Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Puerile Patriarchs of an Infantilized God.
Mythological meme mutations in contemporary cinema
Abstract: This paper discusses the mythological shift generated by the process of cultural infantilization, using two recent feature films, based on two of the most important Biblical characters, Noah and Moses. These movies, labeled as forms of “Hollywood heresy”, Zionist distortions or even anti-Christian deceptions are analyzed in the context of the transformation in the representations of God (and the prophets) in contemporary culture, which is seen by the author as part of a mutation in the “genome of the God meme”. Starting with the hypothesis of a “third Golden Age of the Biblical Epic” the authors advances the concept of meme mutation, considering that a most recent “mind virus” is rapidly multiply in our popular culture, through a process that can be called the versatile revision of narratives, one perpetuated by deception and distortion, in a viral propagation that accelerates certain meme replications. The hypothesis is that we are facing a defective cultural mutation one in which, by transfer of qualities, the visual and ideological representations are carrying parasitic manifestations, malignant traits which are in turn perpetuated in our contemporary mongrelized mythological replication. This study is based on the interpretation of two different forms of cinematic interpretations of myths in recent movie making: exegetic and eisegetic. These two approaches to mythological re-writing in cinema are also identifiable with oversimplification and overcomplication of narratives.
Keywords: Bible Epics; Hollywood Noah; Moses; Cinema Narratives; Myth in Cinema; Meme Mutation; Cultural Revision; Mongrelized Mythologies.
2014 seemed to be the year of the return of the Bible Epics in contemporary cinema: Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings together with the “Genesis to Revelation” TV miniseries, broadcasted on History channel, and the subsequent theatrical release of Son of God (2014) attracted millions of viewers worldwide. Paraphrasing Babington and Evans, who identified two “Golden Ages” of Biblical Epic, one in the 20’s and the second in the mid 50’s, the latest dominated by productions like Mervyn LeRoy’s Quo Vadis (1951), DeMille’s Samson and Delilah, and culminating with the classical The Ten Commandments (1956), one could foresee that a possible “third Golden Age of the Biblical Epic” was underway.
Yet the two feature films, based on two of the most important Biblical characters, managed to simultaneously offend fundamentalist Muslims, radical Christians and a couple of Jewish Rabbis. Clearly this third age of Biblical epic has put in motion some controversial mental constructs, that managed to irritate the beliefs of all three “Abrahamic” faiths. Clearly, the contemporary cinema cannot be understood without its roots in the Bible. In fact, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are interconnected by several biblical narratives, stories and characters that permeated our cultures for millennia. The cinematic medium is filled with allusions, quotations, elements of storytelling and plots inspired from all the Scriptures, from Genesis to the Apocalypse. As Adele Reinhartz (2003) properly summarized it, the occurrences of biblical references in movies are ubiquitous in our contemporary visual culture, and one would suppose that there is a global adherence to the Bible narratives and themes. Yet the negative reactions towards these movies were unprecedented.
In December 2014 many Muslim countries, like Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, issued a religious ban for Exodus: Gods and Kings, claiming that the movie contradicted the “holy books”. In Egypt the movie was labeled as “Zionist” and the culture minister of the country censored the screening of Noah. Simultaneously many Christian magazines, like “Beginning and End”, called for the religious to boycott the latest production of Ridley Scott, even calling it another example of the “Hollywood heresy”. Just a couple of months before the same reactions were provoked by the release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. Evangelical Christians were scandalized by the “liberal bias” of the production and warned about the environmentalist political message, many calling the movie a “deception”, a “distortion” of the Christian doctrine and even labeling it as anti-Christian. The Christian writer Brian Godawa went on and described Aronofsky’s Noah as an “environmentalist wacko”. At the other end of the fundamentalist rejection, the censors in Quatar and the United Arab Emirates banned the movie Noah, initially because the Islamic tradition prohibits showing the prophets and any of the messengers of Allah. Thus a fatwa was issued by Muslim scholars, forbidding the believers to watch the film; Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and many other countries prohibited the viewing. According to these arguments, Nabi Nuh (Noah’s name in Islam) was a Prophet and his representations were an offense to God. Other critics accused Scott of purposeful manipulation, of being anti-religious and promoting religious and historical inaccuracies (White); while Paramount had to add a disclaimer in Aronofsky’s movie that it was only “inspired by the story of Noah” and that “artistic license has been taken”.
Last but not least, Jewish scholars added to the chorus of criticism. If some Christian biblical scholar, such as Joel McDurmon, called Noah a form of “Jewish paganism”, Rabbi Marc Gellman considered that Aronofsky’s film was “unbiblical” since it “inverted” the biblical teachings, while pointing out the fact that no wizards are accepted in the Bible, since all the miracles are emanating from God. This view was also shared by Rabbi Benjamin Blech, who saw in this version of Noah a clear “distortion of the Torah”, nothing more than a typical Hollywood treatment which is misleading the viewers with a “Kosher facade”.
Mongrel mythologies and meme mutations
How can all these negative reactions be explained; is it simply due to the controversial nature of the plots, or the radically different views of such well known characters? The key argument of this paper is that these rejection are rooted in the unfamiliar nature of both Noah and Moses, and the fact that both movies and both biblical characters are considered to be manifestations of cultural distortion it is an indication of profound changes in the imaginary of our contemporary mythologies. The starting argument is that this very distortion is part of a cultural meme mutation. I am using the concept of cultural meme in the initial sense that Richard Dawkins coined the term in 1976; ideas and beliefs that grow virally in our culture and are transmitted just as our genes, by replication (Dawkins 1976/ 2006 189). In Dawkins’ own description, the “memes” are cultural replicators, units of culture that are transmitted via imitation and which are subsequently “selected” naturally by popularity or longevity, propagating through time and by following the rules and mechanisms of evolution. The very idea of God was identified by Dawkins as one produced in a “meme pool” (Dawkins 192), and the transformation in the representations of God (and his prophets) must be seen as a mutation in the genome of the meme. As Robert Wright further pointed out in his thought provocative book Evolution of God (2009), this process of evolution in religiousness continues to this day, perpetuated by shared narratives about values, moral principles and by cultural practices. These constantly renewed “mind viruses” rapidly multiply in our popular culture through a process that I would call the versatile revision of narratives. Just as it is the case with biological evolution, in cultural evolution deception and distortions are fundamental building blocks for myth formations. The main idea is that, in the process of accelerated meme replication, some of the best results are generated by defective cultural mutations; sometimes, together with the transfer of qualities, the visual and ideological memes are carrying parasitic manifestations, malignant traits which are in turn perpetuated in our contemporary mongrelized mythological replication.
Another argument is that the phenomenon we see today is part of a completely different process from what happened in modernity – when the dominant cultural operation can be described by what Maurice Friedman identified as the nihilistic process of modernity. Modern myths are manifested as forms of recognition of the „absence of meaning” (Friedman 1967). The assumption is that the modern emptying of meaning is followed by a re-mythologizing put into place by distorted transformation. This can be illustrated with the mutations in the classical figures of Noah and Moses, who are integrated in the contemporary revisionism of “old” narratives and myths, and within this mutating process they suffer major transmutation. This evolutionary cultural activity is characterized by the ability to replicate parts of disjoined myths and then, through an effort of re-joining, the traits generate nonsensical manifestations, with irreverent and almost irrational consequences.
Behaving as mutant myths, the new stories of Moses and Noah must be analyzed as indicators of profound cultural transformations. Thus, by analyzing these movies as cultural products that express fundamental mutations, we can decipher not only their religious content, but also their evolutionary repercussions. One certain fact is undisputed – “old” religious myths are re-integrated into the mainstream of our popular culture today, even if this culture is deeply secularized. The passage of many of these myths follows the path of migration from one medium to another, and they are constantly transmuted as they move from cartoons to television, from advertising to video gaming and finally into cinema. As they generate a revisited version of the Bible (and of many other sacred texts) these myths become part of a sphere that no longer uses the religious settings for ideological purposes (see more on this subject in Neal Gabler, 1988), nor is it founded on the eternal conflict between Good and Evil, as used in the previous movies designed for global audience. These transformations are not founded on a specific ideological purpose, they are manifestations of a fuzzy history and a mongrel mythology – the best illustration for this funny and fuzzy distortion is the transformation of the monuments in the Gizeh plateau, where the traits of a Caucasian actor are included into the Egyptian mythological representations (in a total contrast with the historical image still in place at Abu Simbel).
Beyond the fixed meanings of the Scriptures
One of the main traits of the mutation of cultural memes is that we are moving beyond the “cultures of the Book” into the multifaceted domain of multimedia. The determinism of the medium had a major impact on the religious content; the myths and stories of “the Book” (the Torah, the Septuagint or the Qur’an) were based on a “faithful transmission” of fixed truths. The principle of canonical texts is, traditionally, founded on the hypothesis of the “divine inspiration”, such is the theological assumption that the five books of Moses (what we know as the Pentateuch – from the Greek penta = five) were dictated by God personally and directly, and that the angel Gabriel personally dictated to Mohammed the instructions of Allah. Thus, if the “Word of God” was produced by divine revelation, then the obvious consequence is that there is no possible intervention or transformation. Sola scriptura is the implicit commandment of all the cultures of fixed meanings by textual transmission. This idea is perpetuated also in the New Testament, which bluntly states that “all Scriptures are God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:15), thus Christians are not supposed to “add” nor to “subtract” anything from the Scriptures. By extension, in the cultures of fixed meanings there is no possible way to go beyond the canonical understanding of the divine texts. This rule of the “divine authorship” generates the dominant principle: that of the Biblical inerrancy – the biblical text is perfect and it has no flaws, no mutations are possible. Again the inheritance of Moses is a key for our understanding of this mechanism. The meanings of the Torah come straight from the first rabbi, Mosheh Rabbenu, that is Moses himself. The question is what happens when even Moses is subject to transmutation.
