• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Thursday, November 19, 2015

    The Red Tent - Scene Guide


    I reviewed Roger Young's adaptation of The Red Tent a few weeks back, but I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the way the scenes relate to the text in Genesis. However, in contrast to my usual scene guide format I'm not going to point out where there's extra-biblical material.
    Part 1
    Jacob and Rachel meet - (Gen.29:1-14)
    Jacob marries Leah - (Gen.29:15-26)
    Leah's sons born - (Gen.29:31-35; 30:17-20)
    Birth of Dinah - (Gen.30:21)
    Joseph's coat - (Gen.37:2-7
    Jacob splits from Laban - (Gen.31:1-18)
    Jacob reconciled to Esau - (Gen.33:1-17)
    Move to Shechem - (Gen.33:18-20)
    Rachel's idols - (Gen.31:19,30-35)
    Dinah and Shechem meet - (Gen.34:1,3)
    Dinah And Shechem marry - (Gen.34:2,4)
    Hamor and Jacob meet - (Gen.34:5-19)
    Shechemites circumcised - (Gen.34:20-24)
    Shechemites slaughtered - (Gen.34:25-29)

    Part 2
    Jacob denounces Simeon and Levi - (Gen.34:30-31)
    [A lot of extra-biblical material]
    Joseph sold into slavery - (Gen.37:17-36)
    [A lot of extra-biblical material]
    Jacob reunited with Joseph - (Gen.46:26-30)
    Death of Jacob - (Gen.49:29-50:14)
    A Few Notes
    As you would expect for a 3 hour film that is essentially based on a single chapter of Genesis Red Tent covers chapter 34 and those around it pretty comprehensively, albeit with a radically revised interpretation of the key verses in that chapter (34:1-4). A quick glance a above shows that all of the chapters between chapters 29-37 get referenced at some point, with the excuseable exception of Genesis 36 which is jus a list of Esau's descendants and the subsequent rulers of Edom.

    That said a few key passages do get omitted and a couple of these are fairly interesting. Perhaps the most curious exclusion is that despite the numerous birthing scenes, we don' get to see Rachel giving birth (and if I remember rightly the same is true of Bilhah and Zilpah). This seems strange seeing the film's emphasis on sisterhood and motherhood, and given Rachel's particular expertise in midwifery i would have been interesting to see the roles reversed.

    Another important scene from the Biblical story that is largely passed over here is Jacob wrestling with God the night before his confrontation with Esau. It's not hard to see why this is played down. The supernatural aspects of the whole story are largely in he background here. It's presented as a human story rather than one driven by a divine plan. An incident where God/an angel appears in bodily form to wrestle with God would seem somewhat out of step with the rest of the film. Furthermore, nothing in this parts of the origins of Israel narrative does more to underline Jacob's importance at the head of the tribe and to present him as the key figure. Again his goes against the grain of the story tellers' emphasis on he women of the tribe.

    It would have been similarly contrary to the filmmakers' intentions to include the story of Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38). In many ways this mini-series is about exploring a tangent to the Jacob story. The story of Tamar represents another tangent to that story, so the connection here is slight anyway. Furthermore the feint suggestion of disharmony between the leading women of Israel also would go against the narrative flow that is being presented.

    In contrast to those omissions it's noticeable that the various episodes largely follow their biblical order. This is hardly unique to The Red Tent despite the fact that there's some evidence to suggest that the biblical order is not strictly chronological. Jacob's gift of the coat of many colours/special sleeves is brought forward a little, the disclosure about Rachel hiding her father's icons is moved back, but it's largely all in tact.

    There are three other versions of this story that spring to mind. The New Media Bible Genesis is committed to following the story more or less word for word (although it misses out all of the Tower of Babel - go figure), so naturally this follows the biblical order. Roger Young's other take on this story, Joseph (1995), tells the earlier parts of Joseph's life in flashback, so the order is different, but it's not really subversive in anyway, it's just a narrative device. The fact that this episode appears in the Joseph entry in this series, rather than the Jacob section might be significant as some of the episodes there occur after this incident.

    In contrast, Cheick Oumar Sissoko's La genèse rearranges things to emphasise a time of crisis for Jacob's tribe. When the film starts, Jacob is already mourning Joseph (Gen. 37), but he has not yet been reconciled with Esau (Gen.33). And the film's first major event is rape of Dinah (ch. 34). As Peter Chattaway summarises "Jacob is ineffectual in dealing with the rape of his daughter, and in making peace with Esau for that matter, because he has been mourning the apparent death of Joseph for 20 months, and he simply can't be bothered to leave his tent...". Compared to this The Red Tent's changes are just tweaks to make the story flow a little more easily.

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