual experience. Audiences expecting Noah to be completely true to the biblical account and engage in a religious experience with the movie will be disappointed. As Christians, we shouldn’t expect movies to be a spiritual experience. It is unrealistic to place our spiritual expectations on secular filmmakers who are seeking to entertain, not evangelize.