I went to see Noah last evening. I had briefly blogged about it earlier to draw readers’ attention to Brian Mattson’s review, which I highly recommend. I’m not going to recycle his observations. I just wanted to share some impressions.
This is s a weird movie. Not in the sense of being disturbing. Weird in the sense of being a disjointed amalgam of traditions that keep running into each other. It left me with the impression that the director was either utterly clueless or intentionally strategic. I think it’s the latter.
Yes, there are overt Gnostic elements in the film (but it’s not “all Gnostic”). They are so overt (to someone familiar with the material) that I’d say the effort was unimaginative. Those unfamiliar with that sort of material will find the film downright bizarre, as though the director was incapable of getting the simplest things right — whether that means the biblical material or a coherent Gnostic narrative (if there is such a thing – Gnostic cosmologies tend to read like the authors were on hallucinogens).
Perhaps an analogy will help. When I say this film is an amalgam of several strands of tradition (one of which is biblical) but the result is unimaginative, it’s because I couldn’t help comparing it to The Matrix. That movie did the same thing — a strong Gnostic core married to overt biblical content (not surprising since the two are related), with other ancient and modern philosophical ideas thrown into the blender. But the result was a clever, absorbing film with a coherent story. Noah fails in that respect in every regard. From start to finish it changes, inverts, and subverts. Again — either cluelessness or an intentional stratagem.
As I noted above, I’m on the side that this is deliberate. I’d echo Mattson’s thoughts, but feel I need to add an element. A Gnostic who goes to see Noah will have the same complaint as the Bible-believer: “Why does Aronofsky keep throwing stuff in here that isn’t in our texts?” The answer, I think, is so he can claim to not have had an agenda (“If I’d really wanted to take sides I’d have told one side”). In other words: the tortured amalgam that is Noah offers plausible deniability.
So what’s he wanting to deny? I would answer that with this question: “What are the core elements of the story that get repetition — and, therefore, reinforcement?” That’s easy. Two are pretty transparent.
1. The luminescent beings that are supposed to be Adam and Eve and the luminescent character of the serpent’s skin — which is the birthmark of the line of Seth (and so, Noah) in the movie are deliberately connected (via the luminescence) and repeated with some frequency. The skin is also a visual inclusio for the film. It is a unifying theme. This is pure Gnosticism in some respects. But the serpent is not cast as the hero per se. He never says anything, never tells Eve that she’ll be enlightened if she eats. Aronofsky excludes that. It would make the agenda too obvious. Skipping that allows critics of what I’m saying (or what Mattson has said) to say “If he really wanted to teach Gnosticism he wouldn’t have messed that up.” Plausible deniability.
2. “God” is not responsible for creation or what his creatures screw up — the “Creator” is. For those of you familiar with Gnosticism, that will make sense. I don’t recall the word “God” being in the film (though I can’t help wondering if it was there at the Big Bang – which would be a Gnostic feature – someone let me know, please). At any rate, in Gnosticism, the Creator of our world is the Demiurge (“The Maker”). He is an evil, callous being and not the “true God.” In this movie, the creator is not loving or merciful. At best he is apathetic. He seems incapable of making a noble moral decision (which describes the Demiurge well). Even the matter of whether humans survive, the movie tells us, is left to one man — Noah. The Creator was incapable of making this basic moral choice, but Noah was – because he has the spark of divinity in him from the “true God” (he is of the line of Seth and has the serpent birthright).
A few more random thoughts:
1. I really liked the Big Bang to life on earth visual sequence. Hugh Ross ought to love it. It’s basically day-age made visual. I don’t hold that view (I don’t hold any of the Christian views, nor am I a materialist), but this was well done. Young-earthers of course are irate over this.
2. The luminescent beings (Adam and Eve) really cannot be called human, and they are not shown evolving from apes, contrary to young earth creationist reviews. The sequence moves up to primates and then Noah says “And then the creator made humanity” (or something like that). There is no transitional formation. Only the sequence allows young-earthers to get distracted from the messaging. The real message is that humanity was divine but visible and terrestrial. A product of the creator, yet also divinity. Not a complete Gnostic retelling, but faithful to one of its core ideas. So instead of people going back to their churches and saying “we need to understand Gnosticism so we can (like Irenaeus) rebut it,” we get people going back and asking if Ken Ham can be scheduled for a creationism seminar.
3. Yes, its annoying that Methuselah, Noah, and Noah’s wife seem to be trained magicians and alchemists. This is pervasive throughout the film. (Why can’t they just start a fire the way Bear Grylls would – why the “zohar” sparky stuff that looks like fool’s gold?) I kept waiting for Emma Watson (Shem’s wife) to slip with her lines and call Methuselah Dumbledore. I’m betting it’s in the out-takes. If Aronofsky had wanted to pay attention to the Enochian version of events, he could have had the Watchers teaching that stuff, but there isn’t a clear connection there.
4. Yes, the Watchers are dorky. As Pete Enns said on Twitter (we chatted about the film before I saw it), they are a mixture of rock monsters and Ents. But honestly, they are more morally consistent in the film (good guys) than Noah. They come across as pitiable and sad. You root for them. They aren’t the villains of 1 Enoch, mind you, though they bear the familiar names. Aronofsky erased all the villainy (not to mention most of what 1 Enoch says). That isn’t to say their inclusion isn’t a theological inversion. It is. It’s also disappointing. What about 1 Enoch wouldn’t have made great movie fodder in its own right?
5. All that stuff about environmental wackiness driving the film? Yeah, that’s true. In perhaps the only place where Aronofsky is careful to quote the biblical text (Gen 1:28) the dominion mandate is cast as pure cruelty — not a hint of its actual stewardship intent. Oops … sorry for that spasm of biblical theology on my part.
In short, don’t expect to find anything in the film uplifting. Noah’s “turn” at the end toward sparing life is clumsy and contrived (and of course it originates within him – Oprah could have made a cameo there). It’s visually spectacular, but that just means it’s one of those films where the director will get credit for the creativity that deserves to go to the special effects / CGI people.