Carl Mays: The key words are 'based on'

Apr. 10, 2014 @ 11:06 PM

A few nights ago Jean and I watched a TV movie based on an Agatha Christie novel. “Based” is the key word here and is what today’s column is all about. But first, let me explain to those who may not be familiar with Agatha Christie (1890-1976) that she was a British writer of detective novels, short stories and stage plays.

Jean has read all of Christie’s writings, and we have seen plays and films “based” on her works. Christie’s “The Mousetrap” is the world’s longest running play. This year it celebrates its 60th Anniversary in London’s West End District. Among Jean’s favorite memories is our seeing “The Mousetrap” at St. Martin’s Theatre in the West End. I share these tidbits because Jean was flabbergasted when the recent TV film was, in her words, “far different from the book, almost unrecognizable.”

This brings us back to the word “based.” This week we saw the “Noah” film “based” on the biblical account. Very loosely “based.” The loosely aspect begins a few seconds into the film when viewers are introduced to the Watchers, fallen angels turned into giant stone people who walk, talk, watch and act.

A major subplot of the movie is that only Noah’s son Shem has a wife to accompany him on the ark. Ham, near Shem’s age, has no one because Noah allowed his potential wife to die. Japheth, Noah’s youngest son, is just a kid, not old enough to marry. So, in the movie Ham rebels against Noah. Shem does also because Noah is going to kill his wife’s expected baby if it is a girl. Shem’s wife gives birth to twin girls. Like I say, “loosely based.”

Now, whether you see the actual story of Noah as it appears in Genesis as literally true, a parable, a simple explanation of a complicated happening, or mythology, you’ve got to appreciate comments made on Esquire magazine’s blog. The magazine conducted a religious test screening of the film, directed by self-professed atheist Darren Aronofsky, asking an evangelical Christian, Orthodox Jew and atheist to give their reactions.

The Jew included some positive things in his comments. Having read and studied about Noah since childhood, he said, “I think it’s a big deal and incredibly ambitious for a director to attempt to depict... It was done pretty well. Since elementary school – except for some pedagogic, low-grade claymation models – I have never seen any attempt at that.”

The Christian also included some positive things in her comments. She said she was moved by the Watchers, representing the fallen angels from the book of Enoch. She said in the film these are angels who have been punished by God and turned to stone. She commented, “Thankfully for Noah, they eventually help build the ark, and defend him when descendants of Cain attempt to take it over. She goes on to say, “I thought the storyline was a beautiful metaphor... for righteousness and doing what you think is right.”

The atheist said, “If I had been watching the film alone, I would have got up and left the theater as soon as the stone-like Transformer creatures appeared on screen. It was hard enough for me to watch a movie about a biblical story without having it infused with even more implausibility, and even more supernatural elements. I just don’t think it needed to be there.” He had no positive comments about the film.

I might add, the Christian also said, “The largest miracle in the entire film was that they all had pants with perfectly sewn crotches. Humanity did not understand how to make a cross and a yolk of a pant very well until the late 19th, early 20th century.”

© 2014 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author of over a dozen books. Email or visit