THE BLOG
04/28/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2014

Noah, the movie


"Then I have called them in a loud (emphatic) manner;"
"then again, I have called them in public; and I have spoken to them confidentially in private."
"I have said: 'Ask your Lord for forgiveness, for surely He has always been All-Forgiving."

Quran, 71: 8,9,10

The apocalyptic storm of "Noah" has shaken North America, and its breezes are being felt all over the world. Actually, mixed views about Paramount's controversial, artsy, epic adventure were voiced even before the movie was released, and the film has now come under fire for taking artistic license with scripture.

Many people, especially Christian groups, criticized director Darren Aronofsky's dark, psychological reinterpretation of the Abrahamic flood story for changing too much about Noah in the book of Genesis. A lot of them call the movie either "bizarre" or "confusing" even though they agree it is a visually great piece.

Because the movie is currently banned in a number of Muslim countries for depicting a prophet, the pope's views on the movie became very significant after star Russell Crowe and Aronofsky visited Pope Francis in Rome. But the pope hasn't voiced any opinion about the movie yet; it has been announced that he hasn't even watched it.

On the other hand, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel have explained several times already that the foundation of their screenplay is not only the story of Noah and the flood as told in the Torah, but the many other tales and scholarly interpretations it has inspired throughout Jewish history.

Actually, verses about what happened to Noah and the society of his time occur frequently in the Quran, and also a whole chapter is devoted to him by name. He is considered the second Adam. The verses that deal with Noah's story in the Quran emphasize how hard Noah tried to convince people to do the right thing and how he was repeatedly refused.

My disappointment with the movie starts with this point. As Noah, Russell Crowe didn't make any compassionate effort to convince people to do the right thing and stay away from evil. Not even once did we see him trying. In fact, the setting of the movie can be described as savage, so there was no way to communicate with that ruined land's barbaric people anyway. Still, I believe it would be a relief for viewers to see and hear God's merciful messages and love through Noah first, then their denial and eventually punishment.

On the other hand, the film shows Noah from a humanistic and environmentalist point of view. Noah is pictured as the first environmentalist in the movie. After a while, you start to feel that he only cares about the environment and nothing else. Complaints have been flooding on this issue. Some accuse the director of using biblical themes as a vehicle for his vegan messages!

Yes, Aronofsky introduces the biblical story of the flood in a way hardly ever seen before, which recognizes the contemporary human condition. He protests against human abuse of natural resources and advocates the necessity of vegetarianism. We hear the eco-political message in the very beginning of the film, when Noah tells his son Hem that the bad guys, the descendants of Cain, have been killing and eating animals -- because they assume it makes them stronger -- destroying nature to build cities and craft weapons of war. In contrast, the good guys, apparently only Noah's immediate family, who are peaceful vegetarians, say "no" even to picking a single flower unnecessarily.

The overarching moral dilemma of Noah, as both a mortal being and a faithful servant of God, was remarkably strong and carried the whole film. Aronofsky presented Noah as a husband, father and future grandfather and left the question of whether he was a messenger of God or just a disillusioned madman to the audience. His strong message finds its way through with Crowe's great acting. Yet to me, Prophet Noah was depicted as more of a madman in the movie because we really hadn't seen his compassionate side by the end of the movie. Also, we really didn't see how he communicated with God besides his dreams. More importantly, we didn't see a bit of God's love, compassion or mercy, but we only saw his punishment during the 139-minute film. Aronofsky ignores the reason why God sent the flood and also portrays Noah as a dangerous religious extremist for judging others. At this point, he goes off the deep end with a plan to murder his own newborn granddaughters, just like the suicide bombers of our time. Many people think that in many ways Aronofsky missed his chance to explain humanity's second chance.

Well, we must remember that the magnificent story of Noah appeared in the Torah first and then entered the Bible, and that it is central to the Quran. It doesn't belong to one religious group, but to all human beings. To acknowledge the message of the story we don't have to be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, agnostic or atheist. This is a story of humanity. Thus hearing Biblical or Quranic stories from artists, poets, writers and of course filmmakers is wonderful. Yet whoever tells the story should stick with the main ethical message, be careful not to twist the facts and embrace the whole of humanity in unity and love.
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