The interdiction of interpretation – put forward by God to Moses in Deuteronomy 4:2, in the so called exhortation to obedience – was perpetuated for a long time. At least the Hebrew Bible composed of the Five Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah), are treated for centuries not only as immutable meaning formation, but also as sacred objects (this is why we have today the scrolls from Qumran). It was a revolutionary development in the hermeneutic tradition when the most important Bible scholars have agreed that there are at least two different literary sources within the Scriptures, the Elohim (E) and Yahweh (J) versions. This hypothesis, first put forward by J. G. Eichorn in his 1785 study, argued that there were at the least two different documents, one centered on Elohim, normally rendered as “God” or “gods” in English, and Yahweh, normally rendered in English as “LORD”. Relevantly enough for our discussion, for the first time there was the idea of two competing God memes; while the Yahwist version of the story presented an anthropomorphic God, the Elohist version was based on the majestic plural and a more detached attitude. Later a priestly source was identified (P), with a strong personal component and a Deuteronomist writer (D), describing God as obedience seeker.
This opened the way to other studies of comparative biblical research, like that of Thomas William Doane who demonstrated more than a century ago that there are several ancient myths, persistent in the Babylonian, Sumerian, Greek and Egyptian civilizations, that re-occur in the Bible (Doane 1882). The Garden of Eden and the Fall of Mankind, the Deluge, The Tower of Babel or the Apocalypse are just a few examples for the commingling of narratives which characterizes the ancient text. While some authors described this “combinatoric” nature of the Biblical narratives as a binary one, others identified a multiple strata of influences. Obviously, as Oswalt has put it, there is a “combination of Greek and Hebrew thought” pervasive in the Bible, one which became the foundational feature of our Western civilization (Oswalt 7). For others there is an “Eastern Mediterranean culture”, which is characterized by an interpenetration of myths and meanings, based on the multiple influences generated in the Hellenistic period, with the radical claim that the Bible is nothing but a Hellenistic project (Bernd Diebner, qouted in Thompson and Vajdenbaum, 2014 2). Others, like Wajdenbaum, indicate the links between the Laws of Plato and the history of the Argonauts, even describing Moses as the “Argonaut of the Desert” (2011), while some researchers point to connections such as the Moses-Hermes relationship, or the Moses-Prometheus similarities. Clearly the biblical stories contain some of the oldest narratives of mankind, and they are to be considered as the result of multiple combinations, of blending several mythological sources and overlapping elements from various cultures.
The hypothesis here is that the integrity and unity approach of the Bible narratives is not only abandoned, but that we must take into consideration the process of contamination between images, symbols, themes and characters which are crossing from a medium to another. This fluent cultural contamination of the Bible narratives generated artifactual creations, predisposed to evolutionary transformations. The integration of multiple strata of stories, myths and fictions was re-generated with the proliferation of contemporary technologies. These stories, that have almost 3.000 years of free advertising are naturally adapted for the “silver screen” (Homan 2007 87). Yet it is in this contexts that we need to contest the radical argument put forward by Homan, who claims that any treatment of this subject would become ridiculous simply because of the “hindrance” of God, who prevents any mutation of his “sacred” narratives – with the tragic example presented by Josephus, that of the Greek poet Theodectes who was struck dead by God when he tried to put on stage a biblical story (quoted by Homan 88). Quite contrary, the phenomenon we are describing is actually reversed. It is God who is constantly transformed and this transformation can no longer be prevented.
The evolution of the memes of God
There are two confrontational memes in the evolution of the representations of God throughout the human history. Simplifying the argument, the first manifestation is the anthropomorphic and polymorphic representation from the polytheist religions. The multiple facets of the Gods, expressed in a large variety of images, covered almost all possible combinations of the human and the supernatural. From the Egyptian half-animal Gods, to the Greek realistic and all too human Gods, the Ancient world was populated with innumerable deities. The biggest transformation happened when a monotheistic religious meme took shape, probably during the eighteenth dynasty in Egypt, in the time of Akhenaten, considered by many to be “the first monotheist” of humanity and the creator of an iconoclastic religion (Assman 25). This mutation had a major consequence, and generated the second competing meme; one deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, following the interdiction of depicting the image of the Lord, which was considered a form of idolatry, similar to that of the polytheists, and explicitly prohibited in the book of Exodus (20: 4). This lead to a long history of the non-representable nature of God with profound consequences even today. This is one of the most important legacies of Moses, not only as a Lawgiver, but also as religious reformer, influencing subsequent religions who followed the Mosaic principles. For centuries no human representation of the Creator of the Universe were possible, and although very often substitutions were used (wings of angels, burning bush, clouds or beams of light coming from a triangle shape), these secondary representations were used as cloaking mechanisms.
While Islam and Judaism followed a radical path, the traditional representations of God in Christian iconography transferred the visual meme of the Supreme Gods from the Ancient Pantheons and generated an often bearded and physically powerful God, represented as an elderly male, sitting on a heavenly throne. This image, coupled with the depiction of the monotheistic God as the “Ancient of Days”, from the Book of Daniel, generated the classical representation of the “old” “white bearded” Supreme Being who, since he was present at the creation of the Earth, must be at least 5773 years old (in 2015, according to the ancient Hebrew calendar). Clearly the pagan representations of the Supreme God, or the Father of the Gods (Jupiter/ Zeus) played a major role in the development of the Christian image of God the Father. Although we have only replicas of the famous chryselephantine statue of Zeus sitting in the temple at Olympia – see the depiction of the statue of Zeus by Pausanias and the copies of the Roman Jupiter – the resemblance with the heavy bearded and long curly haired God, displaying an impressive upper body is manifest. As noted by many authors, such as Callahan in Secret Origins of the Bible (2002), this image of God the Father is also similar to that of the Gods from the Ugaritic and Canaanite religions. This is El Shaddai, the Almighty destroyer; he is the Pantokrator, the LORD Sabaoth, ruler of the heavenly hosts, the God of “wrath” and “jealousy”.
The most famous depiction of this meme we find in the classical painting of Michelangelo, placed on the cupola of the Sistine Chapel. When rendering the initial scene of Genesis, the Renaissance painter rendered God as an old man, with a long waiving beard, an octogenarian who is still strong, with a musculature that would stir the envy of any bodybuilder today. As we can observe if we take a closer look at the scene of the Creation of Adam, it is not only God who passes the divine light onto an immobile Adam, he is also a reversed image of his creation. The logic is plain: since God created man “in his image”, then Adam must be a younger version of God. As many interpreters have noted, the two poses of Adam and of God are in a dissimilar reflection, one is dynamic, the other is inert, one is in movement, the other is resting, so we can conclude that the anthropomorphic representation of God is a reflection of humanity. In a male dominated world, the divine representations could not be centered on anything else but the power of masculinity. Even more remarkably, the famous statue of Moses from the tomb of Julius II (1513-15) displays the same traits as those in the depiction of the Creator, the bodily and facial features offer an uncanny resemblance between the giver of the Laws and his humble servant, the sculptor.
Without going too far with this historical account, the hyper-masculinization of God was explicitly exported in early cinema. In two of the most popular movies about Moses, the classical DeMille version, and the 1975 Moses, with Burt Lancaster playing the Hebrew liberator, the male figure of the carrier of the “will of God” is quintessentially an expression of the domineering masculinity.
Yet, together with this masculinization another trait of the God meme was exported, and the major question of representing God remained unsolved in contemporary cinema. In the good tradition of Judeo-Christian rejection of idolatry, Hollywood remained reluctant to directly depict God and albeit there were numerous movies with religious content, only a couple of direct representations of the Creator were generated. In this respect, most of the cinematic representations of the divine went along with the idea that he is “the One without a name”, the un-representable Being, the Creator that has no image and who can kill by simply gazing at his presence (Exodus 33:20). There are several representations of lesser or higher angels (Michael, 1996; City of Angels, 1998) or of the Devil and many of his demons (Meet Joe Black, 1998; End of Days, 1999) and numerous apparitions of Christ (from the rock version in Jesus Christ Superstar (1973); to The Gospel According to Mathew, 1964; and the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988). Still, most often God was simply an off-screen whisperer, like in Field of Dreams (1989), or a mighty “Voice” as in the parodic computerized version as G. O. D. (General Organizational Directivatator) from In God We Tru$t (1980).
