Monday, April 28, 2014

Bible Studio Is Not Bible Study

It's no secret to loyal readers of this blog—I prefer movies to books. From my childhood days I've been a fan of biblical-themed films. Counting last week’s airing of The Ten Commandments, I must have seen that film at least 30 times. Probably lots more. 

Maybe my fascination with bible movies harks back to my father telling me bible stories before bedtime. He gave a particularly emotive rendition of the Samson and Delilah story. The movie version of the strongman and the seductress, starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr, was among the first I recall seeing.

I was non-sectarian in my devotion to bible films. Demetrius and the Gladiator, also starring Mature, Androcles and the Lion (Mature, once again), The Robe (with you know who, once more), Quo VadisDavid and Bathsheba, Barabbas, Ben Hur—I was all in on those 1950s-early 1960s epics, mostly because The Million Dollar Movie on WOR-TV Channel 9 in New York City played them a week at a time, over and over. I drew the line at King of Kings and other Jesus bio-pics, though I did enjoy Jesus Christ Superstar when the musical debuted in 1970.

All this by way of saying I was less than enthralled by Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s treatment of the Flood. One of the things you want to see in any bible film is creative treatment of the back story, how the director fills in missing details, what Jewish scholars call midrash. What you don't want to see are significant contradictions to the accepted text. Thus, as absurd as it was to see rock people (fallen angels) help Noah against the onslaught of an evil mob, it was an imaginative interpretation of the Bible’s suggestion of giants living during those times, though a little too derivative, in my mind, to the tree-like Ents that aid the hobbits Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings.

The Bible several times states the three wives of Noah's sons boarded the ark, yet Aronofsky chose to have only one daughter-in-law, Shem’s wife, in his retelling. How the world would be repopulated with only one woman of child-bearing age is solved(?) by having her deliver twin girls. Aronofsky would have us believe uncles Ham and Japheth will just have to wait until their nieces’ puberty arrive to fulfill god’s directive to be fruitful and multiply.

I also had difficulty swallowing the notion of a stowaway on the ark. Sure, it made for a more interesting plot line, but it was an uncalled for reach. 

I did like the creative way Noah kept the animals from feasting on each other, by putting them to sleep. But I was humorously amazed to see biblical man and woman dressed to the nines. Their boots could have come from Steve Madden, their leather, form-fitting togs from Beged Or, the once formidable Israeli leather clothing maker. 

And who knew the ancients had real firepower. Forget swords, spears, bows and arrows. Tubal Cain had the equivalent of a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

I'm not alone in dismissing the choices made by Aronofsky. My friend Noah R., no relation to Noah of the Bible, had this to say:

“Due to my name, I was overwhelmed by invitations to see the movie ‘Noah’, and we finally succumbed. I understand what the director was trying to do to reconcile the Biblical narrative with the possible historical basis, but the "stone giants" [who reminded me of the employees of the contractor who put-on a new roof for us a couple of years ago] and watching Hermione Granger (Emma Watson from the Harry Potter movies) give birth to Noah's grandchildren detracted greatly from the experience.  Furthermore, you and your beard are MUCH better-looking than Russell Crowe.

“It also got me thinking about who the director might have cast as Noah’s other two daughters-in-law to complement Hermione Granger and provide the diversity needed for future generations of mankind/womankind.

“Perhaps Kerry Washington and Ziyi Zhang?  I also think that Lindsay Lohan would have been a more interesting daughter-in-law than Emma Watson.  [And if Lindsay had failed to show-up for the sailing of the ark, as was the case with her court appearances, well.....]”

But here’s my real bottom line: There are too many people out there who profess belief that the Bible is sacred, that it really is the word of god. Yet too many of those people have not read the Bible and are ignorant of simple facts. They don’t know, for example, that Jesus was born and died a Jew. They don’t know that men, not a higher authority or power, chose what to include in, and exclude from, the Bible based on their own prejudices. They gloss over contradictions in the text. 

So, a movie that has so much fable simply complicates an already hard-to-believe text. Let’s remember the Bible says Noah was 600 years old when the deluge began, that he lived another 350 years after the waters abated. Russell Crowe hardly looked a day over 50.