It is easy to criticize Hollywood for dramatization and inaccuracies when viewing a movie based on a book; all the more so for a Biblical story. I often do it myself. But perhaps there would be more value in considering where ‘Noah’, and its director Darren Aranofsky, got it right.
That millions of dollars were invested to bring an ‘old book’ to life speaks volumes about our society. There is clearly a thirst to connect to ‘that’ ancient book. Many want to believe that the Bible actually happened, yet it’s often perceived more as a fairytale than a historical account. Aranofsky’s attempt to portray Noah as a real person, and the flood as a real historical event, must be viewed as a positive step.
There are profound messages in the film, although in general, the story is not accurately portrayed and it diverges significantly from the text.
Noah is an ambivalent personality. Our childhood perception of Noah as a perfectly righteous man is laid to rest in the portrayal of his absolute indifference to the suffering of others. He is callous. He ignores the screams of the drowning masses. He refuses opportunities to save ‘innocent’ compatriots in the face of his family’s pleading. He is a heartless, cruel ‘man of God’.
The Bible offers a similar portrait. Our Rabbis discuss why Noah was not chosen to be the forefather of the Jewish people. Their conclusion is that he was indifferent to the plight of others. For hundreds of years he built an ark, yet he was quite incapable of persuading anyone else to join him. He failed as a ‘missionary’, incapable of convincing even one person to reform their errant ways. The Noah of Hollywood is consistent with the Noah of Genesis.
We tend to visualise the biblical concept of prophecy as a direct and clear communication between God and His prophet. We understand the prophetic message to be unambiguous. From such a message we expect the prophet to go forth and fulfil the words of the Lord.
This is an inaccurate view of the prophetic experience.
The Rambam describes prophecy as “looking at an image or vision through tinted glass.” The prophet gains an insight into the divine will, but it is certainly not clear. The prophet then has to interpret the meaning of that vision as he understands it. He may not be spot-on, but he understands the general idea conveyed from above.
The movie portrayal of the God-Noah interaction, controversially and correctly, never shows a dialogue between them. Noah has dreams that allude to a flood, rebirth, animals and an ark — but an absolute understanding of what Noah is to do is not entirely clear. Noah himself even misinterprets part of the prophecy, leading to devastating consequences. In the film, as in the Bible, sometimes, even for prophets, the will of God isn’t so clear.
Perhaps our critique of the film should not concentrate on Biblical accuracy, but rather we should consider its general morality. Noah is initially presented as a pious man, he understands that he has been given a divine purpose and suffers significant personal sacrifice to fulfil that mission. But Noah extends himself beyond his ‘divine’ mandate and turns into a radical extremist. He distances himself from those with whom he started his mission and invariably from God himself — ironically in the name of God.
The message addresses the roots of fundamentalism — all forms, not just religious. It begins with a kernel of legitimacy and truth. The ‘prophet’ surrounds himself with idealists and marches towards his destiny. But on that march he begins to prophesy from his own ‘belly’ and calls it the ‘word of God’. In time he ostracises others and marginalises those who were once friends, and now calls them enemies.
Inevitably he leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.
This is a powerful warning to the truth-seeking individual, both religious and otherwise. Your motives may be genuine, but your prophecy can become self-generated. And if it does it will have terrible consequences.