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Ethiopian Coptics absent from Darren Aronofsky’s latest blockbuster

Noah

Monday 21 April 2014, by Coco Green

’Noah’ is certainly appropriately titled. This isn’t a big screen portrayal of one of the great biblical stories of Noah and the Ark. It’s a story about a group of white Europeans/Americans/New Zealanders with accents that have no connection to the Middle East where the Biblical story takes place (beyond the names they didn’t even try!!). Given that the Ark wasn’t mentioned in the title, and my knowledge of the actors who were cast in leading roles, I should’ve taken these clues that this film was not for me. But as an immigrant I’m always reluctant to turn down an invitation anywhere; so my friend asked me to go, and I went.

As a socialist woman raised as an Evangelical Baptist, who is now a backsliding Evangelical Baptist (ie a believer that no longer attends church), I found no joy in this retelling. First, I should say that I liked the special effects. The flood, the gathering animals and the rock angels were pretty amazing. In addition the design of the Ark was lovely—there were cubbies for all the cute animals, and you got a feel for the struggle of building it over many years. There was also a nice message about the role of people to protect plants and animals, so Noah is a super environmentalist and vegan.

Now on to everything I hate. The most egregious error is the way faith is practiced in the film. ’Noah’ shows angels, magic, hypnotism and mysticism, but no prayer or fasting. There’s no active religious community, it’s just Noah and his family roaming in what looks like Turkey. When they eventually come into contact with society it’s like Thunderdome, and people are dressed like they are from the Dark Ages, although the women wear tight trousers.

Noah himself never prays in the film, but looks up to the sky to get a feel for what God wants. Looks like a contemporary Mainline Christian God and not Jewish God from 10,000 years ago to me. This just speaks to my pet peeve about the portrayal of religion in film generally. Religious people are nuts; usually wild eyed and loud mouthed, boorish and ignorant, narrow minded and provincial. When it’s a black Church all bets are off—it’s theatrical, comedic and slightly inappropriate. We rarely see the Christian socialists, liberation theology in action, Arab Christians or Ethiopian Coptics for that matter.

Since the film is absolutely full of creative license and doesn’t intend to re-tell the story of Noah and the ark it is telling that the women characters are made to be so whiney and weepy. I mean, Noah can be an environmentalist but not a feminist? Why was he so dismissive of his wife? Why didn’t she speak to God, too? When Noah is unsure of ’The Creator’s’ message he doesn’t go to his wife, but travels up the mountain to his Grandpa. Real problems for real men, I suppose. Noah’s daughter in law was another thinly drawn character who thought she wasn’t a ’real woman’ because was barren. The writers couldn’t come up with a better response than that?

Also, like Schoolhouse Rock’s 1970s maths video, Noah’s children are shown as tweens and teenagers, with all their angst and yearnings for independence (ie annoying) instead of married men as they are in the bible. The biblical version is more comforting for modern readers as we can hope that Noah’s descendants just had to marry cousins. I won’t spoil ’Noah’ for anyone, but let’s just say leaving the theatre I shivered at the thought of reproduction for this family.

I’m disappointed that ’Noah’ missed the best parts of the story. The real magic in the Noah and The Ark story is the fact that despite being an alcoholic, God chose him. Despite ridicule from society, Noah and his kin built the Ark.

In conclusion, I wish the producer would’ve just made the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is an older and, even as a Christian I have to admit, a cooler telling of the-flood-that-ended-the-world story. The Epic is longer than the bible version with a more complex journey which would be a dream for any screenwriter. Happy Easter.

Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2014

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