“Of course there’s liberties, I mean, we’re making a movie here. If you read the four chapters that the Noah story takes place in, Noah doesn’t even speak. How are you going to cast Russell Crowe and not have him talk? Noah’s wife and his sons’ three wives aren’t even named in the Bible.”
Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious dream of making a film about the biblical figure Noah has finally come true, but it comes with controversy and with critics.No matter how a movie about religion is made, what angles they give to it: someone is always going to feel offended, no matter what. It might be the whole collective, the Pope, or just an extremist section, but that is how it is always going to be. But Aronofsky, as he states in the quote above, does not care. It was expected.
When I went to see Noah, I thought I might feel offended. I am a Catholic, after all, and the movie had been panned by Christian leaders before it was even released. I am an open-minded person, though, and I have always believed that there are some stories in that we are supposed to take as mere metaphors and not literal stories, with Noah being one of them. But most important, it is a movie, for Pete’s sake! Of course they need to take liberties. It is not a documentary, after all.
And the truth is this: the film is not offensive. It is not the movie of the year, but the acting is good and so is the photography. It does stray a bit, but the overall message is there, crystal clear. Why would some people have such strong feelings over something they haven’t even seen?
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim representatives have attacked the film before even seeing it, branding it as “anti-biblical”, “offensive” and “disrespectful”. What is certain is that Noah is leaving no one indifferent. Creationist Ken Ham expressed his deep outrage at Time magazine by calling the movie “unbiblical and pagan from its start” and stating that Noah “is an insult to Bible-believing Christians, an insult to the character of Noah and, most of all, an insult to the God of the Bible,” while Christian theologian Dr. Albert Mohler has noted that the problem with the movie is that “they (Aronosfky and writer Ari Handel) distort it to the uttermost, perhaps without even intending to do so.” But this is exactly the sort of reaction one would expect from a film whose own director has called “the least Biblical Biblical film ever made.”
Unfortunately, Noah is not the first religious movie to suffer the critics of detractors who tend to consider every film made about religion offensive. There is no need to go so far back in time to find an example. In 2004, Mel Gibson angered more than one Jewish leader with the ambitious The Passion of the Christ, the movie starring Jim Caviezel that depicted the last days in the life of Jesus. It was considered anti-Semitic because it implied that the Jews were to blame for Jesus’ death. What is true is that this is the highest-grossing controversial film of all time (and the highest-grossing non-English-language one, as it is in Aramaic and Latin) with more than $600 million earned worldwide.
Shortly after that, American prodigy Ron Howard released the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, which was also a commercial hit and it disturbed many religious factions. The book itself had already met controversy all over the world, and the movie was not any different. The Roman Catholic churched urged its followers to boycott the shooting and, later on, the screenings, as it believed that the film was filled with theological inconsistencies – mainly, the fact that the entire plot revolves around the idea that Jesus had offspring with Mary Magdalene. Many countries protested heavily, including the United States.
But probably the most beloved controversial film should be Monty Python’s Life of Brian. This satire is considered one of the best comedies of all time, but when it was released in 1979, members of the Christian community railed against it by saying it was blasphemous. It was banned in several countries and rated X in others, including Ireland, United Kingdom or Norway – which prompted the film’s publicists to use the tagline “So funny it was banned in Norway!” to advertise it in Sweden.
Other films, like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, released in 1988, was met with outrage due to its sex scenes and the moral message it transmitted, getting banned in countries like Singapore or South Africa. And in some occasions, the strength of the protests is so strong that the filming itself can be delayed, as it happened in 1999 with Kevin Smith’s Dogma, a movie that earned its own director multiple death threats.
In comparison with these movies and the repercussion they had on society, Noah is a mild film. But it still rises controversy by the mere fact that it strays from the original story. Adnan Khan, president of the Christian Union Society at the University of Westminster in London, believes that, for the sake of movie storytelling, “it is necessary to use creativity to aid the ‘telling of the story’, but not to actually change the story altogether and distort characters.”
“It is very rare to find a movie that is 100% accurate to a biblical narrative. This is because the actual narrative of Noah is only about 2400 words in Genesis, and not once do you see Noah actually speak in the text. So of course some invention and elements are necessary to be added in order to turn it into a two hour film,” explains Khan. “But when these creative liberties negatively distort the actual personality of the character or narrative of the story, then it is only fair that the film gets criticised.”
The opinion of Khan is a sample of what most people have said about Noah. But for Aronofsky, the idea showing the life of this character on the big screen was a challenge: “The struggles, the effort of building an ark, of being responsible for all those animals, for your family, it’s not explored at all. So how exciting to actually say, ‘Oh wow, here’s this great story, how do we put human emotion into it?’”
Like other movies that came before and others that will come after, the complications of adapting a religious text – whether it is Christian, Jewish or Muslim – will not go away. There will always be people offended, and not even the most faithful director can create something that pleases everyone.