Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Noah's Ark Theme in "Life After God"

Course TA Candace Knighton sent me a delightful and subtle pensée on the depths of Coupland's use of the Noah's Ark story, which she kindly permits me to share for wider benefit:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth…and the LORD was sorry that he had made man…so the Lord said “I will blot out… man and beast and the creeping things and birds of the air. Genesis 6: 5-7

And the LORD said in his heart “I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done. Genesis 8: 20.

Noah’s ark is a symbol of global destruction, but also a promise from God. On page five of Life After God, Douglas Coupland mentions and illustrates the ark (a truly post-modern moment). We see birds fly in the sky while the sun shines over the iconic boat from the Old Testament. It is a pleasingly cruise-like image, but under the still water (suggestive of Cathy’s secret world “just on the other side of the water”), are the bloated corpses of man and beast. According to the Bible, all humans are descendent from Noah’s family. We are all related to a man who closed up his boat and listened while his neighbour’s drowned. All humans have survivor-guilt, but are also the Christian God’s chosen and blessed.
We have been discussing fear of death and the possible symbolism of animals in Life After God. Coupland depicts humans sharing the earth with the animals which were given the chance to survive the Flood. According to Coupland, animals only live in the moment; “Dogs only have a present tense in their lives” (223). In “The Dead Speak” Coupland depicts everyday scenes impacted by nuclear devastation. Understanding of time, past, present and future, becomes meaningless and humans are forced into the present tense, like animals, to watch their own demise. Wisdom, or goodness, or evil becomes irrelevant.
Today’s apocalyptic vision is centered on global warming. I do not think it is just a coincidence that the movie Evan Almighty (a Noah’s ark remake) is in the theatres at this time. Many people have seen "An Inconvenient Truth" with its graphic depiction of inhabited land gradually being drowned by rising ocean water. Some others may remember the movie "Waterworld" (1995) in which all but the tip of Mount Everest is under the ocean due to climate change. Anxiety over death and chaos is usually depicted in art. After the Black Death, people danced the danse macabre and created paintings of animated skeletons inhabiting the earth. The comedy “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb” dealt with human anxiety over global nuclear destruction. Evan Almighty allows people (Christianity’s descendents of Noah), to huddle together in the dark, to laugh at the ridiculousness of the upcoming Flood as well as their helplessness against it.

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