Posts Tagged ‘The Ten Commandments’

I went to see “Noah” with low expectations, and for reasons that had nothing to do with religion.

I find that many of today’s movies set in ancient times do not take themselves seriously enough; they seem more concerned with catering to franchises and to viewers with short attention spans than with telling stories.

Noah_Lamech“Noah” kind of started out that way.  We meet Noah as a young boy just coming of age.  His father passes on to him the responsibility of stewardship over God’s creation; we meet the story’s villains, the “Sons of Cain”; Noah’s father is killed, and young Noah is left on his own…and this all happens in the space of about two minutes (not just in terms of movie “run time,” but in the time elapsing in the scene itself).

But as the film progresses, we see more and deeper character development and greater depth of story…particularly towards the end.

Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised by the film.  I’d like to talk about three things, in particular.

Let’s tackle the controversy first, so as to then move on to “meatier” subject matter.  The controversy surrounding co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s version of the Biblical account of Noah pertains mainly to his amplification of the story with material that is not in the Bible.

Charlton Heston_The Ten Commandments

I would point out that this isn’t the first time this has been done in cinema.  One of the most beloved Biblical epics, Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” is filled with extra-Biblical material.  The period of Moses’ life leading up to his encounter with God in the burning bush makes up only the first two chapters of the Book of Exodus, and leaves a lot of gaps.  And yet this part of Moses’ story comprises the first hour-and-a-half to two hours of “The Ten Commandments.”

MidrashAs Fr. Barron points out in his very insightful review, this type of approach to the stories of the Bible has its roots ancient Israel.  The midrashim were a collection of literary elaborations on Scriptural texts that are often scant in terms of story details, characterization, etc.  They often included not only elaborations of the texts themselves, but the introduction of new characters and subplots.  I would agree with Fr. Barron that Aronofsky’s film is a nothing other than a modern midrash on the story of Noah.


The most obvious example is the incorporation of “the Watchers,” a group of rock-like creatures who protect Noah and his family from their enemies.  According to Aronofsky’s interpretation, these are fallen angels who were imprisoned within matter as a punishment for disobedience.  In the end, by helping Noah and his family, they find redemption.

I can see why this part of the story would trouble people, only because its conception of the nature of angels is problematic at best.  But the mere fact that these rock-creatures are in the story is not, in itself, a cause for concern.  It is a “midrashic” element of storytelling with which the ancient Hebrews would undoubtedly have been familiar.

In my humble opinion, far from being an affront to God and to His inspired word, midrashic storytelling is a sign of the Divine Generosity.  Having created humankind in His image, He allows human storytellers to use their imaginations to fill in whatever spaces He has left in Scriptural narratives.  The one caveat is that any embellishment must be true to the core messages of the text, without either adding to or taking away from what God is trying to tell us through them…

…which brings me to the next aspect of the film I want to touch on: The ecological element.

Next time.

Midrash image from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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