Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Blockbuster Bible

I know I am very late in writing this.  In today’s frantic and fickle pop-cultural tastes, a week is an eternity.  I want to write a bit about the new Noah movie over a week after the Hollywood blockbuster has been released, but since this is not a movie review; the week delay should not matter too much.

I have not seen the movie.  It’s not that I have anything against it.  It is just that I do not get out to the local bijou very often.  (Bijou?!!?  Now I know I am getting old.)  But from the few reviews that I have read on the Internet, everybody who has seen it seems to have some kind of heated response.  My favorites are from reviewers who condemn the movie for being ‘historically inaccurate’.  Oh dear.

Quickly, and without seeing the stinking movie, here is my take.  The only difference between Noah and other modern interpretations of mythical epics is the fact that a large percentage of people still believe in myths contained in The Bible.  Hollywood can safely deviate from ancient tradition when they dramatize King Arthur, Robin Hood, Beowulf or other quasi-legendary heroes.  Forget about legend and myth.  Historical dramatizations, even recent Oscar winners (e.g. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Captain Phillips, etc., etc.) often deviate from known historical events.  This artistic license is routinely done, everybody understands it, and nobody seems to mind.  But when certain myths that come from a certain book are given the same artistic treatment, people come unglued. 

With this month’s Noah, and the Exodus movie scheduled for a December release, Biblical epics seem to be making something of a comeback.  They were hot Hollywood property back in the 1950s, and even then there was plenty of fuss and furor over deviations from the text.  I saw The Ten Commandments in a drive-in theater in the early 1970s, and I had to listen to Grandma Wagner nit-pick over every scene (‘An Egyptian Princess?  Who fell in love with Moses!  That’s not in the Bible!’).  Even the Catholic TV-movie Jesus of Nazareth from 1977 went through my mom’s pious scrutiny (‘The Bible says Jesus was dunked when he was baptized! He was not sprinkled!’).

Nope.  Their can be no deviation from these ancient myths.  At least, the ancient myths that we happen to believe are actually true.  Even history can get a pass, but not these beloved myths.  Christians often ask, ‘why would non-believers want to make a movie about a story in the Bible?’  No Christian, it is not because you or your scriptures are being mocked.  It is because The Bible contains some great stories, and with a little brushing up, that book is great fodder for Hollywood blockbusters.  As far as I am concerned, if Hollywood can tweak mythic heroes like Odysseus, Hercules, Thor and Beowulf and film them with epic scope and effects for a modern audience, they should be able to do the same thing with Noah.  I see no difference between them, except again, that some people still believe in Noah.  They may even see in the movie Noah the inevitable slide toward treating more big ticket Bible stories as summer blockbusters.  Maybe they have a right to be worried.  The Bible is ripe for the picking. 

This may explain the controversy over Noah.  Theologically, I do not see how the Biblical Patriarch is important.  The stories of Noah contained in the Bible have nothing to do with redemption from sin and salvation through Jesus.  Noah taught no moral standards.  The only thing the story of Noah and the Deluge explains to the modern reader is the formation of the Grand Canyon and the purpose of rainbows – and this only to a handful of Christians.  If I had to guess, the presentation of Noah as a Hollywood action hero is not what worries Christians.  I think what worries Christians is that they see the potential of more of their holy myths as summer blockbusters.  Noah may not be that important to Christian theology, but who is next?  Moses is coming in December.  Elijah and Elisha are golden opportunities for lovers of action spiced with magical spells.  But eventually, the biggest ticket item of them all is coming.  You know He will.  Think I am kidding?

Say, you know, Jesus did have a dark side to him.  Didn’t he turn over the money-changers’ tables and cause the Temple worship to cease?  Can we picture a plausible insurrection against the Romans before his fateful destruction?  Hmm … I think the people behind a movie like 300 can easily do something with that.  No I am not joking.  Christians must know this.  They simply cannot stomach the idea of having a ‘fictionalized’ version of an ancient Palestinian deity opening against Marvel Comics’ ‘fictionalized’ version of an ancient Scandinavian deity at the nearest multiplex.     


Ruth said...

I haven't seen the film either, but my understanding is that the film's director is a Jewish atheist?

At any rate, I did read in one review of the film(by an atheist who loved it, of course) that the director used the Midrash version.

One of the things that I've seen Christians upset about is the depiction of Noah as drunk. That's in the Bible. I don't get their outrage about that. *shrug*

HeIsSailing said...

Dear Ruth, I am way behind on my pop culture, so I am not going to be much help. I have no idea who the director of this movie is. I have read that the movie has references to angles called 'Watchers'. According to 1 Enoch (more ancient writings not in the Bible), these were some sort of Heavenly creature who came to Earth, in part to teach men warfare and teach women the wicked art of cosmetics. I am not sure what they are doing in the movie, but there is vast literature concerning Noah and other Patriarchs that are not in the Bible. Again - this is all ripe for picking by Hollywood producers!!

So the movie has a Drunk Noah? That is terrific. Our church knew this. He was the inventor of wine after all. Does the movie include a scene where he curses Ham and makes his Canaanite descendants the slaves under his brothers? This incident was used by 19th Century American slave-holders to justify slave holding as sanctioned by God. No... that part is probably not in the movie ...

One of the main criticisms I keep reading about the movie is that Noah is some kind of vegetarian. Like you - I thought that was in the Bible too. My church certainly taught that!

I wonder if the movie at least has angels called benai elohim, who had sex with the daughters of men and produced monstrous hybrid called nephelim? My old Calvary Chapel church used to teach us that this was one of the main reasons for God's flooding the world - to kill off all the monsters. Now if that is in the movie, I will be first in line!

Ruth said...

Ooh...I don't know about that angel thing. But I do remember that being the straw that broke the camel's back on Yahweh regretted making man. They were only evil all the time. Except Noah, of coarse. I haven't seen it. I might have to go take it in just out of curiosity.

About that vegetarian thing...I thought all living beings were vegetarians until after the flood; that's what my church taught, anyway.