Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Noah": A Southern Christian's Review

I saw the new Russell Crowe movie "Noah" last night and thought you might find some thoughts about it to be of interest.

First, I am a Christian and I grew up attending a small Baptist church in the Florida Panhandle. If you aren't familiar with the culture of the Panhandle, it is as Southern as you can get. Most of us came of age doing farm work, attending public school, going to church when the doors were open and saying "please" and "thank you" to all. We were taught the great stories of the Bible as part of our culture, just as we were taught to open doors for others and to show respect to our elders.

The story of Noah and the Ark was always one of my favorites. Like thousands of children before and after, I marveled at the thought of a giant flood that brought so much water onto the face of the earth that even the tops of the highest mountains were covered. I pondered how Noah managed to get all of the animals into the ark and what it must have been like for him to build a gigantic boat in a dry place while his friends and neighbors ridiculed his efforts.

Because I have always loved this wonderful story, I was among the first in line to see the new film from director Darren Aronofsky. I had seen Mr. Aronofsky mention on television that he was an Atheist and that "artistic liberties" had been taken with the story, so I approached it with an open mind. Unlike many who showed up for the screening that I attended, I did not expect the movie to be overly true to the Biblical account of the Great Flood. It was good that I went with such low expectations.

Perhaps the best way to explain Aronofsky's strange vision of Noah is to compare his film with the story of the real Noah as told in Genesis. Let's start with the account of what led to the Great Flood and building of the ark as told in Genesis Chapter 6 of the King James Bible:

(5) And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
(6) And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

The movie portrays this "wickedness of man" from an environmentalist standpoint. Basically, as Aronofsky portrays it, Noah as a child witnesses men hunting down one of the last scaly dog-looking creatures to eat and is appalled to see humans eating animals instead of only plants. An industrial culture has spread across the face of the earth, destroying all of the forests and ruthlessly mining the ground for minerals and glowing rocks.

Back to Genesis:

(7) And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
(8) But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

God never speaks in the movie and is referred to only as "the Creator." The movie's theory is that "the Creator" determines upon a flood to sweep man from the face of the earth so it will be a paradise for the animals and only the animals.

Moving ahead in Genesis:

(12) And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
(13) And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

In the movie, as noted above, God decides not to destroy the earth, but to wash it clean with water so that it will become a paradise for the animals. "The Creator" of the movie never speaks to Noah, but instead Noah has a dream of a coming flood. Finally, the corruption of man in the movie is the destruction of the environment; in the Bible it was man's obsession with violence.

(14) Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch in within and without with pitch.
(15) And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
(16) A window shalt though make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt though finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt though set in the side thereof; with lower, second and third stories shalt thou make it.

Simple enough. In the movie, though, God (or "the Creator") never speaks to Noah. Noah obtains the plans for the ark after crossing a region inhabited by fallen angels who have been turned into rock monsters. He then visits his grandfather (Methuselah) on what appears to be the last green mountain on earth. Methuselah gives Noah drugged tea, which causes Noah to hallucinate and see the plans for the ark. Methuselah also provides the last seed from the Garden of Eden, which when planted causes a great forest to grow overnight. The giant fallen angel rock monsters then help build the ark.

(17) And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
(18) But with thee I will establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee.
(19) And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

The movie's version is that all mankind - including Noah and his family - will be destroyed. Noah builds the ark strictly for the animals. Only one of this sons has a wife and the other two spend great time worrying about where they will find wives. Meanwhile. Tubal Cain (the Biblical discoverer of the process for forging metal) arrives with his vast army and threatens Noah. The birds, snakes and animals arrive to fill the ark.

Moving on to Genesis  Chapter 7:

(13) In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;
(14) They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort.
(15) And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.
(16) And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.

Back to the movie: The animals go into the ark pretty much as described in the Bible, but two of Noah's sons go in without wives contrary to the account given in Genesis. Meanwhile, Tubal Cain and his army launch an attack on the ark but the giant fallen angel rock monsters join Noah in battling to save the boat. As the fallen angel rock monsters are destroyed by Tubal Cain's army, they burst forth into the light. The door to the ark is never closed by God, but by Noah who comes in and out multiple times as the battle for the ark takes place.

(17) And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.
(18) And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.

The flood is accurately portrayed in the movie, although Tubal Cain manages to chop a hole in the side of the ark as the water is rising. He slips in and hides among the animals where one of Noah's sons finds him and feeds him.

The movie then moves on to a fight to the death between Tubal Cain and Noah for control of the ark and the women aboard it. One of Noah's sons steps in and kills Tubal Cain.

Noah, meanwhile, because more and more crazed and more and more convinced that "the Creator" plans to wipe all mankind from the earth. He tells his family that they will die without replenishing mankind on the earth. When he learns that his daughter is pregnant, he plans to kill her child if it is a girl so that "the Creator's" plan of turning the earth into a paradise for the animals will be carried out.

The daughter-in-law gives birth to twin girls and Noah prepares to stab them to death, but finds himself unable to do so and the babies are spared.

The ark grounds pretty much as described in the Bible and the waters slowly dry from the earth. The animals go out and Noah and his family set foot on the earth. There is discussion about saving the earth from future environmental destruction at the hand of man and one son leaves in resentment because he has no wife.

That's pretty much it. For those hoping for a big screen treatment of the dramatic story of Noah and the Ark as told in the Bible, this isn't it. It is a more than two-hour long environmental and pro-vegetarian lecture.

I wasn't as offended by all of that as much as I was by the fact that the movie simply is not good. The story doesn't make sense and the fallen angel rock monsters make even less sense. If you like being preached at for two hours on environmental issues, then you will enjoy "Noah." If you are hoping for an inspiring and dramatic account of Noah and the Ark, you probably will not be happy with it.

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