As I sat between my 12- and 10-year old during a screening of the Darren Aronofsky film “Noah,” I was having a VERY hard time justifying why I had put them through the experience. The film topped $45 million in its opening weekend despite fierce criticism, particularly from those who’d never even seen it.
I walked out of the theater honestly perplexed. Was this an excellent film? Was it even a very good one? I couldn’t decide because I was too busy comforting my youngest daughter. She was crying in the theater lobby because she “preferred the preschool version of the story.” The film had caused her to lose all faith in people, she said. “And you didn’t even buy us snacks!”
Let it be said that nothing counters the destruction of mankind in IMAX like a jumbo tub of popcorn.
My older daughter also has a terrible time watching these kinds of films. Still, I didn’t walk into this blindly. “You know this has a happy ending,” I said to the girls amid their protests en route to the theater.
My oldest was telling me five minutes into the film: “I don’t like this movie, Mom!” She eventually settled in, and occasionally asked questions. When I asked her how she got through it without her usual meltdown, she said proudly: “I just told myself “This isn’t real.” Once I let my Catholic guilt subside, I had to applaud her coping strategy.
Daughter No. 2, however, required more than just a spiritual pep talk. She needed hours to decompress. A full night’s sleep in my bed definitely kept the cannibals at bay. By the next morning, after she’d woken up her happy, cuddly self, we talked about what troubled her most.
Yes, cannibals were a BIG factor. She’d just had a nightmare about them the night before, after all. Are there real cannibals in the world, she asked? I couldn’t answer with total certainty, but could assure her of one thing. Even though we live in Atlanta (home of “The Walking Dead”) no cannibals, or zombies, were ever getting into her house.
Then she wanted to know why the people in the film were so horrible? How could they attack each other? Capture women? Trample innocents? I had to go for the throat with this one. “Of course they’re horrible,” I told her. “Why do you think God had to take them out?”
Then she asked the $50 million question: “Well then how do you even know that God is real? I never hear him?”
Now things were actually getting easier. The men throughout the film asked themselves that same question. “God rarely speaks to us in words,” I said. “His presence is in his gift of goodness, nature, animals, and the existence of our friends and family.” Fortunately, she is still at that age where this kind of logic, quite a few stuffed animals and a lot of hugs can solve an existential crisis.
For the parent considering a family outing to the film, take heed: “Noah,” is a firm reminder of how God often goes “Old Testament” on mankind. It also does not hesitate to state the long-term effects all of this have on our society.
How about the time Eve took the apple and convinced Adam to take a bite? That led to the world’s first eviction, the birth of misogyny, PMS, and our unhealthy obsession with clothing. Then, Cain kills Abel. The precursor to the cottage industry that is now “Law and Order.” Sibling rivalry is also born. Carnivores and herbivores never look at each other the same.
When I watch this film, I am reminded of the greatest mind game God ever played. That was the time God insisted that his faithful servant Abraham sacrifice his young son Isaac. When I was a kid, I simply dismissed God as petty and mean. I didn’t tell my daughter this as I reminded all theses tests. It was pretty cool to be able to show her all the artist accounts of this crazy story, via Google, to literally illustrate my point.
Each one interpreted images of anguish. Terror. Assault. Power. Then I had a thought: Artists have been helping us visualize images from the Bible for millennia. “Noah,” the film, I told my daughter, was simply one artist’s interpretation.
Turns out I was actually on to something. “Not to compare me to Michelangelo in any way, I’m in awe of him,” Aronofsky recently told The Atlantic, “but you look at the Sistine Chapel and there’s the moment of the fingers almost about to touch the moment of creation—and that’s not described in the Bible that way. There was no finger-to-finger, E.T. moment in the Bible. But that’s how Michelangelo decided to draw it.”
So “Noah,” the film, is simply how Darren Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, decided to draw it. In that context, as a parent, you should realize that “Noah” is a very powerful, paradoxical piece of art.
The film is both maddening, and mystifying. Like any bible story, you must suspend your disbelief for the story to have any meaning. When you do that, however, the film teeters on the verge of science fiction. For some of you, that may be exactly why you, and your kid, should see it.
There’s the White -Wizard-Meets-Yoda Motif offered by Anthony Hopkins. The film also makes reference to “The Watchers.” In the Bible, they were giants who once roamed the earth. Here, they are covered in lava-rock. They look and sound like Transformers.
