Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Crimes of Love. the (Un)Censored Version of the Flood Story in Noah (2014)

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Crimes of Love. the (Un)Censored Version of the Flood Story in Noah (2014)

Article excerpt

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (Exodus 20:7)

The position of Noah (2014) among the films of Darren Aronofsky is unique for at least two reasons. First, while Pi (1997) and The Fountain (2006, co-written with Ari Handel) can be construed as spiritual or even religious, Noah is his first explicitly biblical movie. Counterintuitively however and against the tradition of the genre,1 most of the outdoor filming took place in the dark and bleak landscapes of Iceland rather than in the sun-scorched deserts of Tunisia or Colorado, while the cast's costumes retained a design that would fit a postapocalyptic fiction rather than a Hollywood biblical epic. In addition to this, Aronofsky himself labelled it as "the least biblical biblical film ever made"2 thus acknowledging its liminal status. In result, the audience had all the rights to feel confused; although Noah has told the Genesis flood story, the way it did so was far from typical cinematographic portrayal of the Scriptural accounts.

Second, while Aronofsky's other movies along with Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010) have evoked significant emotional response, they were far from the turmoil aroused by Noah. The latter was screened for the first time on March 28th 2014 and despite its PG-13 rating3 it has quickly been recognized as one of the most controversial religious movies of the last 35 years along with such titles as The Passion of the Christ or The Da Vinci Code 4 Even a swift survey of the on-line reviews clearly shows that the viewers found Aronofsky and Handel's biblical retelling challenging in several regards. Accordingly, the noble patriarch, is a Wiccan, "religious extremist" and "borderline psychopath" who befriends the Luciferian fallen angels,5 while the Creator is a "distant - unaware or uncaring - overseer who cares more about the animals than humans."6 It was also stated that the movie outwardly affirms violence and promotes the use of the psychoactive substances such as a visioninducing tea7 or tranquilizer used to soothe the animals,8 confuses creationism with evolutionism,9 and generally contains "more Tolkien than Torah."10 Finally and on top of that, the screening of Noah has been banned in United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Indonesia on religious grounds with other countries following suit.11

The negative critique notwithstanding, the movie still managed to gather some support from the religious leaders and theologians who praised it for its evangelizing value. Accordingly, the complex image of Noah was emotionally appealing to the modern audience,12 the elaborate story went in line with the centuries-old Jewish and Christian exegetical traditions,13 and the movie's concern with family issues promoted positive values.14 Other commentators cherished Noah for introducing religious themes into the public sphere and encouraging the believer's mindset.15 Lastly, those with academic background argued that the popular understanding of the actual Genesis story has been distorted by Sunday School simplifications while the biblical account itself leaves much space for creative interpretation.16 From this perspective, Aronofsky and Handel did "no more violence to the integrity of the biblical ethos than the folks who retroject middle-class, industrial age «family values» onto the Bible, a document that regards polygamy, concubinage, and captiveand slave-brides as normative."17

Nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

This latter observation is especially important here, because it leads to the conclusion that the above summarized discussion is not entirely relevant for at least two basic reasons. First, Aronofsky and Handel did not make their movie in a cultural void but just like other filmmakers have been influenced by various modern reiterations of the story of Noah and biblical movies in general.18 Moreover, in numerous interviews the authors stressed that during the production of Noah they devoted much time to studying the classical sources and consulting religious scholars. …

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