The killing fields

As I left the credits of the film “Noah” rolling on the dark screen of the theater behind, a stranger standing outside in the hallway searched my face and asked: “Well, how was it?”

I paused momentarily to reflect, then offered the first words that came to mind: “It was…well — different.”

Back home I spent the remainder of the evening combing through a number of reviews online. Many of them sought to address the discrepancies between the biblical story of the Great Flood and the artistic rendition on the big screen. Most reviewers recognized that poetic license is what art forms are all about; a few weren’t as lenient.

Afterwards, as I revisited the original biblical narrative, the subject of violence crept to the forefront of my mind. The cinematic version is packed with violence — anguished screams, broken bodies, blood seeping up from the ground — all of it conjured up by scriptwriters Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel; yet there is ample precedent for their imaginings in the biblical text.

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5)

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Gen. 6:11)

“…the earth [was] filled with violence through them [mankind]…” (Gen. 6:13)

On the big screen dramatic tension is heightened through the contention of the dark Tubal-Cain (here the slayer of Lamech, Noah’s father), Ham (Noah’s son) and Noah himself. Prior to boarding the ark, Ham sets out to seek a wife in the camp of men, but in the violent interlude his efforts are thwarted. In Ham’s eyes his father becomes the scapegoat. Tubal-Cain uses this incident to plant the seeds of revenge in the adolescent’s mind. “If you are a man, you can kill,” he tells the youth. The implication is clear: prove your manhood by slaying your father.

Noah is portrayed as the good father who loves his wife and children and rescues the wounded girl Ila. In an ironic twist, the barren Ila conceives; yet Noah remains convinced that mankind’s annihilation is the will of God. Even though provision has been made for the salvation of his immediate family, Noah prophesies their future demise. Only the birds and animals will be left to repopulate the new earth. To these ends Noah swears to cut down Ila’s baby at birth if it should be female. In the words of Genesis: “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 8:21)

Those who would live by the sword die by the sword — “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” — but despite his flawed character, the hand of the good father is stayed.

Justice may be served, but in this cinematic version it is grace that prevails.

NOAH

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