Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Russel Crowe as Noah? I'm sold!

I've been listening to the Bible since I could listen, and reading the Bible since I could read. As an LDS child and then teenager, young adult and now married-and-have-a-son-but-still-young-adult at 27, my knowledge of scriptures was always expected to be thorough. I was at early morning seminary memorizing scripture before going to high school as a teenager, and as a kid I remember sitting in a circle with my brother, sisters, and parents to read verse-by-verse before starting the day. These rituals paid huge dividends and I consider them to have been one of the greatest benefits of my life.

Like most children raised in these environments, the actual black and white of the scriptures became embellished through versions designed for children, animated film, and even more animated Sunday school teachers. Noah had a long beard. Everyone thought Noah was crazy. He totally had a staff. He and God would just kick back and chat face-to-face, because he was a prophet.

Of course, then I grew up, and I started having questions: How could all the animals fit in a boat of the dimensions detailed in Genesis? How did Moses write down Noah's story if it happened centuries before he lived, did he see it in vision, hear it in folklore, or a combination of the two? Did he just kind of sit on the ark and watch everyone run up to the ark when the water got super deep and said 'Nope, tough, you're dead?" Did anyone else sneak on the ark? Never mind room for animals, how do you get 40 days worth of food for all those animals on there and keep the chickens away from the alligators?

So, with an older, presumably more intelligent mind, I return to the source material. Good old Genesis. Read this thing through another time, fill in some spaces. So I open up to the story of Noah and...

Wow. Little disappointed.

What had become, with the addition of all the periphery, a novel, if not an encyclopedia, of a story, was in actuality just a couple chapters with not much detail. The main points can be conveyed in a half page of writing. Basically:

God decided to destroy man because they had gotten too out of hand, except for Noah, who God liked. God tells him to build an ark, sends a whole bunch of animals, and then Noah and his family get in. Floods come, 40 days, floods go, Noah sends out a few birds and one comes back with a branch. Ark lands, everyone gets out, rainbow!

That's it. Really. Go read it.

Nowhere does it say anyone made fun of Noah. Nowhere does it say that Noah is old. (It says 500 years old, but since people routinely lived past 750 years old in the Old Testament, either they counted time differently or McDonald's is worse for us than we thought -- either way, he's about middle-aged.) Noah doesn't have a staff, and nowhere does it mention him luring alligators into the ark with a bunch of grapes -- one of my favorite scenes from a childhood Bible book.

So what do I conclude? Like any good scientist, I conclude that I lack data. Using the above outline of a story, you could flesh out a million possible narratives, each painting its main characters in more or less positive lights, each giving a slightly different understanding of the history and spirituality of the events. Therefore I must accept that I know only what I know.

So when it comes to Aronofsky:

Do I know that Noah didn't look like Russel Crowe?
I do not.

Do I know that God spoke to Noah out loud?
I do not, and also considering my personal experiences and gained knowledge, it seems much more likely that God spoke to Noah in dreams or feelings, as the original Hebrew implies.

Do I know that no one else snuck onto the ark, maybe resulting in a fight to the death with someone getting killed or thrown overboard?
I do not.

Do I know that one of your sons didn't conspire against you?
I do not, but later stories in Genesis suggest that this is also pretty possible.

Do I know that Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly ancestors weren't traipsing around for all the old testament men to leer at uncomfortably?
I do not.

Do I know that fallen rock angels didn't help build the ark?
... Well, I think I can say with some confidence that there probably weren't fallen rock angels, but I'm an open-minded guy, and where there are prophets there are usually angels, and I don't know what they were up to, but he didn't build that ark on his own.

Side note: The Bible does actually say that fallen angels interbred with humans and produced giants, but as a Christian who doesn't consider the bible ineffable after a hundred translations and a few thousand years, this doesn't bother me much.

So, Mr. Aronofsky, I put my vote in against all the nay saying I've been hearing. I wanted to see your movie last weekend, but wound up sick in bed. I pretty much know the whole thing now from reading all the buzz online, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it.

After all, I know what I know -- it's all there in Genesis. As far as what you've decided to embelish to make an enjoyable cinematic experience, I'm excited to see what you've done as a creative artist!

And as for the concerns about people going to watch this film and thinking this is what Noah's story was like... people... if that's a real issue, we have much bigger concerns than Aronofsky's creative interpretation.

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