All week I’ve been seeing anti-Noah posts popping up on Facebook from Christian friends who are convinced that the not-yet-released Darren Aronofsky epic must be a liberal, secularist perversion of the biblical story, morphing Noah into a drunk and spouting an anti-human, pro-environmentalist message. Where’d the controversy come from? According to Jordan Hoffman at the Times of Israel, entertainment trade mag Variety needed to drum up readership on a slow news day:
A strange agenda group for “faith driven consumers” sent out a push-poll asking if people who hadn’t yet seen the film if they were “satisfied with a biblically themed film… which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”
In other words, a bunch of opt-in Christians were asked if they were ready to see what some scarf-wearing artiste from Jew York City had cooked up with his liberal and probably homosexual friends when, you know, they weren’t drinking blood and hoarding gold. Some 98% of respondents said that, no, they were not satisfied.
It would have been a nothing story had the press release not been picked up by Variety (one of the main entertainment trade publications) on a particularly slow news day. The Internet ran with headlines that basically read “98% of Christian audiences are enraged by ‘Noah!’” forcing Paramount, which has already had plenty of tsuris with this film, to issue an explanatory press release of their own.
The stereotypes Hoffman plays with in his commentary entertainingly highlight the unspoken rift between Jews and Christians when it comes to biblical epics. We, for the most part, stand back while Christians re-interpret our history, our people, our nation, and our sacred text in light of their own slightly Aryan (why are ancient Israelis consistently blue-eyed Brits?) Sunday School memories. This time, however, a Jewish writer/director has paired with a Jewish writer to bring a Torah story to the silver screen. That interpretation has caused Christian uproar, something the filmmakers prepared for when they sought out production partner Rob Moore, who is both a vice chair at Paramount and a devout Christian who supports the film.
It’s ironic that 2,000 persecution-ridden years later we still look to the religious descendants of some of our worst persecutors to defend our biblical epic, especially considering that the film’s writers focused on remaining honest to the biblical account:
In some cases, Moore says, “people had recollections of the story that weren’t actually correct.” For example, there was Noah’s ability to open and close the door to the ark. “People said the door to the ark is supposed to be so big that no man can close it. Well no, that’s not actually what it says. What it says is that God ultimately shut the door of the ark when the flood comes, so it wasn’t Noah shutting the door on the rest of humanity — it was God making a decision.”
And then there’s the scene — which actually is in the Bible — in which Noah, back on land after the flood, gets drunk by himself in a cave. “But most people do not remember or were never taught the fact that after Noah’s off the ark, there is a moment in the story where he is drunk,” says Moore.
Noah stands to challenge viewers’ recollections and denominational understanding of the biblical story, which could be all it needs to do to spark an uproar. (Just ask hardcore LOTR readers about their take on Peter Jackson’s three-part epic.) But, will that morph into an interfaith firestorm?
Perhaps the better question is: Why would certain groups and/or publications be motivated to stoke the flames? At this point in our history, American Jews are being accused of dual loyalties by the most anti-Israel administration ever to grace the White House. Will the same Bible-believing Christians who preach support for Israel keep the realities on the ground in mind, and rush to their Bibles for a brush-up before they rush to judgement? Playing devil’s advocate, let’s say the film has perceptible liberal themes. If so, will the Jewish world be able to digest conservative political criticism as just that, and not antisemitism?
And what of the Bible’s message in the story of Noah? The account in Genesis begins by detailing that “Noah walked with God,” and “God saw the earth, and, yes, it was corrupt; for all living beings had corrupted their ways on earth.” As someone forever fascinated by humanity’s struggle for power and authority over one another, I can’t help but admire Noah’s simple yet profound response to the king’s threats of power in the film’s preview: “I am not alone.” It is a good and simple message for the lovers of freedom. What could be more biblical than that?
On the other hand, what could be more anti-Biblical that allowing God’s message of freedom and redemption to be corrupted by denominational ideology? That’d be rather, well, idolatrous, wouldn’t it?