The beginning of the transformations happened with this subversive way of depicting God. Many cinematic representations of God used in fact shocking misrepresentations of the Supreme Being. If in the above mentioned movie of Marty Feldman the role of G.O.D. was assumed by Richard Pryor, Tom Shadyac’s two classical productions (Bruce Almighty, 2003 and Evan Almighty, 2007) switched from the typical Caucasian versions of God and replaced it by a more provocative version, that of an African American Creator, impersonated by Morgan Freeman. Yet both in Bruce Almighty, where the God-image is covering all the social strata, assuming politically correct stances as a janitor, electrician and finally a white suited executive, and in Evan Almighty, where God is involved in social awareness projects, the humorous depiction of God, based on an anthropomorphic perspective, perpetuated the old view of a paternal God, as the Father (literally as the Almighty) who knows what’s best for humanity. On the other hand, these cinematic representations were based on the transformation the biblical story lines or the most important episodes of the Bible into parodic versions. Just as in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, the viewers were exposed to comedic versions of the religious narratives. For instance Brooks turns the story of the ten commandments into a gag – as Moses comes down from the mountain with three tablets, he drops one. The same happens in Shadyac’s movies, where Bruce (taking the powers of the Almighty for a while) uses his godlike powers for frivolous “miracles”: pleasuring his girlfriend named Grace, using the divine power to teach his dog how to use the toilet seat or answering prayers by using yahoo mail. The Almighty is also parodic in the sequel, where Evan as a pseudo-Noah is turned into an environmentalist awareness activist, while the director adds an eleventh, goofy command to the old ones: “Thou shalt do da dance”!
The birth of the Hollywoodian God
In a sense the development of this “Hollywoodian God” was gradually made possible by this series of mutations, from the distant and dominant being to a laughable entity. This allowed the mutation towards the re-writing of the religious meme, through the logic of nonsense. As some authors have noted the self-description of God from the Exodus can be seen as nothing but a pun (Sandmel 1961) or even as profoundly nonsensical and mocking towards humanity (Caroll 1994), yet these biblical scholars (quoted by Hamilton 65), did not anticipated the process that ultimately will bring forth a total transformation of the “God meme”.
Many of the comic representation of God were reversals of roles, as it is the case with the dialogue in The Big Kahuna (1999), where the Absent God is no longer the powerful being (as the homonymous title suggests), but simply a coward hiding from his responsibilities. Nevertheless, the most radical change of identity happened when Lars von Trier depicted God as a woman in his radical Breaking the Waves (1996). From here on several relevant changes happened, and the most exemplifying production is Dogma (1999), a movie in which Alanis Morissette acts as female God, in a clear reversed reference to God the commanding Father. Now God is no longer the commanding voice, but only a nonverbal manifestation, one who changes from a silent and flower carrying being, who takes the fallen angel Bartleby (Ben Affleck) into her arms, to the shouting, earth trembling hysterical who blows up his head. After the she-God performs some miracles, does hand stand ups and makes funny faces. This “mockery” God, with a “muted” voice is accompanied by Kevin Smith as Metatron (The Voice of God), who appears as a pillar of fire which is easily put out with a fire extinguisher, and who later spits on God’s dress in order to clean his own t-shirt, while God makes an obscene gesture by touching her eye and smiles absurdly. The conclusion of the scene is momentous, and it comes from Metatron: “Didn’t I tell you that she was funny?”. This movie offers the demonstration of how the memetic transformation takes place – the creation of a “very relieved deity” happens by oversimplification. These films and others like The life of Brian, which regrettably Kreitze places in the category of fictive drama, are relevant examples of the changes in the most important religious meme of humanity.
My argument here is that this evolution is taking us beyond the downright parodic into an more profoundly nonsensical manifestation. In one of the earliest examples of comedic depictions of God, Carl Reiner’s movie Oh, God! (1977), George Burns plays God as an old man who comes to Earth to pick a messenger. In a parodic reference to Moses, Jerry Landers, the hero of the movie leads an ordinary life, until God calls him for a mission. Using the a typical postmodern tools of comedic reversal and the parodic re-interpretations, the director has God to admit self-deprecatingly that he has created the avocado seed to big and the giraffe’s neck too long. This parodic God is in tune with the other cinematic representations we followed – in a classical dialogue Jerry asks, just like Moses, “Why me?”, and God answers, “Why not you? You know those supermarket things”. By performing cheap tricks in the court room, and funnily admitting that the last miracle he did was the 1969 Mets game, this amusing (yet still elderly God) makes a relevant statement: “Getting inside little children”, claims the character developed by Reiner, “is a job for the Devil”. The comedic transformation of God through parodic transformation reached a memetic limit – as long as he doesn’t “get inside little children” he can be a woman or an African American. What if the infantilization of God could really take place?
Eisegesis and exegesis in cinematic representations
Before moving on the cinematic contents relevant for the argument I am putting forward, and without developing at length the question of biblical interpretation, understanding the interpretative interplay between the Scriptures and cinema is extremely important. Some authors (Aichele and Walsh 2002) describe the Bible as a “precursor”, attributing movies the inevitable role of recycling the Scriptures (viii). Yet we must discuss the nuances of the instances of these cinematic interpretation in relation with the canonic meanings of the biblical texts. Traditionally there are two fundamental approaches to the problem of interpretation; one that is permissive and the other restrictive. On one hand the first possible approach to any interpretation is a form of exegesis (ἐξήγησις) – that is an exodus, a moving away from the initial significations. As the Greek term indicates it, exegesis means “to take outside” and is opposed to the word eisegesis, which means “to bring inside”. That is because the interpretation process can also a process of bringing into the signification new meanings. And this is one of main problems which arises together with the formation of new mythological narratives.
When speaking about the Midrash, the Jewish tradition of interpreting the Torah, Jacob Neusner describes three fundamental ways of renderings the meanings: one that is paraphrastic, very liberal in its approach to the text, one is prophetic and the third one is allegorical, that is more close to the parable. For this view of the biblical meanings there are two forms of exegesis – as a re-reading of the story and the re-writing the narratives (Neusner 20), or as Victor P. Hamilton notes in his exegetical commentary of the book of Exodus, there is no exodus without an eisodus, no getting out without a getting in (xxii). The presupposition is that any interpretation (midrashic or homiletic) must be connected to the fixed and canonical meaning of the original texts.
What happens when we have an exodus as a form of escaping the captivity of the original narrative coupled with an eisodus, a insertion of inaccurate story lines within the old histories? The recent retellings of ancient (or even modern) narratives indicate that the shape of of the re-writing involves a simultaneous downgrading and degrading of the content. The question is what if the mechanisms of myth making have dramatically changed?
Of course, the re-writing of old stories is not a recent solution. As Stephens and McCallum indicated, the concept of retelling was often used with an ideological function, the transformation was put into place for the “ideological effect”. Each retold narrative was filled with new meanings, and the “re-version” of the old significations was to in order to generate support for the “new order”. This resulted in a reassembled form which carried a metanarrative purpose – the ideological context, including schemes, motifs and, more importantly social structures (Stephens and McCallum 3-4) are used to legitimize new social discourses.
My argument is that we are in another logic of re-codification of old narratives into new mythologies, and this is obvious if we look at the re-writing of biblical stories. Following the structure used by Larry Kreitzer, who described five categories of Bible presentation in cinema, we can add a new mode, based on the practice of strange re-mixing. The first and the most simple re-telling is the historical epic (the Bible as it happened); the fictive drama (fictional stories placed in biblical time); contemporary parable (allegorical references to the Bible); the passive allusion (narratives with residual biblical themes); and the mythological reshaping (reworking the stories) (Kreitzer 109-110). I think this final category deserves a detailed look and a more nuanced description. As Kreitzer provided the example from the “Cradle of Hope” episode of Xena: Warrior Princess TV series, we are witnessing a re-mix of mythological elements which sometimes is disorienting. We see the story of Moses mingled with the story of Pandora in the context of a heroic tale of a fictional woman hero – the process that is taking place in this 1995 episode must be considered an early indicator of a more profound cultural transmutation, which is taking place in our popular culture. The replication of various elements from multiple mythological narratives, their mutation into a single meaning and the recycling of heterogeneous narratives is a completely new phenomenon. It takes us beyond the pastiche, a concept used by Jameson to describe the postmodern way of thinking and even further from the concept of schizophrenic displacement of significance.
What Julian Barnes did in his History of the World in 101/2 Chapters (1989), which begins with a woodworm from the Ark, who is re-telling the story of mankind, is a form of mythological reshaping that belongs to the parodic. What happens with the contemporary mixing of the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales into a musical format that creates a hodgepodge from the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk (as is the case with Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods, 2014) is a completely different cultural phenomenon. I believe that, following the line of arguments put forward by Asa Berger, who suggested that “old myths” are often disguised in our modern media (Berger 2013 3-4), ancient stories tend to return “camouflaged” into our own contemporary narratives, carrying dissimulated traits. Just as in advertising today the myths of the eternal beauty, the story of the Paradise lost and found, or the Garden of Eden are recurrent, the re-cycling of ancient tropes goes on endlessly. As Amy Peterson indicated, there is an exhaustive list of classical myths which are returning into our modern representations, from Adam and Eve, to Hercules, Cupid and Psyche or Lancelot and the World Tree. More importantly, our cinematic representations are filled with recovered myths, from the features of Moses in children’s movies like Lion King (1994), where the hero leaves his homeland only to return as a liberator, to the “sibling rivalry” recurrent in movies like The Godfather or the Seven Samurai of Akira Kurosawa. The following discussion is dedicated to the dissimulation of the biblical myths in our constantly infantilized popular culture.
Cinematic exegesis – immature Gods and puerile patriarchs
Ariel Dorfman was among the first to warn about the dire consequences of the “infantilizing” of the Western culture, a process by which oversimplification became the main mechanism of creating meanings, where the “childishness of the media” allowed the coexistence of the innocence and of the monstrous, the simultaneous manifestations of death and pleasure, of the happy destruction of things and their impossible recuperation (Dorfman 1988). Benjamin Barber further explained how the “ethos of infantilization”, which dominates our a globalized markets, was caused by a market driven change imposed on the behavior of consumers. In his controversial book Consumed (2007), the American political theorist places the source of the infantilization in the targeting of children as main consumers. The globalized seduction of consumption has lead us not only to consume things we do not really need, to desire for objects we do not really want, it developed a way of thinking based on self replicating and the infinite proliferation of the same mechanisms. Barber identifies three “dualisms” of infantilization, which we can “export” into the cultural production: easy over hard, simple over complex, fast over slow (83). The general “dumbing down” produced by a form of “junk capitalism” is generating “junk images” and “puerile representations” (see more in Pop 2014).
