Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Losing the Meta-Narrative in Noah

All stories told assume a larger story of which which the specific story is a part of. It is that larger story which gives context and meaning to the people and events of the story being told. It is this Meta-Narrative issue that is particularly highlighted in Darren Aronofsky's March 2014 film release "Noah".

I knew from seeing the very first trailer release for "Noah", that it was going to be a film that at some point I would want to see. I never expected that this would be a film that closely followed the Biblical narrative of Noah and the flood in the book of Genesis. Subsequent reviews and rantings and ravings confirmed that.

I did not really follow how well "Noah" did at the box office. My general sense was that after the usual initial flash of a new "epic" film, it faded to the obscurity of the cheap re-run theaters where I just this week finally went to see "Noah" for myself. We live in a day when so called epic films have very little staying power in the mind of our media soaked and sated pop culture; that shallow culture that seems incapable of taking time to really think deeply about what it is seeing and hearing, and so quickly rushes on to the newest and "greatest" info spot factoid that grabs its attention. Only time will tell if Aronofsky has made a film that becomes a classic.

It was because of the previous reviews and controversy and hype that I went into the theater with low expectations. This film has some strengths. The depiction of the wickedness of the humanity of the world that perished, though colored by Aronofsky's own meta-narrative context, was not sugar coated, and illuminated the depravity of that per-deluge world. It was finally nice to see a Noah who was not portrayed as some kind of half senile bumbling old man. The passing down of the oral tradition from generation to generation is clearly illustrated; that oral tradition that later would be written down by Moses under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The horror of the destruction is not muffled, and the film, in my mind correctly ties the incident of Noah's drunkenness to the resulting post-traumatic distress he had to deal with after the flood.

Darren Aronofsky clearly took liberties with the Biblical story. There are a number of points where the film departs from the facts as told in Genesis. Those have been more then adequately covered in the essays of other reviewers. I would like to focus on what is the one thing missing from Aronofsky's view of the greater meta-narrative that, in my mind, is a crucial and critical departure from the Biblical meta-narrative, and that is the loss of the place of the promise in the story. I would also submit that it is the loss of this critical point, the promise, that explains much of the factual departures from the Biblical story that Aronofsky made.

Consider the words spoken by God to the serpent; the proto-evangelium:

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Add to that meaning of Noah's own name:

"Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son. Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.” (Genesis 5:28-29)

It was the purpose of God in the bigger story of the Genesis account, the purpose of redemption, that is absent from the film, and it is that loss which is the most disappointing thing about Aronofsky's telling of the Noah story. He gives us a Noah whose purpose in what he does is at best foggy and muddy; a Noah who seems to have no sense of the promise and meaning of his own name; a Noah who instead of believing the promise as Hebrews 11 describes him, is a Noah who despairs to the point of considering total xenocide; who as another "Adam" is put into the place of making a choice which way future humanity will or will not go. So it is that Aronofsky ends up giving us an essentially pagan Noah.

I leave it to others more qualified then myself to speak to the quality of the acting and the cinematography, as well as the special effects.

It is not my intent to tell you, the reader, if you should or should not see this film. Each of you are capable of making that decision for yourself. Whatever film you do or do not see, I encourage you to ask yourself the question, "What is the larger meta-narrative behind this version of this story?" The meta-narrative of the Bible contains as a crucial part of that narrative, the promise, and it is that promise that, in my mind, makes all the difference in the universe.

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