It was too violent! I’ve heard that criticism of the movie Noah currently playing in theaters. I saw the film and indeed it was violent. But what were movie- goers expecting? Noah is based on a violent story. In the Biblical account it says, “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out.” Genesis 7:23.
The flood story is not unique to the Judeo-Christian faith. The hundreds of other flood stories found in religious traditions around the world are predominately violent too. I remember learning about the Epic of Gilgamesh in an Old Testament course my first year of college. It is a Babylonian flood narrative that pre-dates the one in the Bible. It is every bit as violent as the Genesis story with the world being overwhelmed by a watery torrent so devastating that even the Babylonian gods are frightened. They sob and shriek as everything is destroyed.
When I lived on the Hopi reservation in Arizona I learned the people in the village of Oraibi, near our home, had a flood story in their religious mythology too. In it everyone dies save for a few righteous people who are sealed up in hollow reeds that serve as boats.
Often versions of the Noah story focus on the colorful parade of animals marching into the ark two by two, the beautiful rainbow sent as a promise, and the amazing feat of building a vessel big enough to hold so many living things. Noah is a portrayed as a hero, saving elements of creation for a new world. That version of the story is white washed and kid friendly.
It was when I saw the play Not Wanted on the Voyage at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in the early 1990’s that I really started thinking about all the death in the flood story and the fact that deciding who was good and evil and who should die and who should live, could not have been as cut and dried as the Biblical account made it seem. The play was based on a book by Timothy Findley. It portrayed Noah not as a hero, but as a judgmental despot who was at times every bit as violent as those people he left behind to die when he shut the door of the ark. The Noah character in the film is not a gentle man either. He fights and kills his attackers. He leaves his son’s friend to die. He contemplates the murder of his own granddaughters. Even in the Genesis version Noah is portrayed as less than perfect. After the flood he becomes a drunkard. Was it hard for him to deal with the deaths of all those people not wanted on the voyage of the ark?
As is typical in most Biblical accounts, the flood story in Genesis gives women only minor mention. What I liked about the movie is that the women play the important role of peacemakers. They force Noah to turn from his cruel, although he insists divinely ordained, plan to destroy all of humanity.
The women have hope for the future and in the face of their compassion and love Noah cannot carry out his deadly intent. They are the light in a dark story. In the Hopi flood account it is also a female god called Spider Woman who facilitates saving some of humanity.
Except for the female infusion of hope, the movie Noah is a violent re-telling of a violent story found in religious traditions throughout the world. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
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