The new Paramount film NOAH , starring Russell Crowe, can be a great conversation starter with your questioning or non-believing friends. This film has a big budget and intends to make a big statement. You may well want to see it for its modern-day cultural influence. So, invite someone to attend the film with you or find folks who’ve already seen it, and initiate some meaningful spiritual discussions over “a cup of tea.”
But we need to warn you, this is not your little sister’s Sunday School story about animals on a boat! Anytime Hollywood takes on a biblical theme it is usually a mixed blessing. This time is no different.
If you wanted to capture the movie NOAH in a single word, the word would be dark. Anyone familiar with the film credits of director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky would expect nothing less. Black Swan is about a prima ballerina's descent into madness and suicide. The Wrestler is about trying (and failing) to pick up the pieces of fading glory in the ring. Requiem for a Dream is considered by many to be the most authentic (and depressing) view of what it’s like to live with a drug addict. And The Fountain tackles terminal illness and loss.
So it should come as no surprise that Aronofsky’s NOAH is a relentlessly dark, conflicted, imaginatively provocative Hollywood work of fiction, inspired by the biblical story of Noah. The good news is, the movie powerfully explores themes of sin, righteousness, judgment, mercy and redemption. The film poses a number of worthwhile questions: Is mankind worth saving? Is God worth worshiping? Does God speak, and if so, how can we discern His voice? That’s why it can work as a great conversation opener you can use to talk about the heart of the gospel with believers and non-believers alike.
Below we’ve prepared a series of questions you may want to use with those who’ve seen the film. In brackets after each main question are some potential follow-up questions or other helpful information. (But you should know, there are also a number of plot spoilers!)
Dr. Alan Scholes
Dr. Gary Stanley
Discussion questions about the film
What was your overall impression of the film? Did you like it? What were some of the major themes that stood out to you? [Was it too dark, or did that seem to fit the overall thrust of the film? Were you captivated by the story, or by certain characters? If so, which ones, and why?]
The film made me want to go back and read the original story in the Bible, just to see what was changed and what was different. Would you like to read the original? [It’s not very long. I actually brought a copy on my cell phone, iPad, etc. Why don’t you read it, and then we can talk about the similarities and differences between the movie and the original story.]
What are some influences that have shaped your own view of God? Movies, novels, parents, friends, church background, or the Bible? [How comfortable are you with the credibility of the sources you used to fashion your view? Would you say your views about God are pretty well formed; pretty final? Or are your views still open, still in flux, still being formed and molded?]
Did you find the film believable, or incredible? Why? [What are some of the additions or adaptations in the movie that don’t contradict the biblical account, and might actually have happened? What in the movie seems fanciful, doubtful or impossible in light of the Bible?]
How would you compare and contrast the film’s depiction of Noah, with the way he is portrayed in the Bible? Looking at the attitudes and actions that were added in the film, which ones seem likely, possible, unlikely, or impossible based on the description in the Bible? [Which of the things Noah did in the movie seem like they contradict the character of Noah shown in the Bible, or even in the movie?]
Both Tubal-cain and Noah believe that God created humans. But in what ways do they differ in their views about God, the human race, and humanity's relationship with God? [Tubal-cain sees humanity’s lost condition and blames God. Noah blames all humans, including himself. This might be one of the reasons God sees Noah as different from his fellow humans.]
Noah is a story about choice, consequences, how much responsibility we bear. Tubal-cain declares that humans were created in God’s image, but that the negative consequences of our own choices are ultimately God’s fault. Noah defines himself by his own sinfulness, and sees the consequences of God’s judgment as resting on all of humanity. Would you side with either of these positions? [How does being an image bearer, and at the same time a sinner, affect your understanding of your worth and goodness?]
From the movie it would be easy to think that God is angry with us. Do you think He is? Which characters in the movie are angry with God? [It is interesting to note that the Bible used the story of Noah as proof that God is in fact not angry with us! "In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you," Says the LORD your Redeemer. "For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. "For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:8-10 NASB)]
Tubal-cain and Ham accuse Noah of being heartless in saving the animals but letting so many “innocent” people die in the flood. Do you think that is a fair accusation? Against Noah? Against God? [Ezekiel 14:13-14 Addresses Noah’s efforts and ask if any of us can save another. It is easy to project, or worry about everyone else and neglect the one person we are responsible for us.]
