I actually saw the “Noah” movie when it came out and wrote a commentary about it for the Tomorrow’s World website (“Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’: Pro-Satan Propoganda”). I won’t repeat much of what I said there, though I will add that if you are desperate to see Russell Crowe in a boat, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” is more historically accurate, more educational, more moving, more inspirational, and less depressing.
But I had a number of thoughts related to the movie, and I have planned for sometime to mention them briefly in a blog post. Now that I finally am, I think I will just stick with one. Seeing how my thoughts ran away with me in my last post, I’d like to keep this one more focused.
On reflecting on the junk pile that was Aronofsky’s “Noah” in the days after seeing it, I was struck by the thought that the movie reflected a certain approach to the Bible that reminded me of how Hollywood treats myths and legends.
For instance, consider the movie “Clash of the Titans.” I can’t speak to the modern incarnation, let alone its sequel “Wrath of the Titans,” as I have seen neither and didn’t feel to motivated to do so. The 1981 Harry Hamlin-headed (ha! aliteration) “Clash of the Titans” — that I have seen. It was a state-of-the-art stop motion animation fest, the last work of the stop motion master, Ray Harryhausen, and I ate it up as a kid. (Note: Not an endorsement, just an admission. My judgment wasn’t the best in my late pre-teens. It is sad that many of my generation may hear “Laurence Olivier” and think of his role in this flick as “Zeus” instead of — oh, I don’t know — maybe almost anything else Laurence Olivier has ever done.)
But it wasn’t exactly the most accurate representation of classical Greek mythology, right? After all, the “Titans” don’t even show up in the flick. And, “Release the Kraken”? Really? Greek god Zeus is going to release a Scandanavian sea monster? Was the Scylla not available? Surely the Kraken’s trip from Norway all the way to Joppa would have given Perseus a little extra time, now? But I digress…
My point is that Hollywood feels no obligation to honor the “spirit” of old Greek myths. They are all fictions, and writers certainly feel free to do anything they want with them. They are not like actual biographies — not that some writers feel any obligations to accuracy in those, either, I suppose. Unlike biographies or actual historical events, myths — Greek, Roman, whatever — are simply collections of names and ideas for writers, into which they can insert whatever meaning they want. Make bad guys into good guys, good guys into bad guys, borrow a creature from a different part of the world — no harm no foul. It’s not like Perseus is going to send lawyers demanding that the truth be told accurately, when there is, in reality, no truth.
Just look at the versions of Hercules Hollywood has out out over the years. (I still haven’t scrubbed the 1983 Lou Ferrigno debacle from my neurons.) It’s about what the writer wants to say, not any need to stay faithful to a “reality” since there is no reality in the myth to which one owes any faithfulness. I get it. The story isn’t actually history, and it is freely available to the writer to use to say whatever he wants, whether he wants to make a popcorn flick or something preachier.
While it’s not the first of its kind in this way, Aronofsky’s “Noah” helped me to find words to the thought that the Bible is, now, just the same as Greek myth to the entertainment industry. It’s a potential source of stories (regarded by them as) detached from reality — detached from real people or real events or real history — that can be used at whim to say whatever the writer wants to say.
There is no need, for instance, to worry about communicating the events of Noah’s life accurately if you truly believe that there was no “Noah” to begin with. He’s just another Perseus — a character for your Dramatis Personæ. Flesh him out however you will. Put whatever words you’d like in his mouth. Give him whatever motivations your heart fancies. After all: He isn’t real.
And, of course, these being biblical stories, the same goes with God. After all, if the story is not a historical account of God’s actions in the world and if God, Himself, isn’t real, then we can treat Him just as another character, another vehicle for our own message, ideas, and entertaining concepts. He might as well be Zeus or Athena. Have him punish angels for being too sympathetic to humanity? Sure, why not!
Some would say that Cecil B. DeMille did the same with “The Ten Commandments” — not to mention scores of other “biblical” movies — and to some extent I could agree. But not completely. If you watched “The Ten Commandments,” you saw the disclaimer at the beginning. And while the movie that followed that disclaimer took its liberties (did it ever!), there was an air of respect for the source material running through the movie. Enough respect? No, probably not. But compared to what Aronofsky brought to Noah’s story, DeMille can come across like a fundamentalist theologian.
While the creative types in Hollywood may have decided that the Bible is myth — as available to them to preach their own messages and entertain according to their own values as anything made up by the Greeks or Romans — they are still constrained by two forces: (1) the need to make money off of the public, and (2) the public’s tolerance of the abusing the Bible.
Because while the public’s tolerance for Bible abuse is broadening, there is still some resistance. There is still some unease. It may be virtually microscopic, but it still exists.
It is, though, on the way out. The elite of the entertainment industry are already there and have been there for quite some time. To recast a biblical story in your own image is considered “brave” and “bold” filmmaking, especially if that image is far from the actual message of the Bible. (Applying such adjectives to such works, by the way, is ridiculous. There is nothing “brave” or “bold” about mocking the Bible in our society today. It’s practically fashionable. Let’s see a filmmaker in a major movie studio reinterpret a story from the Quran — that might earn the adjectives “brave” or “bold.” But don’t hold your breath.)
And the public is on its way there, too. Tolerance for the Bible-as-myth is higher than ever, with no signs of shrinking any time soon. Perhaps Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” starring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton will pleasantly surprise in December. The teaser trailer looks interesting, yet, at the same time, most promotional material for such a flick will almost certainly focus on those things appealing to the pro-Bible crowd, while hiding the sure-to-offend qualities to be revealed after the ticket is paid for. Concerning Exodus, I am, perhaps irrationally, allowing myself to be hopeful, but guarded.
Regardless, if the Red Sea parts to reveal a stop motion Scandinavian sea monster and Moses rushes in to battle it in the Batmobile, I’m requesting a refund.