The Noah story in the Book of Genesis is short. It takes only about ten minutes to read. In bringing it to the Big Screen, Darren Aronofsky (Co-Writer/Director) and Ari Handel (Co-Writer) add to the biblical story and make changes to the narrative to make their movie “Noah” a two-hour feature film.
Aronofsky and Handel approached their task lengthening and embellishing the biblical story in a traditional and Jewish way. The filmmakers not only read the original Genesis text, they also studied and used midrash (rabbinical commentary) material as a reference source.
Without knowledge and a little study of Judaism’s Oral Tradition, it is difficult to understand or appreciate the creativity and imagination behind much of Aronofsky and Handel’s artistic interpretation. Perhaps the biggest change between the original Torah text on Noah and the recent movie deals with G-d’s intentions in bringing on the flood and destroying the world.
In the Book of Genesis, Noah, his wife, their three sons and the wife of each son enter the ark along with pairs of every animal. The message is clear: G-d will destroy the world, but G-d makes sure life will continue after the flood. In the film, G-d’s intentions are not as clear. Noah, his wife, their three sons, plus an added (by the filmmakers) adopted daughter, enter the ark along with the animal couples. Noah’s family is rewarded for Noah’s righteous behavior by surviving the flood, but humanity won’t last long after it since Noah’s family lacks the means to reproduce.
In changing the story, Aronofsky and Handel do to the character what many rabbis have done in history in their midrash interpretations: they transform Noah from a simple, one-dimensional “righteous” man into a more complex, well intentioned, but severely flawed human being. Noah apparently seems too stubborn to consider that perhaps he misinterpreted G-d’s original message; or G-d changed the message the Divine originally sent to him.
In portraying Noah this way, Aronofsky and Handel teach an important lesson: be wary of people who say G-d communicates directly with them. In this day and age we should question the divine message of people who believe they are prophets. And, if this reasoning (according to the filmmakers) applies to a righteous biblical character like Noah, how much more so should we apply the same reasoning to people we encounter, vote for, and evaluate as leaders today.
On Saturday, September 20, Temple Beth David will prepare for the High Holidays by viewing and discussing the film “Noah” starring Russell Crowe. The featured component part of the Torah study session of Slechot will be led by the synagogue’s rabbi, Nancy Myers, and its educator, Elliot Fein. All members of the broader Jewish community are welcome to attend. For information, call (714) 892-6623 or www.templebethdavid.org.
Elliot Fein is Education Director at Temple Beth David in Westminster.