In the last few posts, I’ve commented on several resonances of the film – God as creator, religious experience and revelation, and the problem with humanity. There was heaps of interesting stuff in the film to highlight and think about, but I feel it would be remiss of me to not make a few loosely connected observations before I close the series.
A movie steeped in a worldview
The many interviews Aronofsky has given on the film give lie to the idea that movies are mindless entertainment. We clearly see the great love and care filmmakers put into their craft; the thought that has gone into developing the world, the themes, the characters and how the movie serves to explore the interaction of these elements to communicate big ideas.
Some have suggested the snakeskin talisman made of the serpent’s shed skin, and other elements, point to a Kabbalistic influence. A case could be made for that but I’m not familiar enough with that material to make it. A better argument would be to simply observe that Ari Handel and Darren Aronofsky say that they drew inspiration from the Zohar (the sacred text of Kabbalah). You don’t need to speculate. This points clearly to Aronofsky’s Jewish heritage and perhaps even something of his spirituality. That should not surprising.
But if this is a uniquely Jewish expression of the story – and perhaps a Kabbalistic expression – how can Paramount state in a disclaimer that the story is faithful to the essence of the story as viewed by people of other faiths who also read it quite differently? Money obviously, but my argument that the film is steeped in a particular worldview might explain the director’s displeasure with an essentially pluralistic statement added to the promotional material for the film.
To be honest, I thought the symbols and such were simply fantasy elements like the “Watchers”, so ultimately I’m personally not sure what difference the esoteric-inspired elements make to the message of the movie. But I reckon everyone will remember ‘we need to learn to be kind’ or ‘God wanted you to decide whether humanity was worth saving’
Aronofsky’s doubt (and my doubt about the doubt)
Darren Aronofsky has said that if you want to know what he believes, watch the movie The Fountain. I’ve not seen The Fountain and I’ve not met Aronofsky. But is it possible, and this is admittedly mostly speculative, that if The Fountain represents what Aronofsky believes, could Noah in some way reflects personal struggles?
Hear me out a second.
Noah is pretty confused and doubtful throughout the whole movie. He doubts himself, he doubts his ability to understand or know God. Crucially, he struggles with uncertainty and his own depravity and putting everything together with a seemingly good Creator who judges a depraved humanity. As a person interested in the reasons for believing the Christian faith, some of these questions and tensions seem to me to be pretty common issues.
It’s just a possibility and I won’t hang my hat on this, but given the doubts and difficulties of the central character, could it be that at least some of the criticism from Christians over the movie arises not only over changes to the biblical narrative and its meaning (though those changes are important and worth discussing), but over issues, experiential, theological, for which we as Christians already believe we have clear answers in Jesus? However, identifying and analyzing such themes and differences and the reasons behind them increases our understanding and appreciation of the filmmaking process while serving as a basis for discussion about big important issues – a more fruitful approach than simply complaining about them.
The small story is connected to the big story
For me, then, one of the most important aspects of this film in revealing its orientation is not so much what is included and added to the movie – there’s always going to be creative licence in movies like this – but what has been excluded from the story.
In Genesis 3, while God is judging humanity, God shows mercy and promises redemption. God could have wiped humanity out then and there, but instead promises an offspring of the woman who would defeat the serpent (i.e. snake). Christian theologians have called this passage the ‘protoevangelium’: God’s statement to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden about the future relationship between the Serpent and Christ, the son of Mary as having a prophetic and Messianic fulfilment. It’s the gospel promised before the gospel realized.
However, in the movie, after the humans sin, the narrative goes directly from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil to our planet’s history of violence. Rightly the film gives the impression that evil and suffering were a direct result of humanity’s…choice, but skips over the promise of redemption.
Now consider the order of the events in the film’s ending. In the film, Movie Noah makes wine, gets naked, and his family becomes involved in his depravity. Noah repents and renews the creation covenant paraphrasing words attributed to God, with the snakeskin talisman wrapped around his arm. And then the film ends rather happily with the thought lingering in our mind that the future is in our hands (“God wanted you to decide if humanity was worth saving” – notice it is not “God wanted you to learn that humanity was worth saving”) and that we need to be kind. Seemingly we can’t rely on God to save us, as one of the Humanist Manifestos states.
In the biblical text, the events occur the other way around, sans snakeskin of course: God’s makes a new covenant with man, then the next thing recorded for us is Noah’s drunkenness and depravity, suggesting that despite the new beginning, all is not yet right with the world! The original text’s conclusion to the account, then, is much more pessimistic, compared with the film. Even righteous Noah is deserving judgement and in need of renewal, ironically the film affirms at it’s most dramatic moment. You could not play nice happy music over that ending!
Now, if someone treats the text as myth, as a Joseph Campbell might, an humanistic message is inevitable if they also do not believe in God, because that would be all that one can truly hope in – man is the ultimate being for man because man is the only being for man. That, however, would not be surprising. In stark contrast, Christians believe the Bible records for us an unfolding promise of redemption through the history of unfaithful Israel in the Old Testament to Jesus in the New Testament, whose faithfulness as the suffering servant ultimately brings reconciliation between God and man. Prophesied in the Old Testament,
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
and fulfilled in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:22-25):
22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
We cannot earn this salvation. It is a free gift of grace. We cannot save ourselves through mystery knowledge as esoteric spirituality would teach. Instead, Jesus not only teaches us to love our neighbours, he grants us the power to live it out by graciously changing our hearts. He is removing the power of the curse of sin which has from the beginning of humanity has plagued our ability to just do the right thing: To love God and love our neighbours.
So, Mr Aronosfky, if you ever read this post, I want you to know I really appreciate what you said in the Atlantic interview. You seem like a thoughtful guy. I agree – we have big problems caring for one another. We humans have big problems in our world because we have big problems inside. As you suggest in your movie, we’re not reconciled to our Creator who made everything good about the world and we’re not as much like Him as we should be and so treat everything badly. I don’t know whether you believe there is a god or not. But may I commend Jesus to you. Not only does he offer answers to your deepest questions about reality, as “God’s rigtheousness revealed” he will forgive your sin and change you. At the cross, he demonstrates ultimate righteousness – justice and mercy together. He is the full picture of God and can restore you in fulfillment of the Messianic expectation of one who would put things right. He can help you – and all of us – be kind in the way you believe the world ought to be.
Read earlier posts here:
- Read the prefatory post here: Clearing the decks for Noah (2014)
- Read part 1 of the series here: Noah #1 – A good God and Aronofsky’s apple.
- Read part 2 of the series here: Noah #2 – Great expectations and a better revelation
- Read part 3 of the series here: Noah #3 – Kindness and the kind God