Dream Work Noah: The Cinematic and Jewish Greatness of the Weirdest Story Ever Told
Noah is not without its flaws, but it is, all-in-all, the most daring, powerful, in some ways, truest bit of cinematic Bible I've ever seen. It's expansion of the story is, in many ways, extraordinarily supple. Some of most critical dialogue spoke by the characters is wording lifted directly from other parts of the Bible. At the end of the first act, an archly biblical event occurs (Spoiler Alert): the miraculous restoration of fertility to a barren woman. The wrenching second act where (Spoiler Alert) Noah concludes God wants him to slay his grandchild is appropriated from the Akedah of Isaac, making it completely biblical in spirit, and is artfully used by Hendel and Aronofsky to further their vision of Noah as a proponent of "deep ecology," the ideology that holds the earth would be better off if humans were extinct (or self-extinguished). And as for Aronofsky's insertion of "environmentalism" into the an Iron age story, well, he does no more violence to the integrity of the biblical ethos than the folks who retroject middle-class, industrial age "family values" onto the Bible, a document that regards polygamy, concubinage, and captive- and slave-brides as normative. Aronofsky's biblical hook is obvious - the world is "corrupted" by man's presence and God and Noah "conserve" all the animals, not just the ones that directly benefit humanity.
Of course, what captivated me most was the fearless integration of Jewish second-temple, rabbinic, and mystical traditions into the story. The film-makers, as is the norm in Hollywood, freely adapt these things, but they are there, none-the-less, in glorious homage to Jewish folklore and esoteric tradition. These are the ones I saw:
Watchers: The fallen angels, based in Gen. 6:4 and grandly elaborated on in the Book of Enoch and the Book of Giants, are a big part of the storyline; mostly cleverly, their presence explains how a family of 6 (it was 8 in Genesis) could build the greatest maritime project before the industrial age. Aronofsky elides the more lurid part to the tradition, their coupling with human women and producing giant offspring, focusing instead on their role in Enoch as the bringers of knowledge and technology to humanity.
Tzohar: The glowy-explosive substance used repeatedly in the movie is based on the tzohar, a miraculous gemstone that tradition tells us illuminated the interior of the ark. This concept, surprisingly, is linguistically embedded right in the middle of the Noah narrative, as you can read here:
The Sword of Metheusaleh: The miraculous demon-slaying sword gets a cameo in a flashback (literally) sequence, where we see the ante-deluvian "grandfather" wield it against evil hordes:
The garment of Adam: Here the connection seems the most tenuous, but I assume this is where the idea for the magical-glowing-serpent skin-arm tefillin worn by the shamanic patriarchs of Seth is derived from. In Jewish tradition, the garment is made from the hide of Leviathan. Here, it's the sloughed-off, pre-corruption skin of the edenic serpent. Though we do not see this idea developed in the movie, the garment of Adam gave one the power to command animals:
Tubal-Cain: The terrifying and terrified king is constructed from a single verse of Genesis where he is credited as a worker of bronze and iron, but is then fused with the midrashic King Nimrod, the power-mad tyrant of rabbinic fantasy who attacks God's messengers. His stow-away on the ark is no doubt borrowed from the midrashic biography of King Og of Bashan, a ante-deluvian giant who survives the deluge by clinging to the exterior of the ark.
Of course, the big picture is all in my book:
Zal G'mor: To learn more, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism -http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
These were the most obvious mythic elements borrowed from Jewish folklore. I'm going back to see the movie again, and I'll update you with what else catches my eye. You should see it too. Weird, wonderful, fantastic in all senses of the word.