Darren Aronofsky’s new movie Noah is one of the biggest movies of this year so far, and is the latest in the line of films about the Old Testament hero. Each incarnation of the story has its own feel and personality, and puts forth the narrative through a unique social lens.
For instance, Reverend Otis Moss III’s article entitled “A Biblical Review of Noah”, Moss states that Aronofosky’s Noah is “daring, powerful, and imaginative”, but also that it “expands the story” of the Bible. (Moss) Noah is more real than biblical, and the story of the Great Flood is a much more human.
“The filmmaker weaves a story more in line with St. Augustine’s struggle and Elie Wiesel’s crisis of faith. Noah demands the audience to think and feel. We are forced to look at the film with head and heart.” (Moss)
Our class has spent the last few weeks reading Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s book The Color of Christ, which describes and evaluates different depictions of Jesus throughout American history, especially in terms of race. We also spent time looking at different representations of Jesus throughout the history of film. We watched bits and pieces of movies like “Passion of the Christ”, “Son of God”, “Godspell”, and “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and evaluated the meaning(s) behind their depictions of Christ. Dr. Altman then asked us a thought-provoking question: which Jesus was our favorite? As far as Noah is concerned, I would like to use a similar thought process to examine a character who has been re-invented through film almost as many times as Jesus.
Here are a few cinematic representations of Noah.
Noah’s Ark (1928 – Michael Curtiz) http://youtu.be/8Mjtr6V5hCE
This is the “Wizard of Oz” meets “All Quiet on the Western Front” version of Noah. The film begins with the story of World War I, and the characters in the story are developed in the narrative of the days leading up to and during the war. When a comparison is made between the “flood” of blood in World War one and Noah, the frame of the film shifts, and the characters take on different identities (see Wizard of Oz reference) in the time of the Great Flood. I think that the anachronistic use of the biblical story is similarly used in Upton Sinclair’s They Call me Carpenter: A Tale of the Second Coming, which Blum cites in The Color of Christ. Sinclair’s “Carpenter” combines the story and ideology of Jesus with the racial tension of 1920’s Los Angeles. Similarly, “Noah’s Ark” synthesizes the violence and terror of World War I with the wrath of God in the story of Noah. George O’Brien’s more serious, stoic (and uncomfortably romantic) Noah embodies the drama of the silent movie era, and portrays the helplessness of both a soldier and a sheperd of the Great Flood.
George O’brien’s scantily dressed and stressed out Noah.
Noah’s Ark (1999 TV Miniseries – John Irvin) http://youtu.be/xD6B8aPTS68
This is the first instance I could find where “bearded Noah” shows up. This TV miniseries on NBC was very highly rated (the second of the three parts set a one-night ratings record that wasn’t reached again until 2004) but was shamed critically, and is banned in Malaysia. Jon Voight’s down-home Noah was blended into the Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah by the creative team, and the movie’s creative expansion of the story embodies what Blum refers to as the “deity in the digital age”. In this chapter, Blum describes the debate over Jesus’s race in the Campus Crusade film Jesus (1979). Blum makes the point that at in terms of the white, American-accented Jesus Campus Crusade chose to use, “Biblical or geographical accuracy, it appeared, was less vital than familiarity.” (Blum 257) The 1999 Noah movie continued the “white noah” narrative, which is maybe even more confusing (and, some would say, arbitrary) than that of the coloration of Jesus. Why is Noah always white? Who made the casting decision to put the Midnight Cowboy into the Old Testament
Jon Voight’s extremely loyal and frequently confused Noah. Complete with Macaw.
Evan Almighty (2007 – Tom Shadyac) http://youtu.be/PnUvSn9pVaA
Two things: I know that his name in the movie isn’t Noah, and the movie itself was awful. However, this modern depiction of the Noah story, regardless of how ridiculous it was, Steve Carell builds an ark, and his commitment to God demonstrates a choice between the sacred and the profane. Similar to the Tony Danza Noah, (which regrettably isn’t featured and regrettably is also terrible) Steve Carell’s Evan Baxter/Noah is a man called out of his suburban life by God to build an ark for an impending flood. Here is a situation where the protagonists are called to abandon their earthly lives to protect their people from an impending disaster. These stories provide a modern setting for Noah and the perceived distinction between the Durkheimian profane (earthly lives, success) with the sacred (misssion from God, earth-swallowing flood). Also, the director’s name sounds like it came out of the book of Judges.
Steve Carell as Congressman Evan Baxter. Having a beard makes you Noah, right?
The Bible (2013 – History Channel) http://youtu.be/ol8LDTR2yPs
I only included this Noah because he sounds like he belongs in How to Train your Dragon. William Wallace Noah isn’t on the screen for very long, but he does tell the entire story of Genesis in about three minutes. That seems like a good way to start a show about the Bible. He is white and has a beard, though. I still can’t figure that out.
Scottish Noah has a beard too. And he really enjoys eating haggis. And playing the bagpipes.
Noah (2014 – Darren Aronofsky) http://youtu.be/e0qrtdPejxg
Russell Crowe Noah is exactly what one might expect Russell Crowe Noah to be. Gladiator Noah. He is virile, powerful, and burdened by the power of his task. However, in a modern, politically correct twist, Noah does not hear the voice of God explicitly. The audience instead sees the “nudge of God on Noah’s spirit.” (Moss) I think that this modern, less divine version of the story is what its current audience wants to see. I think that this manly Noah, who is constrained by the limits of humanity as the rest of us, relates directly to how Blum described the making of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. In The Passion, Jesus was “buff and bright”(Blum 261), and seemed to “symbolize America.”
“Instead of the Sunday school tale of the ark and animals, we are given a grownup story of a family struggling to be faithful, obedient, loving, and compassionate, in the face of widespread intolerable evil. The story of Noah has inspired and provoked our consciousness for thousands of years, and a modern artist, Darren Aronofsky, has been possessed by the story once again.” (Moss)
I think this Noah is the way that America would like to see themselves in that situation. Noah is driven by his devotion to his family, and his devotion in building the ark is a reflection of his paternal instinct. He builds an ark, and he looks like an ark-builder. He is human, and he is shown in the movie as being exactly that.
Russell Crowe’s Noah. A burly, bulky, ark-building, bearded badass. He’s the team captain.
Even if you didn’t want to, you now have an in-depth knowledge of cinematic Noahs and what they represent. I’ll ask the same question that was asked to us: which Noah is your favorite, and why? Which one is the most accurate, and which one speaks to you?