ILA ON THE ARK?: EMMA WATSON IN NOAH
Emma Watson plays a young woman named Ila in Aronofsky's "Noah." Ila is part of the family, but as Noah's adopted daughter, she is not biologically related to her familial love interest. Shem, Noah's son appears in movie stills with his arm wrapped around Ila. With Gavin Casalegno and Skylar Burke playing Young Shem and Young Ila respectively, their romance/story probably begins back in their childhood. Little else can be said for sure.
The pre-release media provides scarce information about the character of Ila, and unfortunately, the biblical and extra-biblical literature does not shed any greater light. Is Ila a mystery, merely a figment of the film's imagination?
Ila does not appear in the Genesis flood story. Genesis 6-10:1 repeatedly announce the human passengers on the ark, but no full roster of names appears. Along with Noah, his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth frequently receive mention. But the women, in particular, go unnamed. They are only known as wives in the Genesis tale.
Genesis 7:13 specifically numbers the people at eight. But in Gen 7:1, Noah's whole "household" plans to board. In the Hebrew Bible, surrogate children could be counted as sons or daughters of the father's household. An adopted daughter like Ila could be an implied ship mate. As Shem's love-interest, Ila might also stand in for Shem's wife. While Ila is not named in Genesis, it's not impossible that her character belongs on the 'biblical' ark.
The real mystery lies in Ila's name. Ancient flood stories written both before and in response to the Genesis tale amplify the role of women, supplying names and character development in some cases. Jennifer Connelly plays Naameh, Noah's wife. Naameh figures regularly in Rabbinic and Jewish tradition. The Book of Jasher links her with the famous Enoch tradition; she is the astrologer's son (5:15). And Madison Davenport plays Na'el, the wife of Ham. Several different variants of this name occur in extra-biblical tradition. In Jubilees, Ham's wife is Na'elatama'uk. Her name inspires the first city, which Ham builds in honor of her after the flood has ceased (Jub 7:14). But we can understand why Aronofsky would go with the short version of her name: Na'el.
Ila is nowhere to be found in pre-biblical, biblical, or post-biblical flood literature. It is a modern Jewish name, so there is some warrant for digging into Jewish sources. For instance, there is a 'Rabbi Ila' in early rabbinic stories. He runs in the famous Rabbi Yohanan's circles in Tiberias. In one story, Rabbi Ila climbs the stairs of his friend, Rabbah bar Shila. Aronofsky could have used that as an opening line for a bad joke. (Bavli tractate Hagigah 5b). But let's face it, Emma Watson is, no doubt, too cute to play a middle-aged rabbi.
Modern Hebrew is no more helpful. Ila (עִלָּה) means cause or reason. Perhaps Emma Watson plays a pivotal role in some major plot twist? Hila (הִלָּה) means halo, aura, or light. Unless Aronofsky cast her in a fashion shoot, or recycled her persona as Hermione Granger, these modern Hebrew meanings do not seem right.
There's a language in Northern Rhodesia known as Ila. Okay, Google was no help either.
No, to crack the Aronofsky code on Ila's name, we must look to the ancient stories of India. In them, Ila is a primordial woman, at least part of the time. Manu, her father and first man, also happens to be the flood hero. Although Manu had 10 children, two became the progenitors of humanity: Ikshvaku of the solar dynasty and Ila of the lunar dynasty.
The Indian flood story is told at least twice, in the older Mahabharata and in the Puranas. The longest epic in world literature, the Mahabharata recounts how Manu rides out the flood in a boat. He is accompanied by seven sages and a great fish with whom he had been speaking for some time. The fish pulls the boat along for several years until Manu has the chance to tie it to a mountain. As the flood waters began to recede, the fish reveals: "'I am Brahma, the Lord of all creatures; there is none greater than myself. Assuming the shape of a fish, I have saved you from this cataclysm" (section 186).
Except that there is one greater. The later versions in Puranas revere Vishnu.
In the Matsya and Bhagavata Puranas the flood is more mystical and fabulous. In the Mahabharata, as if an afterthought, Manu brings aboard some seeds that he collected. In the Puranas, the power of his yoga draws living things to him. Even the role of the animals is extravagant in the Puranas; the snakes slither into a braided cord for the fish to pull the boat.
Ila does not appear directly in these flood stories. However, her relationship to Manu and to the gods does animate several narratives. In some versions, her connection to Manu is straightforward. She is his oldest biological daughter, although because he wanted a son, her gender switches at various points of her story.
The idea of an adoptive daughter owes to several Puranas in which Manu and his wife cannot have children. They petition a sage, who performs a series of rituals to produce the surrogate child, Ila. In all but two tales, Ila's female gender is a problem, so she spends half of her time in these stories as male. Nevertheless, the Mahabharata and all of the Puranas identify Ila as a member of Manu's family who enters the stories female.
These ancient Hindu myths and epics provide a variety of creative fodder for Emma Watson's character in "Noah." The lunar dynasty, her geneological offspring, are sometimes depicted as the righteous rulers who arrive after centuries of evil kingship. That Ila is partnered with Shem makes this story line attractive, since Shem is the biblical progenitor of the Isrealite peoples. Their marriage would merge two chosen and noble groups.
In some stories, Ila suffers a divine curse for entering a sacred forest. The "Noah" film will depict a sacred forest, planted by Watchers to assist in building Noah's ark.
In that same forest, Ila's beauty attracts the affections of the god of Murcury with whom she enjoys a month of delicious but unfortunately forgettable sex. Nevertheless, she marries him and begins bearing children in the lunar dynasty.
More than likely, Ila's character will not follow any of these mythological scripts to a tee. Rather, her presence in Aronofsky's "Noah" will offer up a larger point about western monotheism, holding ancient Indian ideas about healing and meditation up to the problem of evil. "The end of the world is just the beginning" read the film posters - a beginning with a new consciousness. Ila will help "Noah" move the development of humankind forward to overcome, as in the Hindu literature, the divinity and cosmos of destruction:
I will remain on the ocean, O chief of men, until a night of Brahma shall be completely ended. Thou shalt then know my true greatness, rightly named the Supreme Godhead; by my favour all thy questions shall be answered, and thy mind abundantly instructed.
~ Vishnu in Bhagavata Purana
January 28, 2014
Noah's family joined him on the voyage.
Sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth ride out the waves.
But who were the women on Noah's ark?
Passengers on the Ark according to Genesis
God tells Noah to "come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you" (Gen 6:18).
The LORD tells Noah to "go into the ark, you and all your household" (Gen 7:1).
"And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives went into the ark" (Gen 7:7).
"Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark" (Gen 7:13).
"Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark" (Gen 7:23).
God tells Noah to "Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you" (Gen 8:16).
"So Noan went out with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives" (Gen 8:18).
"God blessed Noah and his sons..." (Gen 9:1).
"The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled" (Gen 9:18-19).
"These are the descendants of Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; children were born to them after the flood" (Gen 10:1).
The 18 Puranas were first committed to writing between the 4th - 10th centuries CE. They tell of the creation, destruction, and renovation of the world, the geneology of the gods, and the eras of the Manus, the first humans. Written in Sanskrit verse, the Puranas represent the scriptures of popular Hinduism. They transformed the older Brahminism into a religion of devotion, describing worship of the gods, dharmic living, and the struggle within each person between light and darkness.
The Mahabharata, written between 300 BCE - 200 CE, is the national epic of India. It represents a living collection of classic Hindo tradition. It describes a great war at the transition of the ages. All of the myths, legends, jokes, laws, and customs shed light or connect back to this cosmic change in the cycles of existence.