This is how the God from the roaring volcano, the pillar of fire and the smoking cloud was gradually transformed into a more visually acceptable shape for our time and age, in a process that can be described as the infantilization of representations. There are several explanations for this process, and one of them is the major influence played by the Disney culture on our imaginaries. As many authors pointed out, this Disneyization of society plays a major role in the transformation of our religious practices. One of the effects is the Disneyization of religiousness and of religion (Hunt 34), a spirituality lacking depth and totally consumption oriented. Not only that tragical stories like the atrocious fight between David and Goliath are integrated into the stories of Mickey Mouse or Popeye defeating ugly and oversized enemies, but we experience a spirituality lacking any depth. Just as in another standard example of how the oversimplified references to the Bible pervade our culture, a movie like Matrix, where we have Sion, as the city of the resistance, Neo as a wannabe Messiah or Trinity, as the protector of the Savior is emblematic for this type of mix-and-match spirituality (Hunt 36).
We live in a populuxe culture (Thomas Hine 1986), a commodified golden age of images, where visual quotations from classical works are done in an infantilized manner; such as the Creation of Man from the Sistine Chapel, which is now part of the reproduction mechanisms of the popular culture, half digested and integrated in productions like E. T. (1982), Steven Spielberg’s memorable sci-fi, where the puerile extraterrestrial touches fingers with the poster child that saved him. This process creates a reversed imaginary, a re-mythologized version of stories we have shared for millennia. Thus the cruel YHWH, who wiped millions of humans and almost all creation during the Flood, who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and who ruthlessly killed the newborn of Egypt in a hecatomb of about 500 thousand children (since according to the estimates of McEvedy and Jones there were about 3 million Egyptians, 1978, 226) is degraded to a more digestible form. This constant downgrading leads finally to a completely infantilized culture.
This infantilization of mythology takes place by the infusing of “old” narratives with naive and childish representations, with credulous characters and simpleton actions. The best example is The Prince of Egypt (1998), the DreamWorks animated version of the story of Moses. After a long career as as president of Walt Disney Studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg created a Broadway version of the Exodus. Casting Val Kilmer as both the voice of Moses and the voice of God, The Prince of Egypt has Moses bursting into singing while he competes with a classical comedic couple of scribes (Hotep and Huy) who sing in the middle of the catastrophic plagues “You are playing with the Big Boys now”. Even if the movie opens with the warning that it has been taking some “artistic and historical license”, the producers claimed it was a based on a profound desire to maintain the “truth”, as Katzenberg claimed that the story was developed in such a way that it would not offend any of the three monotheistic religions – including their political and religious leaders (Katzenberg quoted by Weinraub 1998). Nonetheless, the narrative in The Prince of Egypt is repeatedly “infantilized”, either by the removal of “hard” information – the debauchery of the Hebrew in the desert – or by understating and downgrading the story at the level of easy explanations – the killing of the Egyptian first born justified by the initial act of aggression of the Pharaoh.
As Francis Landy claims it, this process is an integral part of the retellings practices of the Bible for children narratives, which follow a logic of simplification. Landy considers that the editing of the elements considered to be difficult is just a concession made for the young audience. The process implies either the removing of elements from the initial text or introducing explanatory new elements, in what Landy calls the “paraphrastic retelling” (Landy 2007 14-15). The most common examples are the drunkenness of Noah, most often removed from the retold story lines, or the killing of the innocent in the story of Moses, which is “dulcified” to be made acceptable. Yet this distancing from the “dubious” parts of the “old narratives” takes us from a feared God, that cannot be painted, carved or represented in any way, to an infantilized God whose terror and violent actions are made nice.
A more recent and extremely suggestive example comes from Evangelical Christian publishing. Sergio Cariello, a comic book artist who worked for Marvel and DC Comics, created a graphic novel version of the Bible, called The Action Bible. In this cartoonish version of the Holy Texts, the Old and New Testament were reduced to 215 pictorial narratives and Cariello moved from penciling Daredevil to transforming Samson into a bigger than life action hero, eating lion flesh and destroying philistine armies just as Obelix spread fear into the Roman legions in the drawings of Uderzo. As Doug Mauss, the general editor of the book, noted in the opening of this infantilized version of the Scriptures, it is the competition between Superman and Jesus, from who really saved the world that makes compulsory the transformation of the biblical characters into action heroes. A Bible represented in a comic books style, endorsed by the Christian mainstream culture, which allows the simplification of characters, narratives and interactions, is an illustration of the contemporary meme mutation I am are describing.
Two extremely relevant example of this tendency can be found in Exodus: Gods and Kings and in Noah, where cartoonish representations are illustrations of this train of thought. There is a profound leap from the domineering Father image, the forceful male figure who instills fear into the souls of his “chosen children”, to the childish story lines. They indicate a deep mutation in our cultural representations. Obviously, the Scriptures depict the encounter of Moses with the God of the Mountain as ambivalent. As previously explained by Hamilton (2011) during the first encounter between Moses and God, we have at least two narrative manifestations of the Supreme Being – first there is the LORD who sees Moses, then there is Elohim who is talking to him from the burning bush. Last, but not least, there is also the angel/ messenger of God who is visible in the flames.
Instead Ridley Scott’s Moses takes this ambivalence to a whole new level, when the prophet to be meets a boy-God, a queasy teenager who builds pyramids of pebbles and gives him orders with a half deep voice. God is no longer the domineering voice of Charlton Heston (who relevantly enough played both Moses and Michelangelo, as painting the Sistine Chapel in Agony and Extasy), but an 11 years old boy who enacts a character called Malak – paradoxically this is also the Arabic word describing the angels and, simultaneously, a clear hint to the Hebrew name Malak Elohim, for the manifestation of God. Initially Moses has troubles understanding that the child playing with pebbles is God himself since, naturally, this representation is in clear conflict with his own visual picture (and the Scriptures he would later write). The Mosaic canon repeats this interdiction as one of the first and foremost in the series of do not rules: do “not make for yourself a carved image” (Exod 20:4); “do not make yourselves false gods (Lev 26:1); “God is not a human being” (Num. 23:19), nor is he manifested in any way as a living form. More so, in the book of Exodus we are explicitly told that “Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God”. Yet in the movie, when the boy-God tells Moses that his strategy of “war of attrition” has failed and that he is the God of Abraham and Jacob, who will free the chosen people, Moses bitterly quarrels with him. Clearly, Scott makes a radical statement by having God act like an annoying pre-teenager, a whimsical and infantile manifestation of the divine. And the conversations with God on the mountain later turn into a series of long disagreements between Moses and the boyish divinity. They discuss military strategies, the cruelty and the inhumanity of God is put into question, his killing the children of his enemies in revenge after 400 years of subjugation is described as a whimsical act, with the intent to see the Pharaohs on their knees. This is an impatient God of revenge, intermediated by a young boy. And by this a discretionary transformation of the image of the LORD has to be put in a wider perspective.
One obvious explanation is that this transmutation could be linked with the Christian tradition of iconic representations. Since Jesus is often showed as either a divine baby in the manger, or a young rabbi in the Jerusalem temple, meeting with the elders, the picture of God manifested as child is not uncommon. There is a clear indication that the argument put forward by many authors, that these new Bible Epics are designed for Christian audience, is correct. In fact Ridley Scott has Moses himself and his wife Zipporah (Sephora) act like two good Protestants who accept the Baptism (the conversion) later in life. Yet beyond these ridiculous anachronisms, I would relate this transformation with a more profound transformation, which has to do with the changes that take shape in the ideal of masculinity in our contemporary visual culture and the overall infantilization of representations today. Again, as Barber pointed out, our modern media have gradually went through a profound infantilization. We see in contemporary advertising how the traditional representations of adult men and women are substituted with images of young boys and girls, often in a transgender and androgynous manner, the final point of a process that started, according to Erving Goffman (Gender Advertisements, 1976) with the infantilization of representations.
This process of oversimplification is no longer performed only at the level of narrative structures, of plots and characters, it also reaches the most profound fields of significations. Even one of the most convoluted and difficult theological arguments in Judaism: the unnamable name of the LORD, is vitiated by infantilization. As described in Exodus 3:13, one of the most controversial question Moses addresses the God of the Mountain (What is your name?) is followed by an enigmatic answer in Exodus 3:14 (I am who I am). Without going too deep into this convoluted problematic of the name/ title of God (see more in the classical study of Jukes 1967), it is enough to say that the Judaic tradition forbids the speaking of the name of God, the only possible reference to his identity is by proxy. God can be described only as a euphemism, as HaShem (the name), expressed in the series of letters Y-H-W-H (literally G-o-d), transliterated as yihyeh, which later became Jehovah/ Yahweh. This is an ancient dilemma; even Philo of Alexandria tried to solve the perplexing quandary of the appellation of God – how can we name the unnamable, and by consequence how can we describe the indescribable? The solution was the idea of a partial and secondary identification. Just as the burning bush was not God, but an image of the living God, that is „a Godlike image”, the name “I am that I am” (ego sum qui sum), says Philo as only a partial substitute. The tetragrammaton, or simply YHWH, opens to numerous interpretations. Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh can be interpreted in many ways, from the strange “I will be who I will be” to “the One who brings into existence everything it exists”. However, in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Pentateuch) this name was translated with “I am the one who is” and relevantly enough this transliteration is extremely similar to the formula used in the hymns of Akhenaten: “I am all that was, is, and shall be” (Assman 119). More so, YHWH is often called Adonai where the plural of Adon (the sovereign lord) is very similar to Aton, the supreme God of Egypt who replaced Amun-Ra. Once more, there are incredible and troublesome consequences of naming God, which diffuses in the history of humanity, from the God of Abraham to the Godhead of apostle Paul.
