I wanted to love the movie and I did. It wasn’t only because of the luxurious recliner that I sat in, or more accurately reclined in, but because the movie was beautifully interpretative, psychologically compelling and surprisingly on-target in many of its bold readings of the Chumash.
The critics reviews that resonate most with me are Peter Travers’ review in Rolling Stone, and this review by YU professor Eric Goldman in the Jewish Standard- he has some good inside scoops, and this one in the Atlantic. This one in Slate is also helpful.
Interesting interviews with Aronofsky include this one in the Washington Post and this one on NPR
As I watched the movie I was transfixed by the conflict between Noach and Tuval-Cain that Aronofsky portrayed as the primary conflict of the film. Noach was concerned about God’s earth and Tuval Cain who was concerned more with man’s progress. This conflict seemed familiar to me and then (I’m embarrassed to say) I surreptitiously checked my emails and noticed this email had just arrived in my inbox sent by Rabbi David Fohrman:
Don’t get me wrong- there are plenty of embellishments and inaccuracies (The love story between Emma Watson and Ham reminded me of the Anne Baxter’s Nefreteri’s love for Moses over Ramses, where were the other daughters in law? and many many more) but I was so excited to see that Aranofsky’s interpretation of the story actually followed the model that Rabbi Fohrman developed in his book! I thought that the creatures that were supposed to be the נפילים looked like a cross between a Transformer and the Iron Giant but nevertheless were an inventive interpretation of a cryptic episode in Chumash. I also loved how I was left unsure of Noach toward the end of the film- I wasn’t sure if I was rooting for him to be killed or not- and to me that was a terrific demonstration of filmmaking embracing the idea of יש דורשין לגנאי ויש דורשין לשבח- i.e. Noach was a complex character who embodied heroic and tragic themes. I also loved his interpretation of ותשחת הארץ- the land was actually soaked in blood. Notwithstanding the super-hero big budget Hollywood action adventure style of the movie, I think there’s a lot to be gained from “learning” the movie.
And now most importantly- I saw the movie with a few students, one of whom is interested in filmmaking. I’m pretty sure that our experience of seeing the film and processing it afterward was an important event in his religious development. I think that seeing creative, thoughtful, artists who search for meaning and depth in their interpretation of of our mesorah and by honoring them we can do a great service to our students. Torah doesn’t have to be limited just to the kids who love Gemara. An artist, an author, a playwright, a filmmaker, a poet should be encouraged to see their medium as a method of drawing closer to God and bringing others along with them.
Sounds like the movie is a great example of what the highest level of learning can look like. I see two ways this could be demonstrated to students:
1) Teach all the themes from the movie beforehand (with the scriptural proofs) and then have students be on the lookout for how these themes are portrayed in the movie. Have them evaluate how the story fits/doesn’t fit with their perception of the story.
2) Provide guiding questions that focus on the themes in movie (i.e. “What do you think the dispute between Noach and Tuval-Kayin is all about?”) and then have them look for scriptural/midrashic proof for the movie’s themes.
Afterwards, I would have them take the next group of pesukim that are being taught in class and turn it into a short film (5-10 minutes). The film would need to have at least one thematic interpretation not directly in the pesukim. There would also need to be an accompanying “movie review” from a “critic” delineating the themes and the proofs for and against this theme being correct.
(At some point along the way, I would have a conversation with the class about what “real learning is.” It’s always good to be transparent with students about your educational decisions.)
Unless someones thinks this is idea is treif. If so, I take it all back.
I’m sorry but this is just silly. “Learning” a movie?!? In an expanded use of the word learning, yes you can and should learn from everything but to take this movie seriously? It is interesting that they used Rabbi Formans interpretation of the story but beyond that it remains what it is and nothing more, a movie.
Further, your student did not take a step towards becoming more religious or even more observant because of a movie. Do you honestly believe if a kid doesn’t believe in God he will change his views even in the slightest fashion because of a movie? And, if he does believe in God and he is simply being lackadaisical in his observance will seeing a movie change his laziness? Perhaps you will argue that he is religious but as a film maker he is having trouble finding his place in Judaism. One thing that I find from many of the Rabbi’s in school and at home is that they think we have complex issues about our Judaism when we don’t. We are human and therefore lazy, bored, interested in other things like sports and girls and college etc… Don’t buy the lie. If we aren’t doing what we should be it’s most likely because we just dont care. Many of us grow up in communities where believing but not caring is the standard and frankly it’s one that I’m comfortable with. We are “modern Orthodox.” We live in two worlds at once and we are ok with that. But it’s frightening how out of touch our teachers and rabbis are when it comes to what’s actually going on.
By “learning” the movie I mean that by taking it seriously and thinking about it instead of just being entertained by it, you can arrive at a greater understanding of Torah and yourself. I also think that it’s particularly important to develop a general orientation toward media that tries to seek meaning and make distinctions between that which is more valuable for our personal and religious growth and that which is less valuable. Yoel Finkelman has commented on this very insightfully http://www.atid.org/resources/survey/column4.asp
I’m not as sure as you are that my student did not take a step toward becoming more religious. By that measure I also think it would be true that a disinterested student would not become more frum by attending one chumash class. But a series of engaging, thoughtful and thought provoking chumash classes would certainly lead a student toward a deeper religious lifestyle. So too, I think that if we train students to take some media seriously and to be discerning consumers and creators of culture that they will become more thoughtful and frum young men and women.
To a certain extent this movie is not the best example of what I’m trying to promote. Because it’s overtly about a Biblical personality, it’s more obvious that a religious person would care about its message. It’s probably better to promote this message through less overtly religious material.
As you said- I know that a lot of people don’t care and that they’re comfortable with that. I’m hoping though to change that in whatever small ways that I can.