The more things change, the more things stay the same
I’ll admit it. I expected to find little of real value in this movie. Pleasantly, that was not the case. Yes, Noah is often reminiscent of a bad-ass action hero. Yes, the environmental message is heavy-handed. But I found much to celebrate in Darren Aronofsky’s creative gap-filling, including the environmental message. I appreciate the addition of the voices and images of the people who were condemned to death by drowning, an aspect disturbingly absent from the Genesis account. I appreciate that Aronofsky provides a reason for Noah’s post-flood drunkenness, which he interprets as an attempt to escape the brutality of his experience and his alienation from his family.
I was especially pleased to see more fully-developed female figures in the story, Noah’s wife Naameh and Ila, their adopted daughter. Naameh resists Noah’s decision to end humankind; she saw the potential of love in human beings. She was not passive in the face of what seems like Noah’s divergence into extremity and possible madness. She has a different interpretation of the potential of human love and refuses to abdicate that interpretation, even though her husband was the one with the direct connection to God. I enjoyed the freedoms Aronofsky took with the text, the way he adapted an ancient text and made it speak to issues of moral and ethical decision-making today. So, despite some relatively minor gripes, I had an enjoyable viewing experience and found myself thinking about conversations that might happen with my students about this film as a retelling of a biblical narrative.
And then came the scene at the end with the blessings of the twin babies with the snake skin. I held my breath. Could it be that Aronofsky would put a blessing of daughters in the mouth of Noah? Could it be that daughters would be the ones to carry the new light of human kindness into the new creation? Daughters!? I thought to myself, “It fits! He has taken so many liberties with the text, filled so many holes in a way that causes us to imagine what a new creation might be, what hope for humanity might involve. He is going to empower young women to be the leaders, the kind, compassionate, resilient, strong, humane leaders of the new creation, just as Naameh is! He is going to do it!”
Yes, indeed, it came to pass. Noah blessed the daughters. But the blessing was far from what I had hoped: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” My hopes fell flat. Why must the blessing of daughters be about reproduction? Of all the words of blessing we might offer to a new generation that is saved by the birth of female babies, why must it be about procreation? I grant that Aronofsky has a positive estimation of the role of parenting in the redemption of creation, a theme that is abundantly clear in the film. But the blessing to the daughters was not about their importance as mothers. It was about procreation. Have children. Have a lot of children. This affirmation of traditional roles for women is especially disappointing in a film that is so aesthetically and interpretively creative, so excellent at noticing the gaps in the text, the places in the narrative that deserve our attention and careful interpretation. I applaud the creativity that Aronofsky employed in this film. I only wish he had not abandoned that creativity in the final moments. I wish he had said something new, something suggestive, something thought-provoking to all of us about the role of young girls, that they carry the light of the new generation, that their value is not solely in their ability to have children, that they can be wise, resilient, capable leaders of a humane, just, and kind society. Now that would be a blessing.