In contemporary cinema, once more, a complex problem is dealt with by oversimplification. In the Ridley Scott’s movie, when Moses asks Malak “Who are you?”, the God-boy answers plainly: “I am”. Millennia of theological debate are downgraded to this simple, easy to digest formula. Just as the unnamable God and the God who’s face cannot be seen is abruptly transformed, in several scenes, into a tea making teenager, who, at the end of the epic, while Moses carves the Laws in stone, smiles into the camera with self sufficient pride.
Mongrelized mythological creatures and beings
Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah presents us with a similar content simplification of a complex biblical story. Again, a controversial “old narrative” is infantilized and dumbed down. Genesis 6: 1-4 describes an extremely controversial story – the history of the so-called “sons of God” (benei ha’elohim), also known as Nephilim, who were in love with the “daughters of men”. These godly beings took human wives and thus created a race of giants. Once more, the biblical episode indicates multiple mythological influences of the text; there is the link with the Greek mythology where the Titans were born from the earth as a result of the castration of Uranos. These gigantic creatures, who were produced from the earth, were rebellious and aggressive and had to be destroyed. Another explicit reference in the text (Gen. 6:4) is to the Ancient heroes; the children of the Nephilim were “mighty men” of “renown”. An interchangeable stratum of mythological manifestations is betoken here.
Yet these strange and paradoxical mythological creatures are transformed in Aronofsky’s movie into a bunch of grumpy misanthropes, who look a lot like the stone monsters from many other science fiction movies – the closest connections are “The Thing” from The Fantastic Four and “Sandman” from Spiderman 3. With the sexual controversy removed, the story line of the nephilim is suddenly simplified. Since the biblical text from Bereishit carries a clear erotic innuendo not acceptable for PG 13 audiences – it says that the “giants of the earth in those days” had intercourse (“came unto”) with human beings (“the daughters of men”) – the screenwriters develop another plot, that of the “Watchers”. Aronofsky thus invents strange stone golems, multiple-handed, egotistic beings, who are the angels turned into monsters by God’s curse. This narrative replacement is done with an even more fantastic turnover. Using the root of the word “Naphal”, which means to fall, Aronofsky and his co-writer makes these creatures “fallen angels”, a re-mixed version of various other stories in a totally mongrelized new mythology. These angels of God are simultaneously demons (since Lucifer was the first fallen angel) who despise humanity and refuse to help Noah, and who actually kill any man trespassing their territory. Of course there is one good Watcher, Og, who decides to help Noah to build his ark and to protect him, in order to save his soul. In a quick mutation, the stone monsters become semi-divine beings who are fighting for their own salvation, and at the end of the movie these “giants in the earth” are turned into the “giant of earth”, stony creatures who are transformed into beings of light and illuminated by God.
In a puerile manner, Aronofky renders the Watchers into cinematic expressions of mingling innumerable visual elements picked out from heterogeneous sources – from the Dead Sea scrolls he takes the fight between Light and Darkness, from the Leptogenesis, the Jewish religious canon of the Ethiopian Jews, he borrows the idea of the “Watchers”, and from Josephus, who supported the idea that the Genesis 6 text refers to the giant children of mortal women, their ambivalent nature of both demonic and angelic. The end result is that the controversial Nephilim are turned into popular culture beings, simultaneously fallen angels, computer generated super-beings, mystical references to the Zohar and cross-references to apocalyptic movies like Constantine or I-Frankenstein. That is totally reasonable absurdities.
Moses myth revisited
If movies like The Prince of Egypt provide childish version of the Exodus in a purposeful context, where the puerile figure of Moses can be accepted as such for the use of a certain demographics, the simplification and the invariant of the dumbed down Moses continues for a much wider audience. We must note that the story of Moses has gone through a long history of dramatic transformations. In fact, Moses was from the very beginning a controversial and compound figure – both liberator and law giver, peaceful and violent, warrior and writer, spiritual and physical. This paradoxical nature of the Moses myth makes it extremely attractive for the contemporary cultural combinations. In fact the “Moses myth” always functioned as a free for all narrative structure – it had everything anyone needed in a story: heroism and treason, revolution and spirituality, power and weakness, drama and melodrama, humor and tragedy, catastrophes and intimate conflicts, cataclysms and salvation.
Overtime the character of Moses has agglutinated many folk tales, legends and religious stories from the region, thus it can be described as a composite of multiple meanings. Some authors, like Robert K. Gnuse (2011) rightfully claim that the archetype of Moses is in fact a syncretic myth, mixing many mythological stories from the Babylonian narratives of Sargon or the Egyptian epic of Ra-Horakhti. As a matter of fact, Moses is not the only mythological hero to be placed in a basket sent floating on water; King Acrisius dumped Perseus and his mother Danae placing them in a wooden chest afloat; there is also the visible Babylonian filiation in the similarities with the mythological Shamash, who was abandoned in a basket; even Dyonisos was rescued from the waters in a small chest. In the case of Moses there are also the Sumerian influence from the Bible stories, as pointed out by the classical study of Samuel Kramer (History Begins at Sumer), as well as elements from stories like the exodus of Osiris out of Egypt, or the Egyptian myth of Seth-Typhon running away from Horus. Many elements from the Moses story are easily identifiable in other mythological representations – the staff of Moses is similar to the magic stick of Mercury/ Hermes. The wand used by the Greek
It is also relevant that the story of Moses functions as a projective narrative. There are many the similarities between the life of the creator of the Mosaic Law, Jesus and Muhammad – even if we would accept that, as Abraham Geiger compellingly argues, the Muslim version of the Exodus is based on an “inaccurate” version of the Biblical narrative (quoted by Wheeler 39). For example the Muslims consider Moses (Mûsâ) as a venerable patriarch, while Christians believe him to be a forerunner, anticipating the coming of Christ as Savior.
Moses is, in fact, one of the most revisited characters in the history of religion and of the Judeo-Christian culture. One of the most important re-writers of the classical Jewish hero was Sigmund Freud who proposed a scandalous storytelling reversion in Moses and Monotheism. The Hebrew Moses, argues Freud, constitutes the unconscious level of the “the Moses religion”, where the rigid monotheistic view of God is a form of Entstellung (distortion). This is the earliest account for the changing of appearances of the meme, where the alteration of traits and the displacement of the initial meaning is taken into account (Freud 43). Actually this is a key feature for our discussion on the transformation of Biblical mythologies.
To briefly describe the argument of the founder of psychoanalysis, the Moses we know is not the “real Moses”; this Moses was actually killed by his own people on the long journey from Egypt to Canaan. For Freud this traumatic event leads to the formation of the Jewish monotheism and, more importantly, the religious practices of the Mosaic cult. Once the Semites got rid of their self-appointed ruler, Moses, who forcefully imposed on them a new religion (47), they transformed into a more strict and rigorous practice. The shocking hypothesis of Freud was that the religion Moses passed onto the Hebrews was, in fact, the religion of Ankhenaten, the first monotheistic king of recorded history (Freud 24). He even translated the famous formula “Schema Israel…” into the paraphrase of an Egyptian prayer: “Hear, oh Israel, our god Aten (Adonai) is the sole God”. Freud includes circumcision among the Egyptian customs handed down to the Hebrews by Moses and assimilates the Levites with the domestic servants, the scribes and household employees of this wandering Egyptian prince.
Other revisions are less complimentary for Moses and controversial in their claims. As Josephus records it, the Ancient writer Manetho identified Moses with a traitor Egyptian prince who summoned the Hyksos against his own people; while Philo (in his classical De Vita Mosi – Life of Moses) suggested an almost divine nature of the great legislator. Some other authors placed the Jewish people in Africa, identifying Moses as Osareph (or Hormose), a real general and high priest of the Pharaoh Akhenaton who, after the death of his king, took over the monotheistic sect (Greenberg 1996). Actually Greenberg is contesting radically the entire Biblical originality, famously debunking the “101 myths of the Bible”, in a long tradition which can be traced back to Léo Taxil and his famous anti-religious text: La Bible Amusante. The myth of Moses as liberator was also contested, as it was often linked to its profound ideological consequences. The former general who frees the slaves from socio-economic exploitation is not simply a prophet or a religious figure. The story of a hero fighting against the authoritarian rule with the principles of ethics and morality on his side was often used in indirect representation of many ideological wars. Authors like Dietrich Eckart even described Moses as a proto-Bolshevik (Eckart 1924), and Thomas Mann wrote a novel where Moses is assimilated with Hitler! This love and hate relationship with Moses is perpetuated in cinema, where the mythological battlefield for the identity of this complex character was displaced. As Reinhartz () pointed out, the conflict between the monotheistic Moses and the idolater Ramses was used early on with clear reference to the war between the capitalist democracies and the Soviet communists. The people of Israel functioned as a substitute for the American people who, with God on their side, must defeat the narrow minded, tyrannical empire of the communists. As the opening titles of The Ten Commandments clearly indicate, there is a clear undercurrent of social meanings in these movies: “Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God?” In a clear and transparent paraphrase to the American Constitution, Moses was enlisted in a political war that had nothing to do with religion.