Also, if you’re one of the five people, like me, who have seen “Cloud Atlas” more than once, you also detect a certain replicated aesthetic in “Noah.” Dread locks on white girls never looked so fashionable, and Noah and his family definitely took a spin past the Urban Outfitters’ sale bin.
In all seriousness, the film also does a masterful job of adhering to Biblical text and honoring ancient culture. This—to me—is where “Noah” maintains its cred. The creationism story depicted in “Noah” relies on the words of Genesis. Yet it’s not afraid to scientifically correct the assertion that the earth and the moon came before the sun.
Dear Creationists: Debate what you want, but the notion that the earth came before the sun is simply not true. Without the sun, there would just be water on earth. No land and no plants. There’s no way Earth, let alone the teeny tiny Moon, predated the Sun. It. Just. Didn’t. Happen.
Listening to Russell Crowe’s Noah retelling the story of Creation to his family one night is a gorgeous ode to oral traditions. The corresponding images throughout Noah’s tale masterfully echo Evolution. The dust becomes the planets and the stars. The water and land then form. Animals transcend from cells to marine life that ultimately moves onto land. Oh, and then Adam and Eve arrive, in God’s image, to defy and eat the apple. The Original Sin, with flourishes of Darwinian theory, begins.
Aronofsky also incorporates aspects of ritualism that based on Jewish traditions. Noah IS after all, the forefather of Abraham. Thus, when Noah’s own father emulates a rite of passage in the film, it is similar to the Jewish wearing of a Telfillin.
In modern custom, Jewish rabbis bound a black leather band–snakelike–around their own arm, and do the same to a 13-year-old boys joining manhood. The gesture indicates a promise, tying God and Jews to their heritage forever. In the film, the Tefillin is an actual snakeskin. Whether it’s true or not, the symbolism a poignant throwback to the Original Sin.
Is all this scifi and allegory enough to expose your kid to a time when God would be so heartless? Aronofsky has said that his “Noah” is the “least Biblical of Bible films.” After viewing the film, I’d say, actually…. It’s not.
“Noah” demands that believers acknowledge the ancient methods of suffering and the patterns of redemption commonly found in the Bible. Modern society has simply sanitized them over the generations to please the Sunday-School crowd. After all, Passover is not about good brisket, my friends. It’s a time to celebrate that God—and no one else—spared the life of your first-born son. The environmental attacks and pestilence that happen when the Pharaoh ignores Moses’ demands in the book of Exodus are Hurricanes Camille, Sandy and Katrina combined. Don’t even get me started on the crucifiction of Jesus. All of these destructive events are acts of God.
In realize that, I had what I call “the Transformer Moment.” Remember those giant Watchers I told you about? In this film, they are fallen angels who redeem themselves by helping Noah build, and protect, the Ark. A bit of a stretch from the original text, but the intent still applies. Once the prophetic rains begin to fall in the film, mankind realizes that Noah’s ark is their only salvation. The battle scene that erupts is on par with that of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Return of the King, indeed.
Seeing those Watchers swat the desperate masses like polo balls made me realize that people let their kids experience this kind of violence every day. Why should we shy away from the fact that Bible stories are ruthless and deadly? The difference between these action films and the Biblical story is that “Noah” is actually a film about devotion, forgiveness and even redemption. Could I just add that unlike every other action movie in existence, many of us have yet to experience the Bible’s blockbuster sequel?
As a clear counter to the male-dominated destruction in the Biblical text, the women of “Noah” who actually save the world. Noah’s wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, has a very Eve-like scene where she demands that Noah punish her because their son Shem has impregnated his wife, Ila. Later, post-flood, when Noah is left drunk, depressed, and naked on a beach because he failed God and did not eliminate the entire human race, it’s not God who lifts Noah from his misery. It’s Ila, played by Emma Watson.
In the film, Ila becomes its heroine. In the Bible, she is minimized and nameless. Ila braves wrath, injury and war, as well as family and sexual politics to be part of Noah’s family. When she nearly loses her twin daughters during one of Noah’s crazed, fundamentalist moments, it is Ila, not God, who grants Noah forgiveness. Maybe, Ila says to Noah, the reason for the flood was not so that Noah would not have to destroy all of humanity. Maybe God’s message is that we need is to create a world built on mercy, and love?
This may be Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of Noah and his ark, but it is an lesson every child–over 12–should experience.