• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Story of Ruth - Scene Guide

    I reviewed Henry Koster's 1960 film The Story of Ruth last week, and, as usual wanted to follow it up with some scene analysis.
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Death of Kilion and Elimelech - (Ruth 1:1-5)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Mahlon dies - (Ruth 1:5)
    Orpah returns Ruth stays - (Ruth 1:6-18)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Return to Bethlehem - (Ruth 1:19-22)
    Ruth Gleans Boaz's field - (Ruth 2:1-23)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Ruth and Boaz at the Threshing Floor - (Ruth 3:1-18)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Boaz buys off his kinsman - (Ruth 4:1-8)
    Ruth marries Boaz - (Ruth 4:9-13)
    Genealogy - (Ruth 4:17-22)
    The film's runtime is just over 2 hours, and it's interesting how the biblical material is spread over those 130 minutes. The first thing to note is that the halfway point of the film occurs before Naomi even gets to return to Nazareth. So, as is often the case with biblical films, the film is particularly interested to set up the background story and the characters. As I noted in my review the film is particularly interested in the character of Mahlon, and the role he has in revealing his God to Ruth.

    Because the book of Ruth is 4 chapters, it's all too easy to divide up a two hour film into four sections and see how the map to one another. So 90 minutes through lands in the middle of Ruth and Boaz's greatly embellished courtship (middle of chapter 2), and the two hour mark arrives whilst Ruth and Boaz are still at the threshing room floor. The action packed last ten or so minutes wraps up the end of chapter 3, and deals with chapter 4, which is admittedly fairly brief.

    The appearance of an mystery figure who may simply be a holy prophet, or may be just an angel is imported from a number of other biblical stories, in particular the prediction of Abraham's son (Genesis 18), Jacob wrestling (32), Gideon's call (Judges 6), prediction of Samson's birth (Judges 13). The latter two examples are fairly contemporary with the story of Ruth, and so such an import is not so far fetched. The first two examples it is unclear exactly whether the person(s) in question are men angels or even God himself.

    The famous scene where Ruth decides to stay with Naomi was a little weak. Orpah offered very little resistance (despite the fact she had been an established part of the family for quite some time), and Naomi doesn't seem to try too hard to dissuade Ruth from joining her (despite her previous antagonism).

    Likewise the scene of Ruth and Boaz at the threshing room floor was very restrained. The biblical account clearly has Ruth lying somewhere in the vicinity of Boaz. If taken literally "at his feet" seems fairly subservient (and is she pointing in the same direction as Boaz, or at 90o)? Some scholars, however, have suggested that feet is a euphemism for male genitals.

    The American film industry was still under the Hays Production Code at the time so that, at least, would have been far too racy for them to show. However, the film uses subtle distinctions here to explain why Tob (the closer kinsman) relinquishes his claim, but also is able to stress that Ruth is still upright and that therefore Boaz has not compromised himself.

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