As pointed out by Britt (16) another key trait of the re-writing of the Moses narratives in modern literature is his romanticizing. The romanticized Moses, depicted as a strong voiced, powerful man of command is far from the Biblical character and has nothing to do with the Hebrew character built in the Mozaic tradition, of the hesitant babbler, the repented killer turned into mystical hero. It is relevant that the cinematic narratives also replaced Moses with his soap opera version, by leaving out of the story some of the most controversial Biblical passage, and replacing them with more easily digestible versions. The ambiguous scenes and the strange episodes from the Bible are silenced or omitted, while the heroic acts are overemphasized. As once again Reinhartz properly notes, Hollywood simply took this practice of adding romance and stirring it with old stories (31). The romanticized version of the Moses narrative appeared – such is the case with the erotic competition between Moses and Ramses for an inexistent Nefretiri in DeMille’s movie. In The Ten Commandments the director develops entire scenes where the competition of emotions between the characters was the main narrative drive. On one hand there is the brotherly love between Moses (Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brynner) and on the other there is the sexual temptation. In both cases Moses/ Heston takes the proper decision and chooses the faith in God over friendship and even the proposal of Nefertiri, that she can bring the freedom of his people if he accepts to sleep with her. A soap opera version of Moses was created.
The controversy seemed to deepen when Christian Bale promised (and was criticized for this) that he will enact a provocative depiction of the founder of the Jewish monotheism, calling him as “schizophrenic” and “one of the most barbaric individuals” that he ever read about in his life. Nonetheless, this brutal and aggressive nature of Moses, which is clear in the Bible was never developed in the Ridley Scott version. In fact Bale was toning down many of the negative traits of Moses, who is clearly described in the book of Exodus as a violent man, a hot tempered leader and an inflexible prophet. More so, the role from Exodus: Gods and Kings also ignored the fact that the Biblical Moses coexisted with many strange features. He was “slow of speech”, most probably stuttering and needing Aaron for his public appearances, due to the fact that he barely spoke the language of the Hebrew; he was a hesitant shepherd and simultaneously a great general, a magician with many tricks hidden in his sleeves and Moshe Rabbenu, the transfigured teacher, the author of the most important books of the Jewish religion.
Did Ridley Scott manage to bring to the silver screen a pragmatic version of the old story? Are we in the presence of a “real” Moses and of the real facts from the Exodus? And what is exactly the mythological function of Moses in this new cultural and cinematic context?
The Pentateuch for Dummies
Exodus: Kings and Gods managed to bring to screen a re-figuring of Moses which is more in tune with an action hero model than any of the representations in previous movies. Moses is more like Maximus the Roman general than the stammering shepherd, who is unable to communicate with others and fearful that he will not be listened to by his “people”. The “miracle worker” is turned into an action figure hero (actually in Scott’s version Moses uses no magic), a general preoccupied more with guerrilla strategies than with spiritual matters. If the Scriptures describe how God teaches Moses three basic tricks that he would later display publicly – the staff into snake, the leprous hand healing in a quick fixer upper and the water turning into blood – Scott is completely transforming his main character into a skeptic and an atheist before atheism was even imagined. Moses is described as a liberal Hebrew, who is trying to raise his son outside the confines of religion; and while this social behavior will not exist for millennia to come, the mechanism of simplification by omission becomes more than obvious.
The deception by omission, which is put into movement in this movie, is obvious when it eludes one of the deepest spiritual questions of the Bible. In fact Ridley Scott’s story is a mix and match narrative putting together various elements that lead to what can be described as reasonable nonsense. In one instance the egalitarian Moses “educates” Ramses by telling him that his working people are Egyptian citizens, they should be treated like Egyptians, or they should be set free – in an all democratic and libertarian discourse that will appear only with the French Revolution. Ramses does not question this aberrant argument and, in one of his own errant lines he claims: “From an economic standpoint alone, what you’re asking is problematic to say the least,” as if it was a discussion at the forum in Davos.
The simplification reaches incredible peaks when the entire revelation of Moses is put under a shadow of doubt – the director suggests it might have been caused by a head injury, when nonetheless he waists enormous time to explain reasonably several of the mysterious interventions of God. Moses even prepares for a military conflict with the Egyptians, and trains secretly an entire army of slaves, turning them into real assault troops – even if this training would have been made impossible while the slaves were working. The guerrilla philosophy (attack the food, their resources and their families) is not taken to its final consequences, although it could have been a good secondary explanation for the plagues. All the episodes could have been presented as possible “real” acts of a war of attrition. Even the ten plagues, who are anticipating the ten commandments, are simplified and reduced to a couple of possible disasters – in a similar way to the similar National Geographic episode broadcasted in 2010 on Easter Sunday. In a dumbfounding scene, the “scientists” of the Pharaoh even look like their Nat Geo counterparts when they try to provide rational explanations for the tragedy. The supernatural interventions of God are depicted by an Egyptian priest as a chain of natural causes and effects: the crocodiles attacked the fishermen, the frogs invading the streets because of the pollution of waters, the flies were multiplying because of the decaying frogs. These rationalistic scribes, who are talking almost like early Scottish empiricists, are nonsensical by the very fact that this type of discourse will not exist in the human history for more than two millennia.
The mix-and-do-not-match philosophy of the Exodus for Dummies continues with the cartoonish characters. For instance John Turturro, an actor totally out of character, plays Pharaoh Seti I, the father of Ramesses. Turturro’s portrayal of Pharaoh Seti is not just representative for the whitewashed history of the movie, but also of the nonsensical reasonable mythologies put into action. Turturro manages Pharaoh’s war chamber – just before the conflict with the Hittites – as if it was a postmodern, American army headquarter. Even the briefing room after the conflict filled with meaningless actions, the Battle of Kadesh, between the Egyptian and the Hittite armies is presented in a cartoonish manner, almost as Power Point presentation. Another out of place character is Ben Kingsley who plays Nun, the father of Joshua. Kingsley – who was casted in the 1996 TNT series in one of the few literarily accurate representations of Moses, and then relevantly enough in the Roger Young miniseries was again distributed as Potiphar, in the story of Joseph – is just one of the caricature Biblical characters, who operate as an empty background figure, just as Aaron or Joshua.
Regrettably these oversimplifications come with numerous inaccuracies in the storytelling. The madness of Ramses, played by Joel Edgerton in a similar manner with the role of Commodus from another Ridley Scott epic, has almost no echo in the Biblical depiction. The conflict between the two opposing men is empty and caricatural, with heavy undertones borrowed from the Gladiator – actually Scott’s Egyptian saga opens with a war scene very similar to that from his other blockbuster blood and sandals story. Not just the brotherly conflict is mimicked from the Gladiator, even the dialogues are mimicking scenes from the same movie; for example when the Pharaoh sit near his son’s cradle as says that he sleeps well because he is loved, just as Commodus spoke above his nephew’s bed. More so, the brief encounter between Moses and Ramesses in the middle of the Red Sea or in the horse-stead of the palace are inconsistent, both emotionally and visually. Moses is no longer a complex human being, the interactions between Moses and Ramses II are dumbed down, and the absence of any profound relationships between Aaron and Moses or between Joshua and Moses generate an internal poverty, unbecoming for such a convoluted character.
This absence of consistency, coupled with the free borrowing of information from diverse sources, bring forth incongruous narratives. One of the classical storytelling lines is that of Moses as Egyptian general. Although the Bible describes him as an Egyptian prince, the image of Moses the warrior is borrowed from a non-Biblical sources. It was Josephus in his Antiquities who described Moses as a battle hardened general, and Artapanus who claimed this prince was fighting the Ethiopian armies as a commander-in-chief of Egypt’s troops. This is mingled with the historical indication that Ramesses II, the Egyptian ruler who supposedly lost the war against a gang of shepherds and construction workers, fought at the time with the Hittites at Kadesh. Scott actually picks military strategy information from James Pritchard, who published a book on the military campaigns of Ramesses II in Canaan, and remixes them with his own fantasy about the two competing princes, of whom one is envious on the other.
Another non-biblical episode in the movie is the history of Moses abandoning his Midianite family. The Scriptures explicitly tell us that, when returning to Egypt, they all go along together. The story of the celibate Moses, who renounces his marital status and leaves his wife behind, is borrowed from Philo’s account (also repeated in from the two episodes series of Moses, from 1996). More importantly, it is here that a very complex plot which now takes place in the Bible (Exodus 4:24-27), one often brushed aside in the modern versions. In an intricate and theologically controversial turn, God decides to kill his special messenger, the one who just a while ago was selected to save his chosen people! We are faced with a cruel God who suddenly decides to let an angel attack and try to kill Moses. It was only by the intervention of his wife Zipporah (Sephora), who prevents the tragedy by circumcising their first born, Gershom, that Moses escapes. Now Sephora calls him “bridegroom of blood”, with a term which also carries negative connotations: Moses is described as a “bloody husband” who is linked with cruel God. This bloodthirstiness is turned into an unexciting ascetic option. In the movie an incomprehensible and mysterious fragment is replaced with a more simplistic and superficial series of incidents. Moses abandons his family and is following his destiny – caused by a strange head injury – and finally rejoins happily with his abandoned family. As in the case of another convoluted episode, when the Hebrew hesitate and quarrel with Moses about their plan, the cinematic version is nothing more than a simplistic variation, a flat character who uses the prosaic logic of “follow me and you will be free”. No complications, no convoluted details, no subsidiary explainations.
