Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Costello: Is 'Noah' film sacred enough?

By Carol Costello
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
Carol Costello says a new film about Noah takes artistic liberties with the story. Is that so wrong?
Carol Costello says a new film about Noah takes artistic liberties with the story. Is that so wrong?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Carol Costello: Will Americans embrace Hollywood version of "Noah" story? Probably not
  • Detractors say story should stick to sacred text. Director says that's not his goal
  • She says many religious movies take artistic license; why is that so wrong?
  • Costello: With belief in God declining, isn't it at least good to stoke conversation?

Editor's note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday.

(CNN) -- Can a secular, Hollywood insider make a religious movie Americans can fully, warmly embrace and -- wait for it -- actually learn from?

We'll find out for sure on March 28 when the movie "Noah" opens in theaters nationwide.

But, at first glance the answer is -- no.

Paramount, eager to appeal to the religious crowd, arranged screenings of the movie before its release. Officially, some competing versions of the film "tested poorly." Sounds to me like audiences hated most of what they saw, although it's not clear exactly what version of the film they hated.

Carol Costello
Carol Costello

Critics "lucky" enough to see early versions of the movie were sworn to secrecy. But, we do know their reaction prompted Paramount to not only recut the movie several times, but to take the extraordinary step of schmoozing the president of the National Religious Broadcasters group by agreeing to issue this disclaimer: "The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."

Even the actor who portrays Noah, Russell Crowe, tweeted: "Dear Holy Father @Pontifex , Sorry that I have caused havoc in your social media world. Seriously though, #Noah the movie will fascinate you."

See, that's the thing. The director, a self-described atheist, is Darren Aronofsky, who produced the movie "Black Swan." He is way more interested -- and I mean way, way more interested -- in making Noah "fascinating" than "true to the Bible," telling the New Yorker, "'Noah' is the least biblical biblical film ever made. I don't give a f--- about the test scores (early negative audience reaction to "Noah"). My films are outside the scores."

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

It's not that religious audiences dislike artistic license, they just hate it when Hollywood exploits a sacred story to promote a secular agenda.

Brian Godawa, blogger and author of the book "Noah Primeval," sparked a firestorm when he reviewed an early script of "Noah." Godawa's article was titled: "Darren Aronofsky's Noah: Environmentalist Wacko." It promptly went viral.

When Russell Crowe met a young Superman
Jesus' greatest Hollywood hits

He says Aronofsky, at least early on, turned a Bible story into "environmental paganism."

"It's not that (Christians) are intolerant, but look, you're playing with their sacred story."

Godawa says the story of Noah was not about "God destroying the Earth because man was destroying the Earth," it was about God destroying the Earth because of "man's sinfulness."

Mark Burnett, who produced the wildly successful "Son of God," agrees. "You know one thing is -- it's not just any book, correct? It's a sacred text. It's a sacred text that millions of people have willingly died for. It's not anything to mess around with. You've got to be faithful to a sacred text like this."

Hollywood has been making movies about the Bible since the silent era. "Ben Hur" and "The Ten Commandments" were huge hits. Did they stick to the sacred script? No. And, you guessed it, some biblical scholars were not pleased.

"Hollywood has an agenda and that's to sell films and make it exciting, not necessarily to convey historical accuracy nor to convey theological values," says Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president for the Orthodox Union. Even Cecil B. DeMille's popular "Ten Commandments," which portrayed the Jewish enslavement in Egypt, "gave a skewed, simplistic and primitive notion of religion. It almost had no value," Weil says.

Seriously? No value? With all due respect, Rabbi Well, if we're in danger of becoming a nonreligious country -- according to Pew, just 58% of millennials believe in God -- why not attract young people to a movie that, at least, entertains them with stories inspired by the Bible?

Movies unlike the hit film "Son of God," which while successful, arguably did not attract the non-Christian crowd.

Reza Aslan, a religious scholar who wrote the book-and-soon-to-be-movie, "Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" says, "'Son of God' is a movie made by Christians for Christians. Non-Christians will not go see 'Son of God' -- because it's a terrible movie."

Aslan is eager to see "Noah," and, no, it doesn't bother him in the least if Aronofsky takes liberties with his portrayal of Noah.

He says the story of Noah in the Bible is barely forty verses long. "If you wanted to make a biblically based Noah story it would be 10 minutes long. ...if you're going to approach this topic, you have no choice but to expand on it, to make things up, to create a narrative out of it."

The most interesting aspects of the Noah story, he says, come after the floodwaters recede. "Noah gets drunk and lies naked in front of his son. Go and check it out. Open Genesis."

I'm pretty sure Aronofsky won't include that scene in his movie, but what if he did?

Dr. Alan Cooper, provost and Biblical scholar at The Jewish Theological Seminary, says there is no harm in interpreting the Bible in a secular, Hollywood kind of way. "The whole point of interpretation, whether it's in the form of a painting or a film, is to stimulate discussion of issues authors raise and don't always resolve. That's true throughout the Bible."

Roy Johnston, the pastor of the Bayside megachurch in California, is on board. "You know, to be honest with you, I think unfortunately, a lot of Christians are known for what they are against, not what they are for. And so I think I'm going to go see the 'Noah' movie. I'm actually looking forward to it because at least it creates conversation."

Amen, Pastor Roy, amen.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Carol Costello.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2317 GMT (0717 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT