A Noah like no other before: A look at the latest biblical film from an LDS perspective

By Jeff Bradshaw

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 3 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

There are certain motifs from ancient sources present in "Noah." For instance, in a scene that has left many viewers and reviewers scratching their heads, Tubal-Cain deprives Lamech of a sacred birthright heirloom in the form of a snakeskin. Later, Ham takes it from Tubal-Cain. Students of midrash will recognize this as a variation on the story of the stolen garment — a gift from God to Adam, and an object of envy for the jealous Satan. This same garment was said to have been handed down to Noah, stolen by Ham, inherited by Nimrod, taken by Esau and put on by Jacob in order to obtain Isaac’s blessing (e.g., Midrash Rabbah 4:8; Midrash Tanhuma 1:24; Pirke d’ Rabbi Eliezer, 24). Traditions diverge on the animal that was the source of the skins, naming dozens of species the hide of which could have been used. "Noah" settles on a snakeskin, poetic revenge on the beast that incited Adam and Eve’s transgression (e.g., Pirke d’ Rabbi Eliezer, 20; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of Genesis, 3:21).

One ancient allusion that will catch the attention of sharp-eyed LDS viewers is Tubal-Cain’s relentless quest to amass wealth through the mining of a luminous mineral called "tsohar." The meaning of this obscure term is debated, but some readers interpret tsohar as a reference to a shining stone that was said to have hung from the rafters of the ark in order to provide light (see, e.g., Midrash Rabbah of Genesis, 31:11; Pirke d’ Rabbi Eliezer, 23). Readers of the Book of Mormon will not miss the similarity to the story of the shining stones the brother of Jared obtained to provide light for his barges (Ether 3:1-6, 6:3).

The greatest story never told

In contrast to the Bible’s version of Noah’s pre-flood career as a long-suffering “preacher of righteousness” (see Moses 6:23, 8:19-25), Aronofsky’s Noah quickly dismisses hopes of redemption for the wicked. Resembling a frontier sheriff in a classic Western, Noah’s single sermon is short and unsweet: “There is no escape for you and your kind. Your time is done.”

Genesis tells us about Noah, a man who was “perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9) and who, like Enoch, “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24, 6:9). Aronofsky tells us about a more ordinary Noah, the last of the good guys, who must perform an impossible task that results in great pain for members of his own family.

The mainspring of Aronofsky's plot is driven by the introduction of a non-biblical element into the storyline. In short: Noah decides to execute a just and final solution to the problem of the world’s violence and corruption by deliberately making sure that the line of humanity will end with his immediate family (Shem marries a wife who cannot conceive; Ham’s intended bride is deliberately left behind by Noah; Japheth is never given a chance to marry). It is from this knotty problem, designed from scratch by Aronofsky, that the primary chain of story logic unfolds, leading inexorably to a final denouement.

God, or “The Creator” as he is always called, is distant in "Noah." He is seen only through what he does. He gives Noah apocalyptic nightmares. He makes the flood storm and later, we are led to assume, supervises the display of a surreal rainbow.

However, in contrast to the Bible, Aronofsky's "Noah" forbids God to speak for himself; he speaks only through others. For example, although Noah’s sons say little of consequence to their father (except to signal obedience or defiance), Aronofsky's depiction allows qualities of innate goodness to shine through the words of the women in Noah’s life — his wife, his daughter-in-law, his twin granddaughters and even the potential daughter-in-law he left behind to die. Their strong voices eventually persuade Noah to temper his passion for “justice” with the unstrained quality of “mercy.”

At a moment of self-doubt, Noah cries out to God, in the single prayer shown, “Why do you not answer me? Why?” And though, in the aftermath of that experience, Noah’s resolve to do what he thinks he must is strengthened, there is no visual sign of enlightenment on his face, no “windows of heaven” moment to indicate that Noah received an answer. Indeed, viewers are eventually led to conclude that for most of the movie, Noah was completely mistaken about God’s intentions for humanity.

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