Furthermore, Scott’s story is constantly perpetuating unsubstantiated myths, many part of the popular culture, but not canonical or in compliance with the five books of Moses. One of the recurrent visual themes in many of the Biblical sagas is the fact, took for granted from the accounts of Herodotus, that the pyramids were built by the Hebrew slaves. In the second book of Exodus (2: 6-14) it is clearly stated that the Israelites were put to work in building two cities, Pithom and Raamses, and not the burial grounds of the Pharaoh. This, coupled with fascination of the visual rebuilding of Ancient Egypt, generates a cinematic narrative built around the false idea that the Israelite slaves were laboring to construct the pyramids, which were actually finished at least 1,500 years ago. Even if Egypt’s minister of culture, Gaber Asfour, who announced the banning of the movie because it gave a “Zionist view of history and contained historical inaccuracies” had an ideological purpose in his claims, the fact is that the movie is filled not only with inaccuracies, but is also carrying aberrant contents. Even if we ignore the fact that the very idea of an oppressed people, conscious of the exploitation, can rebel is extremely recent, egyptologists today have proved that the workers in the royal tombs construction sites were not only free men, but they received wages and medical care during their activities, they had lunch breaks and free resting periods during the week. The more caricatural image – that of the toiling, tormented and terrorized slaves – is more appealing.
Once more, even if the explanations provided in the infantilized narratives are always pragmatic and reasonable, they produce nonsensical consequence. For example the Exodus itself; why did the Hebrew take the longest route? In a strategic thought process Moses decides, without the intervention of his boy-God, that the best route for his people must take into account the most impossible path for the Egyptian chariots. And, as if the chariot were the only weapons of war for the Pharaohs, this decision is followed by an absurdly long pathway in the mountains, with the Egyptian chariots depicted as if they were in a formula 1 car chase at Monte Carlo. This absurd race, albeit beautifully visually and with references to the famous Ben Hur chariot battle is followed by another believable nonsense, the parting of the Red Sea. In this sequence, which carries Arthurian undertones, Moses throws his Egyptian sword, his very identity, into the waters, and later the sword returns to him. Although Ridley Scott creates one of the most powerfully visual contexts in cinema for this conflict, the cause and effect explanations are missing, replaced by a combination of natural and nonsensical. Initially the Hebrew go up to their waists in water, contradicting the dry crossing of the sea in other representations, after a meteorite falls in the distance. Then suddenly there is a tornado, turned into tsunami wave, that engulfs the entire scene. Simultaneously with the scientific possibility of the tsunami (which represents the reasonable) we have the absurd visual confrontation between Ramesses II and Moses in the middle of the Red Sea. After the wall of water hits both of them, the director does not bother to answer the reasonable question of how could Moses survive the huge tidal wave, which that destroyed the entire Egyptian expeditionary force, without the intervention of his God-boy? Nor how did the Pharaoh himself survived the same cataclysm, although he was in the middle of the sea? In fact, the mysterious and unexplainable nature of the Old Testament is substituted by the reasonable nonsense of cinematic representations.
Last, but not least, the entire image of the Exodus is rendered an over-simplistic manner. The very notion of a collective Hebrew ragtag assembly, estimated at about 400.000 slaves, following on foot a path to nowhere become risible. Even this evaluation is again borrowed freely from Herodotus, who, in turn, made a wild guess of the total of slaves at 100.000, by demographic consequence and adding their possible families, the total number of Israelites reaches half a million people. No matter if, in terms of population evaluation, this estimation is a fabrication; the more distracting element is that the Hebrews in the movie are presented as a indistinct group of people, and the only intervention of the “murmuring Hebrews” is presented as a minor dissent at the shores of the Red Sea. In a final infantilizing twist, the director manages to present us with a final act of narrative compression; more than forty years of vagrancy in the desert are simply turned into thirty seconds of film.
Cinematic eisegesis – from oversimplification to “overcomplication”
In the case of Moses the biblical characters and story lines from the “canonical” Bible were re-assembled as oversimplifications, easily digestible versions of the classical epic for the use of an infantilized audience. In Aronofsky’s Noah we are faced with another example of the transformation of a character which in the Jewish tradition, and especially in the Zohar and the midrash interpretations, is very complex. This most recent cinematic representation of Noah indicates another mythological operation, one which can be described as the nonsensical commingling of incoherent elements.
As seen before, the mythological similitude was always a major device in the elaboration of Ancient cultural formations. In this very contexts, two of the best examples are provided by the similitudes between the Noah and the Moses myths. Both stories are clearly are linked by an internal coherence; both heroes are “floaters” and “saviors”, and the very word tebah which means both “basket” and “ark” (Hamilton 20) joins them in an etymological explanation. The name Moses can be broken into Mou (water) and ousa (to lift), is the sense that he was raised from the waters of the Nile, just as Noah, who was raised from the diluvian waters and permitted to save his own kind, nahet meaning to go down.
While internal connections helped the development of mixing in “old stories”, there is another path in our contemporary, one clearly indicated by Aronofsky’s approach and borrowed from a long tradition in biblical interpretation. As the director stated it, during the development of the Noah project he and Ari Handel (his co-writer) used the tradition of the Jewish midrash in order to have access to deeper meanings in the story of the patriarch who saved mankind.
The midrash are basically collections of interpretative practices, where the explanation of the biblical narratives is done by connecting various books and passages. While the meaning remains internally generated (Neusner 2014 17), in the midrash the interpreter can approach the aggadah (the story) by generating a new story. Re-writing the text is done here with the purposeful intention to preserve of the integrity of the original document. When the midrash asks questions about the meaning of the Torah, this is done with the intent of clearing the difficult or unresolved passages in the Bible – such as the famous dilemmatic appearances of Satan, the role of demons and the angels and so on. It is certain that the midrashic method is not an exegesis, but rather an eisegesis, a “drawing inside” of significations. There are many rabbinic commentaries on the Torah (Pentateuch) and the midrash must be understood in a reflection with another rabbinic tradition, that of the Mishnah. Here the central argument is that the Scriptures provide enough information for us to understand the stories and meanings, and that the very act of interpretation must always be a return to the Torah (Neusner 72). No “freestyle” transformation is allowed, since the goal is the preservation of the canon. In these classical interpretations of the Scriptures the principle remains the connections established within the original text.
Following midrashic sources it is crystal clear that Aronofsky creates a different Noah, both from John Houston’s version in The Bible (1966), where the director himself is the patriarch, or the parodic Noah of movies like Ewan Almighty, where the prophet is a re-contextualized savior of nature, as a comedic member of the US Senate. The 2014 Noah is thus simultaneously moving away from the parodic re-interpretations, which belong to the logic of the pastiche, while refusing the “purist” and textualist versions of the biblical history, or the melodramatic version such as Noah’s Ark (1928) by Michael Curtiz.
From the very beginning Aronofsky’s story is not the same, as it begins with a clear rupture with the original source. Aronofsky reads Genesis 6: 11-12 in a contorted manner and the whole storytelling becomes hallucinogenic. Where the Scripture describes the earth as “corrupted”, Aronofsky inserts not only the moral corruption, but also a material degradation. This takes him to the berserk solution of Noah as the “first environmentalist” (Aronofsky 2008). The environmental apocalypse he depicts onwards turns the whole story (and the entire human history) upside down. It is here that the rewriting becomes a form of overcomplication, and I consider this to be a key trait of the new mythological transmutations. This forced complication, generated by the narrative recycling, quickly becomes completely nonsensical. For example in this pre-post-apocalyptic world the humans are mining for a strange crystal, a mineral called in the movie the tsohar. The clear references to Jewish mysticism and the connections with the Zohar are more than obvious, yet the added resemblance with the “unobtainium” from Avatar makes it uncanny and laughable. Another paradoxical consequence comes from the unanswered question of how could the primitive men destroy the Earth to such extent that it would be depleted of natural resources – thus from here on follows a subsequent (and unintended) rejection of evolution and a counter-history which makes no sense. Once more, the story of the Flood is just another old remix of elements, inherited from the dawn of mankind, yet in the contemporary popular culture it is transformed once more. Clearly, as it was underlined by Doane, almost all world mythologies have their own Deluge; from the Scandinavian stories to the Mexican narratives, from the Celts to the Greek-Roman stories and even the Hindu legends, there is a repeated narrative of the drowning of humanity. The histories of Deukalion, Ghilghamesh or Manu are interconnected and often interchangeable. Yet Aronofsky’s Noah is interlocked with the past and filled with repetitions of present visual schematics, most of the already in place in movies like Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (2009) or Kevin Reynold’s Waterworld (1999).
One of the main qualities of the movie is the complexity of the emotional struggle of the patriarch who was to become the first savior of mankind, the father of all believers (honored also by Muslims and Christians). According to the teachings of the Talmud, all believers are B’nei Noach, that is the sons of Noah. Essentially all those who follow the seven laws of Noah, that anticipate and predate the laws of Moses, are the children of God. The Noachide laws in the Talmud are simple: do not bow down to idols, do not murder, do not steal, do not be lustful, do not to blaspheme, do not eat live animals and to obey the laws. Simple laws for a simple faith. And in this context Aronofsky brings to the character of Noah one of his most important skills, one he developed in Requiem for a Dream (2000) – the psychological struggle of the addicted, in an extremely difficult attempt to describe the darkest containers of the soul of the human who saw humanity perish. Once more, the weakest ingredient of the movie is also the reference to Genesis (9:21-22), where Aronofsky complicates the immoral side of Noah and explains his addictive behavior in scene (powerful visually) when Noah drinks a hallucinogenic plants mixture in order to understand the message of the LORD. Noah is suddenly transformed into a half crazed maniac who wants to wipe out his own family.
