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Riding the Waves

Last night I saw Noah, the new film based upon the Biblical legend of a man, touched by God, who builds an ark, inhabits it with his family and two of every species, and survives a great flood while residing within its walls. The flood is God's punishment upon mankind for it's sinful ways, and wipes out everyone except for Noah and his family. That, at least, is how the film portrays things. Depending on your Biblical interpretation, there may have been a few more human survivors of the flood. Or perhaps not.

Regardless of the details (and, really, the details change like shifting sands when it comes to Biblical interpretations and adaptations), Noah is a fairly engrossing movie, if somewhat hampered -- plot-wise -- by its source material and the director/co-writer's version of the legend. Darren Aronofsky, an atheist, has attempted to provide the film with a mash-up of Creationism and Evolution, a situation which muddies the waters of reason even further. Indeed, I went into Noah as an unbeliever, wanting to view it strictly as a fantasy akin to Lord of the Rings. Alas, the bizarre nature of the original story and the ham-fisted screenplay made it difficult to appreciate even on that level.

One of the reasons I'm not religious is due to having too many unanswered questions from Biblical text. True, the heart of my failure as an acolyte of any religious deity is a distinct inability of faith. Perhaps this will change over time, perhaps not. It is, however, the reason I came away from Noah with an overall sense of unease and, of course, unanswered questions. Maybe it's just not the story/movie for me? Let's take a look at some of the things that stood out, and maybe the answer will become clearer?

First, we're lumbered with the narrative of Adam & Eve, the first humans who (I guess) were perfect, but then sinned and cast a shadow upon the rest of humanity's souls until the time of Jesus. They had three sons -- Cain, Abel and Seth. Cain killed Abel and begot the worst of humanity. The descendants of Seth, however, were a Godly people, and Noah was one of his descendants. This is apparently why God chose him to build the ark. So, yeah, I take issue with the entirety of mankind (aside from Noah and his clan) being judged as a whole to be worthy of destruction. Just seems, I dunno, a tad broad.

Second, there is lack of explanation as to how humanity came to be in its present-day form. A great flood that washes away most everyone from the face of the earth would seem to contradict our evolutionary path. Aronofsky (an atheist, remember) attempts to circumvent this in a clumsy way by having Noah recount the story of Creation, coupled with imagery of Evolution. When he gets to the 6th Day (when God created man), that is when the imagery of apes changing into men occurs. That's all well and good except for the flood wiping out everyone. In the movie, we're left with Noah and his milky-white clan to re-populate the Earth. Some Biblical accounts state that Noah's three sons were of different skin colors (so, kind of like the Huxtables). Regardless, it's a hot mess.

In the film, Noah is plagued by survivor's guilt, something that Aronofsky has said inspired him about the character. This aspect of the movie both worked for me and made me cringe. What I liked was how Noah shocked his family by saying that they have evil in them just like everyone else and, after the flood, they would simply die out and humanity would end. This was all for the benefit of the animals. When he discovered his son's girlfriend to be with child, he stated that he would kill the baby if it were to be a girl. What I didn't care for was how Noah's family vowed never to forgive him for this, and to hate him forever if he were to actually go through with the plan.

What unsettled me most about Noah's family's reaction to his vow to kill his grandchild (or, as it turned out, grandchildren) is that it revealed selfishness of the utmost nature. Noah's family was basically complicit in the murder of men, women and children (many of them no better or worse than they were), but because those people were unknown to them, well, that somehow made it easier to stomach than the thought of one of their own dying. This is akin to those morality plays where many people are more comfortable with killing someone if they're removed from the act (such as pulling a lever), rather than shoving them into the path of oncoming danger. Either way, it's murder.

Then we're confronted with the awkwardness of the reproduction scenario that, while never explicitly mentioned in the film, was fairly obvious to anyone with a brain. Shem, Noah's oldest son, had fathered twin girls with Ila, a woman who'd been adopted by the family and considered a sister to Shem, albeit not a blood sister, so I guess that makes it ok. Middle-son Ham would, according to Scripture, father Canaan. That leaves Japheth, the youngest son, looking down on Shem's two babies at the end of the movie to, um, have sex with those same nieces once they reach child-bearing age. I can't say "Ewwwww!" quite enough to that.

That leaves us with the elephant in the room: Regardless of Noah's actions, or his guilt, or the wickedness of several members of mankind, or the uncomfortable reality of impending incest, or the questionable morality of Noah's family, what it all comes back to is a god so pissed-off with his own creations that he utterly annihilates all but a handful of them. Men, women, children, the elderly, babies -- they all were washed away. It is primarily this aspect of the Creator (as he is referenced in the movies) that has prevented me from really wanting to embrace the notion of living with God in Heaven (if He/it truly exists).

Finally, the sadness of Noah, aside from everything already mentioned, is that it didn't work. None of it worked. In Noah's time you had good people and bad people (and everyone in between), with mankind ravaging each other and the Earth we live on. Really, it's no different than today. The mission of Noah's Ark ultimately failed. If anything, it shows that the Greeks didn't have the market cornered when it came to tragedy.


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