“I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living as I have done.”
My viewing of the movie “Noah” and publication of the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have intersected. They have made me wonder: Are we entering an era that will inspire another myth about natural catastrophe?
I enjoyed the movie and am amazed by the industry’s skill in creating alternate realities. I didn’t watch it as a biblical scholar but knew that the story had been “adapted” in ways that have offended some Christians. Having generated about $359 million in gross revenues, however, it may have had a different effect on the general public.
To summarize, at director Darren Aronofsky’s hand, the lineage of Cain has created an “industrialized” world that has turned earth into a wasteland. Noah is the only remaining righteous man, and he and his family are subsistence survivors. As in the Bible story, God is furious at man and taps Noah to work His will. God will bring a flood to wipe out all life on earth except the creatures to be saved by the ark that Noah is directed to build.
When I learned about the story of Noah and the ark as a child, there were things about it that bothered me. How big did the boat have to be to load two of all the creatures of the earth? What were they going to do for food? And some provision would have to be made for toilets, right? I understood that the rains would stop after 40 days and 40 nights and somehow assumed that the drama would end at that point. Things would get messy, but maybe it was doable.
Enter Aronofsky with a fabricated detail. In the movie, Noah’s wife, Naameh, creates an incense that makes all the creatures go to sleep, presumably to hibernate. Okay, one can work with that imaginatively. At the same time, however, the presence of the family of Noah on board, a new detail for me, soon created the largest and most troubling issue of all in my adult brain.
There is a scene in which Noah makes it clear that he has assumed all along that when the last member of his family dies, there will be not a single human left on earth. However, Aronofsky complicates the picture with the presence of a pregnant female. (In the Bible, Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth are afloat with their wives, but there is no mention of children.)
The pregnant woman in the movie is Ila, whom Noah’s family rescued when she was a child. She is now carrying Shem’s child. When Noah learns of this development, he goes through agony, masterfully conveyed by Russell Crowe, about the way this challenges his commitment to God’s will. If the child is female, he vows to kill her. Even when Ila bears girl twins, he continues fierce in his resolve. Of course Naameh and Ila protest, so the feminine is framed again as interfering with God’s will.
In the moment of climax, Noah relents through the love he suddenly feels for the babies. God must relent as well because the family eventually makes landfall. Here I learn that the rains may have endured for 40 days, but it has taken more than a year for things to dry up. A new problem for the adult mind.
Now comes the “be fruitful and multiply” message. As I am watching the movie, however, I am wondering about the incest thing. I mean how do you avoid that when the obligation is to repopulate the earth with only six people?
Again Aronofsky comes to the rescue. The middle son, Ham, has been revealed as a character with a dark side. He eventually leaves the family and strikes out on his own. One must assume that he finds some surviving humans elsewhere and establishes a new and destructive lineage. Is the presence of these people evidence of divine lapse or of empty threat? Another loose end dangles.
The movie was thought-provoking on many fronts, but there was one in particular that has stayed with me. This is the matter of the degree of obedience demanded by a testing God. This is one of two places I know of in the Bible where the obligation involves killing a member or members of one’s own family. I wonder if this is the way, mythologically speaking, that man has rationalized killing in general. After all, humans are members of the same family.
And what about this covenant that God supposedly made with man? I read chapters five through ten in Genesis after seeing the movie. Unfortunately, the covenant is not as clear as one would like, because it appears in several places with a bit of ambiguity. I guess the bottom line in my Bible is Chapter 9:11: “neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.”
One interprets the covenant as God’s promise never again to drown us in anger. So I wonder with regard to climate change: What if it is we, not God, who cause a flood?
The latest IPCC report lists anew all the dangers resulting from human activity. These include mass extinctions, refugee crises, food shortages, heat waves, and rising oceans due to glacier melt. Newspaper reports mentioned no concern about rains of biblical proportions.
There must have been a catastrophic flood at some time and place in history that inspired the story of Noah. Versions of it appear in Judaisim and Islam and also in mythologies originating in Mesopotamia, Greece, and India. Will the story of Noah and others like it endure, or will we need a different myth to explain somehow the devastated new world that science predicts? And will those who devise it put us at the place of cause or of victim? The movie industry seems to be working on the story even now, and the IPCC is certainly providing ideas.