This is where a certain cartoonish feel of the characters and the narrative exaggerations, together with the schematism of interactions becomes the more disturbing weaknesses of this production. One example is the character of Tubal-Cain, the evil leader of the decadent humanity, who is an unrealistic maniac, smuggled aboard the Ark by one of Noah’s sons. It is here that Aronofsky’s film brings in elements from midrash, since the medieval Rabbis included in the story the sacrifice made by Satan among the animals of the Ark. This brings up the casual and free reading of the biblical text, the Ark seen through the schematic understanding of a receptacle of “couples” of animals. The text of Scriptures clearly states that “clean animals” (which included Noah and his household), had been taken in seven pairs, not in couples as the “unclean animals” (Gen 7:2). Again, although the Genesis is explicit, on Noah’s ark the salvation was intended for the “sons of his wife and his sons ‘wives’, four pairs, Aronofsky chooses a perplexing plot. On the ark only Shem has a sexual partner, the fictious Ila. From here on follows a whole complication, about the anger of Ham lacking a “pair” – which is totally superfluous since later, as they are out of the ark, we find that Ham had a son, Canaan (most likely secretly conceived on rescue boat). In such a reading everything gets mingled with everything – another example is the skin of the Serpent, inherited by Lameh and stolen by Tubal-Cain. This visually twisted manifestation has the skin of a serpent, depicted as a precursory of the phylacteries, passed from generation to generation, which suggests that Satan and God are no longer separated. Aronofsky even uses the cliché visual reference to the finger of God touching Adam in the Creation, which adds to the confusion of the role played by this serpent skin in the overall evolution of the story.
Another risible character is Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins as a crazed shaman, a solitary vegetarian with a childish craving for berries. The 969 years old patriarch (at least according to the Bible account) takes an over-complicated turn towards nonsense when he magically heals the sterile Ila (in a symbolic twist, since she is part of the barren world) and then provides Naameh (Noah’s wife has the name of Tubal-Cain’s sister, carrying an implicit intermeshed hint) with a seed which would helps Noah grow a fantastic forest – a much needed solution since the premise of the plot was that the environmental apocalypse already took place in the history of humanity. This over-complicated reassembling of narratives generates anomalous and caricatured relationships and situations.
The most reasonably absurd is the diluvian patriarch himself, depicted in a commingling of Jewish, Christian and Muslim narratives, frequently re-mixed in a preposterous way. Obviously we have a midrashic Noah, which is amalgamated with elements from the Quran – since it is only in the Muslim holy texts that Noah is described as a diviner (Quran 11:31). Next the post-apocalyptic view of the time and place is freely borrowed from Islam, where the text says that vegetation was scarce and the patriarch had to plant trees and wait for them to grow in order to build his ark.
On one hand Aronofsky’s provocatively homicidal Noah falls into the trap of emotional explicitness and on the other he is a motley of qualities. Purposefully, Russell Crowe plays a Noah challenging the canonical character; the patriarch is depicted as an obsessed man who is good natured, a savior of humanity who despises human beings, a fundamentalist willing to wipe out all people from the face of the Earth, obedient to a God who is never present. We must underline that, relevantly enough, there is no God in Noah – he is only mentioned as “The Creator”, and he intervenes only at the end, by illuminating the fallen angels after they do their bidding. In this “Godless” world the controversial determination of Noah is a manifestation of another mixture – his willing to kill his grandchildren (and all his family) is linked to the Abrahamic tradition, of the obeying father beyond the reasonable, and the characters from the populuxe culture, where the antediluvian patriarch is backpacking around the world as a non-violent, vegetarian hippie – at some point Noah’s equipment even seems to be borrowed from John Hillcoat’s The Road (1999).
Complicated simplicities and the cleaning of the controversial
The meme mutation we describe is perpetuating a strange ambivalence. First the narrative or plot solutions seem to provide answers to difficult questions. In the case of Noah there is a powerful conflict between the depiction in Genesis 6:9 – where Noah is described as the only righteous man left – and the final representation of the patriarch, as a degraded drunkard. How could this this righteous character, the ethical patriarch, be represented both as a moral model and the precursor of racism? Since the most controversial element in the story of Noah, almost unexplainable in our contemporary “pure” culture of politically correctness, is the racial distinction he establishes between his descendants (Genesis 9:25-27). The drunkenness of Noah after the flood, and the discriminatory consequences of this inebriation generates the formation of new mythologies. The difficulty of dealing with the curse of Noah against Canaan (“a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers”), which was used as a justification for slavery for centuries to come, pushes Aronofsky towards the simplistic whitewashing of the story.
This is how the repression of the disgusting implications of the ancient storytelling drives the meme mutations towards infantilization and overcomplication. This process was often at work in contemporary popular culture – by editing out the real elements of the story and including other elements which are not part of the initial account we have a new myth, more acceptable for a childish audience. In Noah (2014) the racial undertones of the initial narrative are not simply re-written, they are uselessly complicated. Ham is never depicted in the biblical text as “dark-skinned”, thus Aronofsky depicts him as fair skinned. Yet, following the logic of the curse of Noah, where Shem was the “father” of the Semitic peoples, and Japheth of the Caucasians, the two “good sons” are portrayed in positive tones. The whole story is turned disgustingly caricatural when Shem appears as racially-perfect, with a photo-model look, beautiful, bright and positive. Opposed to this almost picture perfect model is Ham, who is turned into a sex obsessed young man, only focusing on finding a sexual partner, he even picks her from among the dead and is betraying his father by hiding Tubal-Cain on the ark.
At the end of the movie, when one of the most controversial and disputed scenes in the Old Testament is supposed to happen, the process of removing the controversial and substituting it with a more complicated version illustrates the transformative nature of infantilization. Genesis 9:20-27 describes one of the most noxious ideas in human history. It is here that one of the most primitive representations of racism takes place – reproduced in innumerable instances in Western culture, from the early icons to Michelangelo’s fresco from the Sistine Chapel. The episode is complex and should be seen as a mythological intermixture; there is the link with the Ugaritic myth of the drunken El (Smith 2001 44) and his three sons, Thukamuna (tkmn), Shunama (snm) and Haby (hby) or the Greek myth of Kronos, who castrated his father, Uranus, and the clear etymological connection between the Biblical Japhet and the Greek Titan Iapetus. Not to mention the overall links with many other classical myths: there is the reference to Enlil, the king of the gods, who created the world and decides to destroy it in anger, the story of Utnapishtim from the epic of Gilgamesh and even Deucalion, the Greek titan who saved the world from the Flood – they are all indications of the interchangeable nature of this ancient myth.
Going back to the curse of Canaan, this story provided for a long time the necessary support for all the apologies sustaining slavery. It was used time and again to argue that, since all Africans descended from Canaan, they were originally slaves of the “superior” white races. This racist ground of the Scriptures is not explicit in the Noah story, yet it was corroborated with Genesis 10, the so called “table of nations”, which indicates Ham and Canaan as “dark” and “evil” descendants of the patriarch. In order to find a solution for the controversy, Aronofsky is using here once more the Rabbinic midrashic interpretation – in fact it was not Noah who cursed his son, but his son who departed and cursed his father, as the Exodus Rabba 30: 5 reads the formula “slaves forever” as “separated forever”. Nevertheless, this is just the removal of the one part of the story. Another, even more complex, is that brought forward by many psychoanalysts – that there was an incestuous relationship between Noah and his son Ham, with the drunkenness of the patriarch and the narrative of his genitals “exposed” by Ham being just a cover for a homosexual episode of abuse. This deleted version of the Scriptures had numerous explanations and is extremely opened to interpretations, from the castrating Noah, who actually punishes his son; to the innuendo of Ham’s sexual attack on his father (Cole 1959); and even Ham’s possible incestuous relationship with his own mother (Shinan and Zakovitch 2012).
Instead Aronofsky retells the complex story of Genesis as a second-hand narrative infused with graphic novel elements – which actually Aronofsky, Ari Handel and the Canadian graphic artist Nico Henrichon published in 2011. Impregnated with midrashic readings and mingled with Islamic reviewing, Noah is a mix-and-do-not-match combination of mystical interpretations, cartoonish themes, comic book visuals and Kabbalah elements. In this mélange where the barbarian descendants of Cain are half inspired from Mad Max, the fallen angels are absurd representations picked from fantasy films and the setting conveys the feel of any catastrophe genre movie, the biblical story is transformed into a pre-post-apocalyptic franchise, dominated by images that remind us of productions such as The Road or The Book of Eli. Aronofsky provides another example for how old narratives are mixed with infantilized, comic strip elements, only to re-create in a re-mixed “Pop Bible”, in which Old Testament fantasies are repopulated with modern media mythologies in a total mash of magic, flagrantly removing controversial narratives and replacing them with undifferentiated
In the apparent competition between Paramount’s Noah and Fox’s Moses two of the most important Bible characters have lost their complexity and were integrated into the broader culture of the infantile.
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