Sometime over the millennia, we have managed to domesticate the Bible’s terrifying story of Noah and the great flood that wiped out most of creation – the subject of a startling new movie, “Noah.” I had a chance to see it this week.
As a child, I’m sure I was exposed to toy replicas of those cuddly animals Noah herded into his ark. And like a lot of baby boomers, I remember laughing at this story from Genesis, as retold on records and TV by that great theologian, Bill Cosby.
In one of his earliest and best comedy routines, Cosby re-imagines that first conversation between Noah, a carpenter sawing away in his rec room, and the invisible Lord, who commands Noah in a booming voice to build an ark and fill it with two of every creature.
“Right,” responds a skeptical Noah, who’s thinking this is a prank. “Who is this really? What’s going on?”
“I’m going to destroy the world,” God answers.
“Right,” says Noah, smiling. “Am I on ‘Candid Camera’?”
As I sat in the theater, watching director Darren Aronofsky’s visually stunning film, it became obvious why we have long candy-coated this biblical epic.
Without the comedy and the cutesy animals, this is one scary tale to watch and to ponder: In it, God drowns people. Lots and lots of them.
And Aronofsky, whose previous films (“Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) explore dark subjects, does not spare us the agony of the doomed. As Noah (played by a brooding Russell Crowe) and his family float away in the ark, they can hear the desperate cries of those clinging to every shrub and piece of mountain on the rapidly disappearing land.
The film and the Bible make it clear that many, if not most, of those people had become corrupt and beastly in their violence toward each other and the environment – all sins that are not exactly unheard of today.
So the Creator, as God is called in the film, decides to destroy virtually all of creation and start over.
We never see God in this cinematic blockbuster, which is true to the spirit if not all the details of the Bible’s version (Crowe’s Noah gets older, for example, but never reaches 600 years old, as Genesis put his age at the time of the flood).
But God is as much of a character as Noah. And a much richer, more mysterious one.
He communicates his will – and a stark preview of the flood – in the images that invade Noah’s dreams.
He also “speaks” through the beauty of nature, in the words of the women in Noah’s life, and in a father’s lullaby.
And, in the end, this character God surprises again: Using a white dove and a dazzling rainbow, he turns his back on destruction and affirms love and mercy for all creation.
-- Tim Funk