My friend Matt Page is starting a series of posts over at the Bible Films Blog on the question of canonicity and Bible films. Among other things, he asks: Is there a “canon” of Bible films, independent of the biblical canon itself? And is there a reason why certain biblical stories get filmed again and again while others go ignored?
One of the issues that some people have had with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah — it was never a big-enough deal to become a full-fledged controversy, per se — concerns the ethnicity of the actors.
The film depicts the annihilation of the entire human race, except for one family that will go on to produce the entire human race as we know it today — so it seems a little odd to some people that pretty much every character we see in this film fits into a single ethnic category, i.e. Caucasian.
It seems even more odd when one considers that the human race was entirely dark-skinned at first, and that lighter skin was a later genetic mutation that emerged as certain population groups moved “into areas of low UV radiation”. The film flips this around by positing that the entire human race was light-skinned at first, or at least right after the Flood, and thus darker skin must have evolved later.
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.
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.
Fred Clark posted an item last night in which he expressed surprise that the story of Abraham and the three visitors in Genesis 18 is a lot stranger than he had thought. For one thing, Abraham and the visitors eat a meal that mixes meat and dairy, and would therefore be regarded as non-kosher by many of Abraham’s descendants. But, more crucially, Clark notes that one of the three visitors — who are often called “angels” — seems to be God himself. A walking, talking, eating God.
Personally, I’m surprised that Clark is surprised by that last bit, partly because it has always seemed clear to me that one of the three visitors is God himself. It’s certainly implicit in the text: God and Abraham “stand” together and discuss the fate of Sodom while the other men make their way to that city, and only two of the three visitors arrive in Sodom itself. Presumably God himself was the third visitor.
But beyond the text itself, nearly every single dramatized version of this story that I have seen has suggested that there was something different about one of the three visitors. So I had always assumed that that was a standard interpretation of the text, if not the standard interpretation of the text.
Here is how five different films and TV shows have dealt with this story.