I recently watched the film Noah on DVD and was shocked at the liberties taken with the story as I thought I knew it.
I knew in advance, before I pressed the “Play” button, that certain groups had taken offense to the violent nature of the movie’s namesake. Noah is supposed to be a peaceful man of God, not a warrior. I knew that there was fighting in the film because I saw some previews of Noah on TV, as the man of God took on his enemies.
But there was a lot more to take offense with; there was a lot more to be shocked by.
I supposed that the writers of the movie did not want to tell a simple story, of a righteous person who blindly follows God’s orders, as in God: Build an ark. Noah: OK.
That would be too easy. (And perhaps too boring?)
In this version, Noah knows that God is going to destroy the world, but completely misunderstands His ultimate goal. Noah believes that God wishes to destroy all of humanity forever and wants to instead offer the Earth to the animal kingdom. Animals, Noah believes, are “pure”; they still behave as they have done since the Garden of Eden. Since it is Man who has corrupted God’s creation, it is Man that must be destroyed, forever. Noah and his family’s role is to be temporary custodians of the animal kingdom. They are fated to live out their own lives to their natural conclusions, but once Noah and his wife and children are dead, that’s it.
Noah is a believer of an original sin in mankind so heinous and unforgiveable that it no longer deserves to live on the planet. He is certain for much of the film that this is God’s intention in the Flood.
It is only much later, after the waters of the deluge have receded, that his adopted daughter – a mother of twin girls by his son Shem, infants whom Noah has reluctantly spared killing in his misguided interpretation of God’s plan – explains to Noah that in fact he hasn’t failed God in allowing them to live but was following His original plan to grant mankind a second chance.
Much different from the Bible that I studied where Noah knew from the beginning that his family would be the source of a new beginning for mankind following its destruction.
Also in the Bible (the Midrash) is the idea that Noah took many, many years to build the ark, hundreds supposedly, in order to give people ample opportunity to repent their evil ways. Noah was given the task by God, before the Flood’s arrival, to warn mankind of the impending disaster; when people would ask him what he was doing, he would respond that he was building an ark for a devastating flood to come, but that by changing their ways, by practicing goodness and through loving one another, they could avert such a fate.
He was meant to teach. (Err, he wasn’t too successful.)
This never comes out in the film, either. In the movie version, the man Noah, from the very beginning, believes in the inherent, irredeemable depravity of mankind, that all men, including him and his family, possess an evil so profound that it can never be corrected. He is certain that God is determined to destroy His creation without considering giving humankind a second chance to change its ways.
So, in this film, Noah is simply a “normal” person, with many faults and failings and not possessing much holiness; he doesn’t “hear” God talking to him, and the two times that he does, in a dream, he gets His message wrong. He is only given the task of following God’s will because the rest of humanity is far, far worse.
This cinematic approach might please humanists but might also upset those who like to think of Noah as being the most righteous person of his generation, whose purity of heart and mind did bring him closer to God. This latter, albeit more sanitized, version is the one I was used to, not the man in the film who alienates his sons so much with his stubbornness that they are prepared to kill him.
In this 2014 version of the biblical story, man and God are far, far apart, ever to remain so. God’s wishes can barely be fathomed. God does not seem to wish to see man or woman succeed in getting closer to Him, but to simply be adequately “good”, i.e. not too egotistic or arrogant, and not ready to let go of the idea of loving and caring for one another. In other words, people like you or me.
If you or I were living around Noah’s time, according to this movie’s premise, we’d all deserve to be in the ark and to be around for the Second Chance.
I wonder, if there is any truth to the biblical story, what really happened…