Sexist ark larks in Russell Crowe's Noah
I like a nice inundation, so on Sunday afternoon I went with my youngest daughter, Eve, to see Noah.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s about how a supreme deity — fed up with humanity’s wicked ways — sends a flood to drown everything on earth.
But He (the Creator is a “He” in this tale, which, as you will see, is significant) decides to let a couple of representatives of all the land-based species survive.
He instructs this man, Noah, to build a large boat big enough to take all the animals and his own family, and suggests that this alone will survive the coming flood. An odd decision, you may think, since all it might mean is that humanity will start up all over again and just go back to the wickedness that they had found so enjoyable before. Either that or the fish of the sea and the cephalopods of the deep, who have survived unscathed and in their millions, will hold dominion over all.
Many readers may want to see this film because it has Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone and Emma Watson in it, and so I won’t spoil the ending for you. And in any case whether or not the boat (which they insist always on calling an Ark) manages to maintain its cargo and bring it to safety, is beside the point.
And that point is the absurd and archaic sexism underpinning the whole exercise. We first encounter Young Noah roaming a barren landscape with his father, who is wise and strong. They are set upon by ruffians, the father is killed and Noah flees.
Next we find the adult Noah, bearded and crinkly-eyed, roaming a semi-barren landscape with his own sons, doing various outdoorsy things. This Noah is calm, he’s wise, he guides his sons in their outdoorsiness gently but fairly. Then he returns to his tent where his wife has stayed having babies, cooking and waiting for him to return so that she can give him one of those fierce married kisses that are all the rage these days. He is the ultimate fantasy patriarch.
And, of course, Old Man Noah is in communion with the disgusted male God from whom he gets the call. Debased humanity, whose demise is imminent, consists of one gigantic stag night held on the side of Mount Vesuvius, with men shouting, drinking, raping and ravening. When they carry women off it really isn’t clear whether it’s to ravish them or eat them. Or both. And if so, in what order. So God is angry.
In fact, women in Noah merely exist to be married to good men, ravished by bad ones and led by prophetic ones. And yet the backstory in Noah — a rather strange shimmering montage of trees, apples and serpents — suggests that the prototypical woman is to blame for all this male malefaction.
This feels terribly anachronistic. If you were writing the story today you wouldn’t cast it this way. Certainly, Noah with his almost infallible wisdom is like nobody anyone today knows. This fellow is not wise and prophetic.
Jackie Mason’s routine about today’s Jewish man made people laugh because it was true. The Jewish man is asked whether he likes a particular food. “So he has to say to his wife, ‘Do I like that? I don’t like that? I thought I did. I thought I did.’”
So I came out of Noah thinking that out of all it — the capricious God, the fallen angels, the sudden forest, the birds and animals filing up the ramp, the waters rising to cover the earth — the least plausible aspects were the entirely passive character of all the women and girls and the all-knowing, all-understanding character of the husband and father.
I said so to Eve. “You’re telling me”, she replied.