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Everybody chill out about the ‘Noah’ movie

BY SDG

| Posted 2/19/14 at 5:15 PM

 

So what’s the deal with the Noah movie?

Does it replace the message of the Bible story with a message created by Hollywood?

Is Russell Crowe’s Noah an environmentalist wacko? Is God a monster out to eradicate humanity entirely?

Get a grip, people.

Some background…

Questions about the movie, a passion project of filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, have been swirling since it was first announced years ago. Aronofsky says he’s been obsessed with the Noah story since seventh grade, when he won an award for a poem he wrote about it. Apparently he’s been noodling concepts for a feature film since high school.

Aronofsky’s concept of Noah as a “dark, complicated character” who suffers from “survivor’s guilt” raised some pious eyebrows — although nothing about this description contradicts the biblical narrative or seems particularly implausible. (More on this below.)

More startling were indications gleaned from early script drafts, as well as a 2011 graphic-novel version of the story, of mythological, fantasy-like influences, such as six-armed giants who might be fallen angels or Nephilim. Aronofsky himself has cited The Lord of the Rings as a point of reference.

Last year Christian screenwriter and critic Brian Godawa read a draft of Aronofsky’s screenplay and wrote a critique objecting to the story’s environmentalist spin. (My friend Peter Chattaway wrote a thoughtful response to some of Godawa’s criticisms. Actually, Peter has been writing a lot of good stuff on developing Noah-related news.)

Then yesterday Variety ran a shamelessly misleading story trumpeting the headline “Survey: Faith-Driven Consumers Dissatisfied with ‘Noah,’ Hollywood Religious Pics.” This was complete garbage; the truth, apparently, was that a religious pressure group called “Faith Driven Consumer,” feeling insufficiently pandered to by the producers of Noah, ran a thoroughly unscientific web poll of members of their fan base who hadn’t even seen the movie, and somehow got Variety to go along with this dishonest charade.

Striking back, Paramount released a press statement criticizing the Variety story and touting a poll indicating that 83% of “very religious” moviegoers who were aware of Noah were interested in seeing it.

At this point, of course, very few people have seen Noah. I haven’t seen it myself, but I’m intrigued by what I’ve read. There’s a lot of room in the biblical story for interpretation and imagination, and anyone who’s been thinking about this story as long as Aronofsky has is likely to have some interesting insights into it.

Whatever the movie looks like, I expect some pious moviegoers, especially biblical literalists, will be upset or angry about anything in the film that goes beyond the biblical text, or that contradicts their own ideas about the story, or that doesn’t dovetail with their conception of the message of the Bible.

Is this really necessary? I don’t think so. By way of providing some perspective, here are a few points that I think thoughtful Christians, particularly Catholics, should consider in evaluating Aronofsky’s film and others like it.

In their interesting study Before Abraham Was: The Unity of Genesis 1–11, Isaac Kikawada and Arthur Quinn propose reading the flood narrative in Genesis as a Hebraic commentary on, and critique of, existing ancient Near Eastern flood mythologies. For example, they argue that Mesopotamian myths are characterized by concerns about overpopulation; thus, humans have grown so many and so noisy that they disturb the repose of the gods, who send the flood to wipe them out. Directly contradicting this notion, Genesis 1–11 insists that fertility is a blessing, and indicts wickedness and sin, not overpopulation and noise, as the real source of the problem.

Some politically minded commentators might link the film’s environmentalist theme with concerns about overpopulation, arguing that the film’s environmentalist theme evokes the pre-biblical Mesopotamian flood myths the biblical story critiques, according to Kikiwada and Quinn. Whether the film itself makes such a connection, though, remains to be seen.

At any rate, while an overpopulation theme would be directly contrary to the biblical theme “Be fruitful and multiply,” a broader environmental theme would not. Responsibility to care for the earth, while not found in the biblical flood story, is consistent with the larger message of the Bible, not contrary to it.

In Genesis 2:15 God charges man to till the earth and keep it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them” (CCC 2402).

It’s worth noting that, on Kikiwada and Quinn’s reading, the flood narrative of Genesis is already a response to other texts. In turn, countless other texts have been written in response to it. This movie is one such “text,” one “response.” How interesting, thought-provoking, worthwhile or problematic a response? Let’s wait and see.