25 March 2014


I have been joking that Darren Aronofsky's forthcoming film Noah is a film for which I may be the only audience. I'm ethnically Jewish, a former atheist, and a Modern Pagan, with a fascination with the whole range of religions and myth. I love the Torah stories, though I read them with an idiosyncratic cocktail of Jewish, Pagan, literary, and comparative-myth sensibilities. I'm also a cinephile with a taste for eccentric films about mythic stories and religious experience: The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, Baraka, Jesus of Montreal, and so forth; I'm the kind of guy who asks “why would you make the Illiad without the gods and Achilles and Patroclus as Just Good Friends? (a.k.a. Troy)” On top of that, I'm a bit of a fan of Darren Aronofsky: I've seen all of his films in the theaters during their original runs (including π!) and though I think one has to admit that his work is as interesting for its flaws as for the way it works, he and I seem to be cut from similar cloth and so I like his filmmaking sensibility.

One of the challenges in thinking about the stories of the Bible is how the stories are woven so deeply into our culture that we have a hard time seeing them with fresh eyes. But we have many different versions of these stories living in our collective imagination. When I spent some time hanging around with Evangelical Christians in college, back when I was an atheist, I was struck by the Bible storybooks they gave to their kids, which were so radically different from austere Jewish Bible storybooks I had grown up with. And even if you're not a religious person, there's a kind of pop Bible of our shared culture, with cartoon versions of Adam & Eve with the apple, Noah in his big boat with giraffe heads sticking out a window, and so forth.

When I read the stories of the Torah, there's an aspect they present of being the stories of Iron Age desert people retelling the stories of their Bronze Age ancestors, set in a world of shepherds and rivalrous tribes and weary travelers stopping at wells and terrifying angels and so forth. But to see it, you have to look past the parts of the stories we are prone to retell and focus more on the forgotten weird details. There's not just the Tree Of Knowledge in Eden, there's the Tree Of Life. There's not just Lot's wife, there's his daughters. There's not just Noah's dove, there's also his raven. I love that stuff. And Aronofsky has talked a lot about including as much of it as he can in Noah.

That Biblical world — grubby and strange and rich in mystery, but still alive with recognizable human passion — is fascinating to me, and most Biblical movies are too reverential and tidy to show it to us. I'm excited to see Aronofsky's attempt to depict it, and what themes it can convey.

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