Darren Aronofsky’s sprawling Noah opens this weekend, giving us the first mainstream Biblical epic in a while. But why stop with Noah? There are tons of Bible stories just begging for big-screen adaptations, and there are plenty of interesting directors who would put their unique spins on some familiar tales. Here are five suggestions.
The Bible story: Leah and Rachel
Who should direct? Lynn Shelton.
In “Genesis,” Leah and Rachel are sisters who both marry the same guy — except the guy, Jacob, only really loves Rachel, and in fact was tricked into marrying Leah. (Their servants, Zilpah and Bilhah, were also part of the deal, so Jacob winds up with two wives, and two other women who also bear his children.) God knows that Leah is unloved, so he makes her extra fertile, while Rachel remains hopelessly barren. Leah gives birth to six sons and a daughter, and Zilpah and Bilhah give birth to two sons each, but it’s ages before God finally “remembers” Rachel. She has one son, Joseph, who becomes kiiiiind of a big deal. Perhaps you’ve heard of his technicolor dream coat? Let’s see, sisters, intimacy, and trying to figure out the point of your life? This has Lynne Shelton written all over it. It’s already part of the fabric of Shelton’s 2011 movie Your Sister’s Sister (two sisters, one guy), and her more recent movie Touchy Feely explores both sibling relationships and the idea of feeling invisible in a romantic pairing. Love, jealousy, sex, betrayal, fertility, adoption, and sisterhood: This story’s got everything.
The Bible story: Job
Who should direct? Christopher Nolan
Job’s is not a story about a guy with bad luck. “The Book of Job” is about an argument between God and Satan, and eventually an exploration of what God and man really are to one another. In the beginning, Job is a rich, happy, lucky guy, and Satan comes to God and suggests that that’s why Job is so devout. But what if God took all those things away? Would Job still honor God? Later, after all the tragedies that befall him, Job’s friends wonder the same things — and they wonder why God needs people to worship him at all, especially if this is what happens when people do. (“Job” is a radical text! The Hebrew Bible contains lots of different kinds of stories!) Nolan loves a dark drama, and he’s never shied away from a mind-fuck, which puts “Job” right in Nolan’s sweet spot. How do we wind up believing what we believe? What constitutes faith? And what happens when God and Satan duke it out over one sad guy sitting on an ash heap?
Bible story: Jonah
Who should direct? Wes Anderson
Yeah, it’d be fun to see Anderson’s quirky visual take on what the inside of a “great fish” looks like. (Maybe he could even do it in stop-motion, à la Fantastic Mr. Fox and the skiing scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel.) But the real reason Anderson is perfect for this story is that Jonah is a huge pain in the ass, like many of the characters in his sprawling casts. God tells Jonah to go preach in a city that has become wicked, but Jonah says no and jumps on a ship sailing in the opposite direction. When a storm threatens everyone’s safety, Jonah reluctantly admits that he’s the reason God is punishing everyone, and that’s when he gets chucked overboard and swallowed by a fish. Jonah’s petulance abates and he begs God to deliver him, which God does and Jonah then goes and preaches repentance. When the city does in fact repent and God shows its residents mercy, Jonah gets all salty and complains that God was going to do that anyway, so why did he make Jonah go to all this trouble? It’s the kind of self-regard Max Fischer would recognize.
Bible story: Jael
Who should direct? Jane Campion
Jael’s sort of a minor figure in “Judges,” but she’s also one of the secret badass ladies of Hebrew Bible. In “Judges 4,” the Israelites are trying to oust the oppressive king Jabin and Sisera, the commander of his army. After a massive battle, Sisera’s troops are dead, but Sisera himself flees on foot and assumes that Jael (based on her background) will be sympathetic to him. She puts up a good front, inviting him in and giving him luxurious milk when he asked for water, but then, when he falls into a post-milk nap, Jael kills him by hammering a peg through his skull. Boom! Even seemingly insignificant tent-dwelling women have their own lives going on, thank you very much, and are more than able to get things done. Campion’s work in The Piano, for example, draws strong distinctions between outside space and inside space, between a wild realm and a domestic one, and what happens when wildness comes into our homes or when we try to pacify nature. Plus, she likes a story about underestimated women.
The Bible story: Judith (Let’s pause here to mention that not everyone thinks “The Book of Judith” is in the Bible; some people call it part of the Apocrypha, some people don’t acknowledge it at all. The Bible! It’s complicated.)
Who should direct? Quentin Tarantino.
Speaking of badass murderer women, here comes Judith, a widowed double-agent who infiltrates King Nebuchadnezzar’s inner circle and eventually beheads Holofernes, the head of his army. She does this by seducing Holofernes, letting him get super drunk, and then taking his own sword off the wall, crying out to God for help, and then slicing the guy’s head off and putting it in her maid’s purse. She’s exalted among her people, and then she retires, living to 105, setting her servants free and distributing all her wealth before her death. Presumably, she’d be played by Uma Thurman.