The silence, justice, mercy and love of God in Noah

Questions of personal taste aside, most of the problems that people have had with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah don’t stand up to all that much scrutiny. Does the film reflect a Gnostic theology? Not at all. Is the snakeskin worn by Adam and his descendants necessarily evil in the Jewish tradition? Not at all. Were the righteous people who lived before the Flood vegetarian? Actually, yes. And so on, and so on.

The one complaint that arguably does have some merit is the one that says God does not speak in this film. God talks a lot in the biblical version of this story, but in the film he is silent, communicating through visions and signs that are open to more than one interpretation, and leaving some pretty crucial decisions to Noah himself.

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Noah at the movies — the article’s up!

My article on the portrayal of Noah in film is now up at CT Movies.

It looks at how the story of the Flood has been told — and, in a couple cases, modernized — in Noah’s Ark (1928), Green Pastures (1936), The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966), Genesis: The Creation and the Flood (1994), Testament: The Bible in Animation (1996), Noah (1998), Noah’s Ark (1999), Evan Almighty (2007) and, of course, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014).

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means — I would have liked to include a note about the three short Noah-themed Disney cartoons produced between 1933 and 1999, in particular — but I think I was pushing my word limit as it was.

How do we define “wickedness” in biblical films?

If there was one theme linking the trailer and the TV spot for Noah that came out two days ago, it was “wickedness”.

Previous ads showed Methuselah telling Noah that mankind has earned the wrath of God because mankind has “corrupted this world and filled it with violence” — but yesterday’s ads pushed the language in an even more explicitly biblical direction.

The title card that opens the new trailer states: “At a time when wickedness was great in the world… so too was the response.” And the narrator in the new TV spot declares that the film takes place at a time when “wickedness ruled the hearts of men”.

This echoes the beginning of the biblical Noah story, which states: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

But what exactly did that wickedness consist of?

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Church groups get their first glimpse of Noah

The release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is only eight months away, so it’s about time the studio started drumming up some interest in the film by showing bits and pieces of it to the general public. (As a point of reference, we have already seen a couple trailers for another highly stylized take on the ancient world that is based on a graphic novel and coming out in March of next year, namely 300: Rise of an Empire.)

So far, though, by my count there has been nothing in the way of official publicity material for the film, beyond a handful of photos featuring Noah and a few other characters, such as his grandfather Methuselah.

However, if you happened to attend a recent trade conference or two, you might have seen some actual footage from Noah. And now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio has started to show clips from the film to actual churchgoers, too.

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Putting a bit of the New Testament into the Old

I just came across a few more videos from The Bible, the mini-series that premieres on the History Channel next month.

In one, the actress who plays Samson’s mother describes her character as “a woman who’s been given a gift from God of a very special child who’s predestined to do very special things, and I guess that’s a little connection to another story that we all know very well.” She goes on to say, “I guess I found it difficult to embody a character who knows that her child is going to die.”

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Noah’s Ark (1928) and its debt to DeMille

Thanks to a generous e-pal, I have finally seen Noah’s Ark (1928), and it’s a hoot. This semi-silent, semi-talkie Bible epic has never, to my knowledge, been released on video, but it has been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which is where my e-pal taped his copy.

Written by Darryl F. Zanuck (who went on to create 20th Century Fox) and directed by Michael Curtiz (who went on to direct everything from Casablanca to King Creole), this film was clearly influenced by Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923). Both films are divided almost in half between a biblical story and a modern-day story. Both films feature modern characters who mock the very notion of God and are then “punished”, directly or indirectly, for their skepticism. And the Noah movie even turns its protagonist into a sort of Moses figure, by using motifs from the earlier biblical and cinematic versions of the Moses story.

Two particularly striking clips from Noah’s Ark will give you a sense of what I’m talking about. First, the prologue:

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Note the Golden Calf sequence. And note how the focus, in the Tower of Babel sequence, is on the slaves being forced to work for the taskmasters — just as the Hebrews were forced to work for the Egyptians in DeMille’s film. This is different from, say, John Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966), or even the Book of Genesis itself, where the focus is on the people who arrogantly believe that they can reach up to God by building the Tower.

Also, you get a hint here of how Noah’s Ark reverses the structure of The Ten Commandments. DeMille’s film begins with the biblical story, and then follows it with the modern story, which in turn climaxes with a flashback that gives us a brief glimpse of one of Jesus’ miracles; whereas Curtiz’s film invokes Jesus at the end of its prologue, then tells the modern story, and then tells the biblical story. (I am struck, incidentally, by this film’s negative portrayal of the stock market — just one year before the Crash of ’29.)

When the film finally gets to the highly-embellished story of Noah himself, it adds a few more Mosaic elements — the mountain, the burning bush — as well as giant tablets with flaming letters that could have come straight out of DeMille’s movie. But then Curtiz does something extra with the imagery that I find endearingly goofy. And then the film throws in a line from the Lord’s Prayer! It’s quite the interesting mix of biblical and cinematic allusions.

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JUN 14 UPDATE: Matt Page posted an interesting and historically informed review of the film today at his Bible Films Blog.