11 Comments

  1. Thank you, Jonathan, for taking this movie seriously for what it is. It is, of course, a largely fictionalized bible story – a movie about scriptural interpretation. As such, it stands in a long tradition of Orthodox Jewish and Orthodox Christian fictionalized interpretation (midrash, hagiography, and hymnography containing many other venerable examples).

    It is strange how many critics have misunderstood this movie. Some Christians ‘thinkers’ have rejected it because they think it exalts a new-age Hollywood environmentalist religion. And yet, the movie daringly shows us the dark extreme to which that religion will take us if carried to its logical conclusion – murder of one’s own family. On the contrary, the story is about the failure and defeat of Noah’s twisted ideas, and at the end, God Himself affirms the choice of human life.

    Indeed Noah and Tubal Cain are two sides of the same distortion of man’s relationship with nature. But I am not sure the movie was completely missing the in-between ideal. Noah’s wife and sons were genuinely seeking a middle ground, and often seemed like the only sane people present. And the brilliant character of Methuselah did offer an example of someone fully at peace with creation. Though he superficially resembled a pagan shaman, he did the work of a Christian priest and saint. He offered Noah communion with God through a cup, and healed his daughter with the laying-on of hands. At the end of his life, he came down from the mountain to seek communion himself, which he sought in the form of a wild berry. Like Mary of Egypt, he took communion at the very last moment of his long life, and then received death with great joy, arms outspread in prayer.

    1. At first when I read your comment I did not agree, but I woke up this morning with a hunch, and upon verifying the movie credits I discovered that my hunch was right. Noah’s wife is named Naameh, which means she is Tubal-Cain’s sister. This adds much to your thesis. It also made me consider more closely the last scene, where Naameh is shown working the soil, and it is in this act that she is reconciled with Noah. This also shows what you are saying, because with the fall, God tells man that he will have to work the earth, and in the movie human beings have been reduced to hunters (Tubal Cain) and gatherers (Noah). So by having Naameh find a new beginning with Noah in working the earth it shows the balance we are looking for. I just wish they would have had the sacrifice, or eat meat without blood. But I know that in terms of narrative, it would have cause seizures in the audience, although it could possibly have caused a direct enlightenment like a Zen coan!

  2. Subdeacon Nick

    I recommend Fr. David Subu’s review, a link to which can be found here:
    http://stmaryorthodox.org/newsletter-archives

    1. That is indeed a very good and complete analysis of the storyline in light of scripture and ancient beliefs. Thank you for suggesting it.

    2. Thanks, that is really quite complete indeed.

  3. Thank you both, Jonathan Pageau and Andrew Gould. I appreciate your depth of research and understanding of imagery used to carry that information. Most people these days do not think symbolically and thus miss so much of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Thank you for widening our vision and thinking.
    Bess Chakravarty

    1. Thank you for the kind words Bess.

  4. […] fine Orthodox visual artist has a much different take on Noah than did Roman Catholic Barbara Nicolosi. Meanwhile, I’m thinking I should re-up for Netflix […]

  5. Brenden Link

    Jonathan, thank you. I really have enjoyed reading your posts.

    I was wondering if you could offer more thoughts on the film/video medium itself, and its proper priority in the material hierarchy you’ve mentioned elsewhere.

    Everybody realizes that most of what passes across the “silver screen” (or liquid crystal display) functions as a phenomenon of amusement, entertainment, and objectification. But I think most would agree this merely demonstrates the medium’s perversion, not its potential. Such examples surely do not exhaust the possible uses of film. And I know Orthodox Christians are using film as an artistic medium.

    But given your understanding of symbol, material, and iconicity as a liturgical iconographer, I would like to know your thoughts on how Christians can better understand and use film and/or video toward the kingdom of God.

    To put the question simply: What is the possible relation between film and the icon?

    Thank you,

    1. I definitely think the medium of cinema is worth thinking about in relation to the icon and to liturgical symbolism, but I fear many will disagree with my conclusions. Almost all of my articles on symbolism are about death, about the movement to the edge and to the end, what that looks like and what that means. There is a reason why I am dealing with these issues rather than others, and this is because I am hoping people will notice that our current world is overflowing with this symbolism. It is not that sacred symbolism is somehow not active anymore in our world, but rather it is that we have come to edge of it. So if we look at the symbolism of death in the Bible, in icons and in Tradition, we will find that this very symbolism is the matrix for the contemporary world. And so this is what I think cinema is made of, and the categories you mention, amusement, entertainement and objectification are part of this symbolism, just like the “Carnaval” is associated with the end of a cycle in almost every culture. (For ex. in Orthodoxy, our Carnaval happens on the same day as the commemoration of the Last Judgement, for Jews it is Purim, Romans it is the Saturnals etc.) We see it more and more clearly in “event” movies, that is the big Blockbuster type movies, these (as the latest Noah) are like liturgies for the end of the world… so if we were to give a positive spin to this, and as I have been suggesting in most of my articles, death and glory are mirror images of each other, and one can always be transformed into the other through Christ. So if we were to compare cinema, or rather the potential of cinema to an icon, I would compare it to the icon of the Last Judgement. In this icon, we find a synthesis of almost all the iconographic principles and elements into one, but the same icon can also dwell on the fantastical, the gory, the sensual and the anecdotal… I myself once upon a time wrote an epic type screenplay with my brother that attempted to “flip” death into glory, and sometimes in some movies there is a tiny glimpse of that but it is usually not in “Christian” movies.

      1. That’s a brilliant insight, Jonathan. I have often watched a big action/destruction/apocalypse type movie, and felt overwhelmed by the beauty of it. The slowed-down, visually extravagant cinematography of vast destruction is a lot like liturgical beauty – especially how we prolong the hymns of the Passion in Holy Week, and surround the tomb of Christ in flowers and candles. Even the dark, mysterious, nearly monochrome, palette of such movies is downright Byzantine in character. I think you are quite right to call them liturgies for the end of the world!

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