In the New Testament, Peter compares the saving of Noah and his family in the Ark with Christ saving us through His death. What do you think are some points of similarity between the two stories? What are some differences? [The NT comparison is made in 1 Peter 3:18-21. If you end up looking at the passage together, there are two possible points of confusion, or “rabbit trails.” One is Jesus preaching to spirits in prison (v. 19). The best answer to that is that Bible scholars are all over the map and there is no consensus to what that means. It may well remain a mystery until Christ returns! The second potential problem might be the statement that baptism saves you (v. 21). The best response to this is to read the rest of the verse which makes clear it is not the physical act of getting wet that saves us, but our accepting Christ and his resurrection. It might also be worth pointing out that Peter compares NT baptism with Noah’s salvation from judgment and in their case they were not immersed in water, but were saved by staying dry! The root meaning of the Greek word, baptize, is not dunking, but identification. When the passengers on the Ark believed God, they were identified with Noah’s faith and saved. When we are baptized we are identifying with Christ and His death and resurrection. It’s that spiritual identification that saves us, not being dunked!]
One of the big themes of the movie is the degradation of human sin. What are some of the sins the film depicts? [Murder, sexual abuse, pride, disrespect for nature and animals, rape of the environment, no fear of or respect for God.]
Which human sins are named in the Bible as the reason for God’s judgment? Which are the same and which are different in the movie vs. the book? [Would you agree that all the evils depicted in the film are actually wrong? Are there any “bad” actions of the film characters that you would defend as actually allowable or right? Do you think the human race in Noah’s day actually deserved God’s judgment? Do you think the human race today deserves the judgment of God? Why or why not?]
In the movie, Noah concludes that he and all his family members are also guilty of sin and deserve judgment. Do you think he was right? [One of the earliest statements in the film is “Temptation led to sin.” Are all humans sinners? Do we all deserve the judgment of God? Do you agree or disagree with the Bible when it says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” (Romans 3:23 ESV)]
Do you think there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong? Or is all morality relative? [Are there some human behaviors, or crimes, that are always wrong and always deserve judgment? If so, what are some of them? What about rape, child molestation, premeditated murder, racism, etc. Do you believe that, under some circumstances those actions could possibly be justified—be the loving thing to do? Do you think in some cases God would approve of humans when they did those things?]
Two of the themes in the movie were “justice” and “mercy.” Do you think the film struck the right balance between the two? [When you think about God, do you envision Him as both just and merciful? Do you think one of those traits is stronger, or more dominant in His character? Do you think the way God has dealt with the human race shows both justice and mercy? In what ways do you see Jesus and embodying both those traits?]
There is an intriguing statement written by the prophet Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18) How would you say this verse relates to the picture of God in the movie? [Do you think the movie reflected both God’s gracious mercy and His justice? Which characteristic of God had greater emphasis in the movie? Which had greater emphasis in the biblical story of Noah? From the movie it would be easy to think that God is angry with us. However, it is this very story, in the Bible, that is given as proof that God is in fact not angry with us! (Isaiah 54:8-10)]
One of the recurring themes in the Bible is hearing, or not hearing, God speak. Do you think God actually has, or does, speak to some people? Assuming the biblical story of Noah is what really happened, do you think God actually led Noah to build the ark? [If God actually speaks to some people, how do you think He does it? Audibly? Through dreams and visions? Through circumstances? Through mental or emotional impressions? Through other people, like Noah’s wife and adopted daughter?]
Do you think the movie was trying to say that God actually called Noah to kill his baby granddaughters? When he had compassion and didn’t kill them, was that actually God’s will, or did Noah fail to obey God? [Do you think God would actually ever call a parent, or a grandparent, to murder their own offspring? What about the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:1-18? How is that story different from the fictional story of Noah in the movie? Based on Hebrews 11:19, many Christians believe that the story of Abraham offering Isaac was a type (or prophetic symbol) of God the Father giving his only Son, Christ, to be killed for our sins. Would the story of Noah, as told in the movie, have worked just as well as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice? Why or Why not? Do you believe God offered Christ as a sacrifice for your sins? Why or why not?]
Jesus compared His own future Second Coming to the time of Noah: “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:37) How does Jesus’ description of life before the flood square with the movie’s portrayal of what was going on? [Hebrews 11:7 Noah acted on what he was given. He didn’t know everything but what he knew was enough.]
The movie powerfully raises the question, “Since everyone is corrupt, is it possible for even the best humans to be saved from God’s judgment?” What do you think? Do you believe you deserve judgment? Do you know how you can avoid God’s judgment? [Hint—it doesn’t involve a boat! 2 Peter 2:5 - We can’t escape God’s righteous judgment on our own.]
A final suggestion: You may want to read the story of Noah in The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Although this was written for children, the book is a simple, Christ-honoring retelling of many Bible stories, which a surprising number have used for Bible-study discussion groups!