Jay Michaelson says that the kinds of faith depicted in the films “Son of God” and “Noah” are as radically different as the markets they reach out to. One is kitsch and the other complex.
Writing in Religion Dispatches, Michaelson says the Jesus of “Son of God” is safe, predictable and sentimental:
Son of God, the latest cultural product aimed at the supposedly burgeoning Christian consumer public, embodies this mode of kitsch religiosity. Of course Jesus is hot, white, and soulful. Of course he is just absolutely perfect. That’s what a religious person should aspire to be: nice, clean, square, entirely in major key.
More than the Biblical literalism of the film—a term which is hardly deserved, given the contradictions between the Gospels and the inevitable selection of which stories to tell—what is striking about Son of God and its marketing campaign is how straightforward it actually is. The film is the opposite of irony and afraid of nuance.
Of course, we’ve already had nuance and complexity in the Jesus story—the Scorsese/Kazantakis Last Temptation of Christ—and we saw how well that went.
He says that the Noah depicted in the film of the same name is more complex and nuanced:
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is, in contrast, an exercise is complexity. Its title character is being marketed as your standard Russell Crowe action hero—Gladiator, the Prequel. In fact, he is tortured, obsessive, wounded, and deeply flawed. He ends up being the villain of his own story, eager for humanity to be wiped out.
Press coverage of the “Christian reaction” to Noah has focused on its often outlandish elaboration on the Biblical tale. As I’ve described elsewhere, many of its additions—the fallen angels called the Watchers, for example—have precedent in Christian and Jewish legend. Many others are just made up.
Michaelson’s question is “what’s a myth for?”
But these embellishments of the Biblical story seem secondary to a different conception of what a Biblical story should be in the first place. Is the point of myth to provide a relatable character, full of human flaws, to whom we might relate and from whom we might learn? Or is myth about paragons of virtue, well beyond ordinary folks like us, to whom we might aspire?