Like many Russell Crowe fans, I ran to see Darren Aronofsky’s controversial film “Noah” on opening day.
While the iconic image of Noah is that of an old guy with a long untrimmed white beard, this movie version of the Biblical patriarch is one you could never imagine. And Crowe, as Noah, does a fantastic job bringing viewers into an unimaginable world.
Aronofsky’s Noah is a conflicted axe-wielding social justice environmentalist. Crowe wrestles with an environmental disaster of biblical proportions and a demanding God commanding an ark be built; one that rivals the RMS Titanic. Aronofsky, however, freely uses his artistic license in some areas yet keeps certain troubling interpretations of the narrative the same; mainly racism and heterosexism.
I was delighted to see the Curse of Ham excised from the plot. As a text of terror that for millennia gave biblical justification for slavery in this country and was then used to prop up various permutations of American racism, I welcomed its absence. But I was startled to see no men and women of color.
Since Noah is driven by God’s wrath to rid the world of wickedness, I pondered, perhaps Aronofsky is also making a statement with an all-white cast.
Another troubling aspect Aronofsky keeps intact with his story is the deluge of hetero-normativity. The indoctrination of compulsory heterosexuality appears innocuous in the film but its bombardment as normative will be glaring to some viewers and, sadly, invisible to others.
For example, no intrusive or offensive statements about human sexualities— especially lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)—are made in the film as in the Biblical narrative, but the unspoken statement is resounding and is underscored by the intentional heterosexual coupling of the animals.
The animals ascending Noah’s ark two-by-two are a spectacular parade, illustrating how deep homophobia has been since the canonization of this biblical tale and illustrating how long an obsession with gender identification has been with its male/female coupling, too.
The normative storyline of the Noah narrative to kids today is that of a big boat, a huge flood, a horde of cute little animals, and the significance of the dove and the rainbow as a way to gently get across the importance of obeying God.
But with the biblical Noah narrative having morphed into one of today’s best beloved bible bedtime stories and animated movie for kids, how do you unmask its heterosexist moorings…and not be disobeying God?
How do you tell kids God is wrong? How do you convey to kids- straight and LGBTQ- that queer animals should receive the assurance of God’s covenant of safety during a tumultuous storm, too?
Noah and the Ark has become a beloved children’s tale, with its two-by-twos. Aronofsky had the opportunity to show homosexuality as it exists in the animal world, giving parents a tool to teach about the LGBT world.
For example, who would have thought that the politics of same-sex coupling of birds would a debatable topic in the marriage equality state of Massachusetts?
But during the summer of 2005, more than a year after same-sex marriage became legal in the state, Boston’s beloved pair of swans in the Public Garden — named Romeo and Juliet — had been having a love affair that dared not speak its name. As Bay Staters bantered and bickered over whether the two should be allowed to stay together or be separated, these swans were being subjected to the same queries that have plagued same-sex couples in heterosexist societies for centuries – even in Noah’s time.
Assuming that the swans were heterosexual until one of the couple’s eggs went unfertilized, Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department decided to conduct a “detailed gender test” by examining the swans’ reproductive organs. The findings disclosed that Romeo and Juliet were really more like Juliet and Juliet.
Spokeswoman Mary Hines of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department told The Boston Globe, “Each year when the swans go in, the kids immediately come to us and say, ‘Which one’s Romeo and which one’s Juliet?’”
Where the public might have thought a male was needed to make them a complete or authentic couple, neither of the girls seemed to be lamenting, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Why? Because on any given day at the Public Garden you saw them swimming happily together in the lagoon.
Moreover, the swans have been cohabiting for two years. Animal scientists have observed the monogamous nature of swans whether they are in opposite-sex or same-sex coupling – they stay with their mates until death, which can occur between 20 to 30 years.
Same-sex coupling is not a new phenomenon in the animal world. However, the disclosure of it doesn’t come without arguments to pathologize it.
The last scene in the Noah story a rainbow appears representing God’s promise to never destroy the earth by flood. I wanted to see two queer doves flying across the rainbow representing God’s promise to us, too.
by Reverend Irene Monroe