Verily, “Noah” Draws Denier’s Wrath

April 6, 2014


The movie Noah has come under fire for a multitude of reasons, including charges that it leans heavily on environmentalist themes. Director Darren Aronofsky responded in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, arguing that there is a clear and present theme of environmentalism in the Book of Genesis that is merely reflected in the film.

Amanpour observed how people have reacted to the movie by branding Noah an “environmentalist wacko.” Aronofsky said the Bible has messages about tending the earth and taking care of all living creatures that he thought needed to be in the movie.

“Noah is out saving the animals. He’s not out saving innocent babies. He’s saving the animals. He’s saving creation. In Genesis2:15, the first thing that God tells Adam to do is to tend and to keep the garden. It’s right there in Genesis. So it was very clear to us that there was an environmental message, and to pull that message out of it, we think, would have been more of an editing job than just presenting what was there.”
Aronofsky also spoke of the dangers of climate change in the modern era, bringing up the U.N.’s recent report and telling Amanpour, “We are living the second chance that was given to Noah.”

Gotta say one has to have doubts about all those folks who insist on the literal truth of the Bible, but also insist that that Jesus was a nordic midwestern white guy, as in just about every image, cinematic or otherwise, that you’ll find.(see below)

Come to think of it, Aronofsky’s Noah is a very white guy – Australian Russell Crowe, and his daughter is played by very shiksa Emma Watson. One assumes the movie would never have gotten financed if they’d cast actual middle easterners in the roles.
What does this say about us? You tell me.




Firstly, when Aronofsky says that his film is less “Biblical,” that doesn’t mean that his film is “subversive” or any less religious — it’s just religious in ways that are unfamiliar to most biblical literalists, but common practice for most Jews and non-literal Christians. When asked how he compiled the script, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel, who is also Jewish,explained that they pulled heavily from Jewish Rabbinic midrash. For the uninitiated,midrash, literally “to search out,” is an ancient Jewish tradition in which Rabbis essentially add stories to the Biblical/Tanakhical narrative for educative effect. These stories aren’t meant to be given the same authority as scripture, but are instead designed to both resolve problems of interpretation as well as expose aspects of the holy narrative that would be otherwise difficult to grasp.

Unsurprisingly, a wealth of midrash exists around the Noah narrative, much of which can be seen in Aronofsky’s contemporary retelling. For example, the biblical account says little about how Noah actually built the ark or how other humans reacted to his project, buttomes of midrash explain in poetic detail how the prophet planted cedar trees to provide wood for construction and how he suffered persecution and mockery at the hands of other humans—two things that play a crucial part in Aronofsky’s Noah.

More importantly, even when Noah departs from both midrash and scripture, Aronofsky’s film is still itself a powerful form of contemporary midrash. In telling an extra-biblical tale of a tortured Noah, here admirably portrayed by a grizzled Russell Crowe, who is both hero (he ruthlessly protects his family from outsiders) and villain (he is still willing to kill his own if God wills it), Aronofsky raises valid religious questions about the Old Testament prophet that are rarely asked in Sunday school or Hebrew school. Through vivid and often harrowing portrayals of Noah single-mindedly following what he believes to be direct orders from on high, Aronofsky asks: what kind of faith does it take to close oneself off inside a massive floating vessel and listen, stoically, to an entire world die? Did Noah suffer from survivor’s guilt? If he didn’t, what does that say about faith, and what does all of this say about God? These questions are difficult but important, and it is only through the intentional deviation from the biblical narrative — a series of theological “what ifs?” played out in dramatic fashion onscreen — that we are confronted with them.

What’s more, in a time when evangelical Christian leaders such as Mark Driscoll and Bill Gothard are learning the hard way how righteous arrogance can get you into trouble (including deviating from source material), there are perhaps more than a few lessons to be gleaned from Aronofsky’s painfully human Noah. Indeed, midrash was encountered by a number of early and contemporary Christian theologians.

Granted, there are also valid critiques to be made of Aronofsky’s midrash. For example, his depiction of Noah as an unrelenting champion of vegetarianism/veganism, while based somewhat on scripture, is more than a little over-the-top. (Was it really necessary to show frenzied crowd of people ravenously pulling a live animal apart with their bare hands?) But if approached properly, Aronofsky’s Noah, like all good midrash, is both strikingly Jewish as well as a valuable tool for any person who takes the Noah narrative seriously—be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or even a secular American.



29 Responses to “Verily, “Noah” Draws Denier’s Wrath”

  1. omnologos Says:

    Btw…I watched Noah. It is a very heavy movie with some scenes I found almost unbearable. In another miracle. I fully agree with the think progress text quoted above.

    And in any case…I did not hear any environmentalist message. The movie was way deeper than that.

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