If Aronofsky’s Noah met the Qur’anic Noah they probably wouldn’t recognise each other
WARNING: Contains Spoilers
Mass human outrage is no stranger to our 21st-the-pope’s-on-Twitter-and-Russell-Crowe-is-irritating-him century. And there’s no better way to earn your Hollywood director stamp of approval than by interpreting (or butchering) an old, cherished religious tale causing the social media world to combust into a smoke of moral panic and critical acclaim.
The $125 million production of Noah was never going to be a scriptural rendition, but its promotion provided enough ambiguity to attract a variety of audiences. Jewish, Christian and Muslim bloggers put forward their reviews and several countries banned the film. Director Darren Aronofsky said in an interview that, in addition to the Bible, he referred to the Book of Enoch, the Jubilees and the Dead Sea Scrolls to develop the script, but surprisingly – certainly on a budget like this – the Qur’an did not form a part of this research.
While the Biblical Noah is described in the Story of Genesis (5:32-10:1) in linear and relatively brief detail, the Qur’an mentions Prophet Noah an astonishing 43 times across various chapters, zooming-in on moments of emotive dialogue and zooming-out to show the message of the prophets and the condition of mankind.
The plot of this film focuses on the plans of the ominous, absent Creator who is a cruel rationalist seeking revenge, just like his burdened creation Noah (Russell Crowe) seems to do in this reading. It hones in on the lives of Noah’s sons and Shem’s wife Ila (Emma Watson) who ends up pregnant with twin girls – through a man-triggered miracle funnily enough – and finally Noah’s deranged mission to kill these newborns so they don’t ruin the Creator’s wishes.
The resulting two-hour-twenty-minute screening is effortlessly terrible. It’s quite clear that the makers couldn’t decide whether they wanted the film to be a historical narration, a war movie, a sci-fi or a documentary, and eventually they seem to settle for a comic jumble of all of these. Although some of the time-lapse sequences of arid and fertile landscapes are beautiful, they are juxtaposed with odd CGI interpretations of the snake and the apple in Genesis and fallen angels who look like Transformers, as well as pre-David-Attenborough-recorded scenes of nature. Aside from the rainbows, the film is dark and deadly with all the lack of emotion that such a theme should bring. Aronofsky may have produced a genuine feeling of worms under your skin in his swishy, pretty, creepy direction of Black Swan, but there is no visual coherence to be found here, nor is there the Maximus-esque hero of Gladiator. (Honestly speaking, Crowe and Watson didn’t do too badly considering they were stuck in such a ridiculous script.)
So where does Noah fit in with Islam? Well, the Qur’an explains that Prophet Mohammed is the last in line of a series of prophets including Noah, all of whom preached the truth of One God; as such, previous scriptures including the Old Testament are believed to be revelations from the same God and have been altered with the course of time. That the original Arabic Qur’an has remained unaltered since its completion 1382 years ago is seen, by Muslims and according to the Qur’an itself, as a miracle of God.
Here are six ways the Qur’anic story compares to the Hollywood version:
1) Noah does not hide in a little tent away from the city
The Qur’an: Noah, much like Mohammed, emerges right from within the heart of his community whom he loves and cares for, hoarding immeasurable patience, spending 950 years preaching to his people to believe in God and to stop committing evil on earth. He is their “brother” and he calls them “my people” in the Qur’an (The Poets 26: 106 and 117).
“Build the Ark under Our eyes and with Our inspiration. Do not plead with Me for those who have done evil – they will be drowned.” The Qur’an (Hud 11:37)
The film: Noah lives in fear away from civilisation and has virtually no interaction with the community before the flood.
2) Noah is mocked before the flood
The Qur’an: Noah’s community gets fed up of his warning message and threatens to stone him to death.
“So he began to build the Ark, and whenever leaders of his people passed by, they laughed at him. He said, ‘You may scorn us now, but we will come to scorn you.’” The Qur’an (Hud 11:38)
The film: As Noah appears to be fulfilling his mission in the most brutal of ways, his own family begin to lose faith in him and ask if he is a madman. This is all after the flood (when they really should have more conviction after seeing what has just manifested itself).
3) Noah boards the ark with more than just his family
The Qur’an: God saves all the people who believe in Him and His message alongside Noah. The animal couples are mentioned briefly in the Qur’an (11:40) but this is not where the emphasis lies.
“So We saved him and his followers in the fully laden ship, and drowned the rest. There truly is a sign in this, though most of them do not believe.” The Qur’an (The Poets 26: 119-121)
The film: Noah boards the ark with his supportive wife, his sons and Ila. The rest of the townspeople cling on to the boat, their last moments spent screaming in agonising horror, while Noah sits silently inside.
4) Noah’s son disbelieves from the outset
The Qur’an: In a deeply painful moment for Noah, his only mentioned son dismisses his father’s warning and says he will retreat to the highest mountain to avoid the flood. He and his mother are considered among the evildoers and are drowned.
“It sailed with them on waves like mountains, and Noah called out to his son, who stayed away, ‘Come aboard with us, my son, do not stay with the disbelievers… Today there is no refuge from what God has commanded…’” The Qur’an (Hud 11: 42-43)
The film: The middle son, Ham (Logan Lerman), is a troubled character who, similar to the biblical narrative, decides to put a backpack on and head off after the deluge is over.
5) Noah is not protected by fallen angels
The Qur’an: Angels in Islam do not have free will and exist to execute the worship of God. The most dominant parable of a fallen worshipper is that of Iblees, a creature of the jinn who had acquired the elevated status of an angel, but then became Shaytan (Satan).
“When We told the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam’, they all bowed. But not Iblis, who refused and was arrogant…”. The Qur’an (The Cow: 2: 34)
The film: Whether the guilt-ridden fallen angels, or ‘The Watchers’ as they are called, are based on the Nephilim in the Bible or apocryphal myths, they are possibly the film’s biggest flaw in visual conception and in plot choice.
6) The earth is meant for mankind
The Qur’an: The earth is inherited by the believers of God and the advent of the flood remains as a sign of God for everyone who follows.
“Remember how He made you heirs after Noah’s people, and increased your stature: remember God’s bounties, so that you may prosper.” The Qur’an (The Heights 7: 69)
The film: The ending presents a depiction of both the biblical rainbow and Noah’s moment of weakness. In the lead-up to this, Noah emphasises the Creator’s wish that mankind cease to continue on earth. His immediate family are intended as the last people on earth… until the twins come along.
Where Aronofsky’s Noah sinks into post-flood depression, dishevelled and defeated, the Qur’anic Noah sees the outcome of the thousand-year strife finally balanced and turns to God re-assured and enlightened. So although the film may be a more human account of Noah, the Islamic Noah is a more humane account.
The film’s flood leaves a world stripped and hollow, whereas the Qur’anic flood allows the earth to re-enter clothed with the truth of God and an abundance of hope.
The Qur’an translation is taken from the Oxford University Press version by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem (2010). With thanks to Vue Cinema, Harrow, London.
Image from: http://teaser-trailer.com/movie/noah/
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