But the intellectuals weren't the only ones typing. The commentators were less reasoned and restrained with their polemics. One blog commentator wrote to Aronofsky, "You are of your father the devil. 'Deceiving and being deceived'" ("Noah" promotes). Another blogger said the film is "another sign we are in (or almost in) the end times" ('Noah' revives). Another called it a "fraud of a film Noah". Another, "one of the greatest bait-and-switches in history" ('Noah' revives). And another, the film "sets out to destroy the depth of meaning of the story of Noah" ("Attracts Controversy"). "God isn't like that", wrote another commentator to Aronofsky ("No, Noah is"). The conservative Christian reaction to the film can be summed up by "dusten rolens" comment on a blog about Aronofsky's test screenings:
I have just wachest the movie Noah and I just wanted to say that it did NOT follow the Bible and IT IS A REAL LIFE EVENT THAT HAPPENS IN HISOTRY AND YOU ARE MOCKING GOD FOR ADDING YOUR OWN IMAGINATION GIANT ROCK ANGELD DIDNOT BUILD THE ARC AND NOAH SONS ALL HAD WIFES AND NO ONE BUT NOAH FAMILY WAS ON THE ARC. NOAH IT WAS HIS JOB TO REPOPULATE THE EARTH SO I DON'T CARE WHAT DARREN ARONOFSKY SAYS HE IS A SATANIST / ATHIEST OR BOTH I WILL NOT JUDGE HIM BUT LIKE I SAID HIS SEEN HOW YOU WROTE AND DENIED HIM HE WILL DENY YOU FOR THAT (XXX)
DA: We treated Genesis as the word of God, as complete truth. We were trying to bring that story to life so we didn't want to contradict anything. We wanted to represent everything that was there and let it inspire us to tell a dramatic story with the themes and ideas that are in there. ("Exclusive")
AH: In the midrashic tradition, you see things like that are clues. A story like that is a mystery, a clue that invites you to look for meaning.
DA: In all the midrash tradition, the text is what the text is. The text exists and is truth and is the word and it is the final authority, but how you decide to sort of interpret it, you know that possibility to open it up and open up your imagination to be inspired by it." ("Exclusive")
But if Aronofsky's purpose wasn't to subvert the Genesis text, what was Aronofsky's purpose, then, in creating Noah? Well, Aronofsky is full of professed contradictions in this arena. As stated earlier, Aronofsky said he tried to remain true to the Genesis text word-for-word. He also told Sarah Pulliam Bailey to "find [him] a contradiction that couldn't be explained" (Religion News Service). That being said, Aronofsky also has also described Noah with a very different feel. "I don't think it's a very religious story," he told IFS News. "I just think it's a great fable that's part of so many different religions and spiritual practices. I just think it's a great story that's never been made on film" (Times Darren Aronofsky). He also said the film was the "least biblical biblical film ever made" and that "anything you're expecting, you're fucking wrong" (TImes Darren Aronofsky). On the one hand, Aronofsky says he remained true to the Genesis text, but on the other hand he is very clear he is doing something very different than has been done with the Noah story.
But these contradictions are reconcilable. What's being subverted here isn't the Genesis text, but rather mainstream Evangelical perceptions of and purposes for the text. Aronofsky does not believe in God, at least in the traditional sense. Aronofsky, as he's stated before, believes God to be a metaphor for exploring human experiences (XXX). God is poetry, in Aronofsky's view, through which to explore very real and very human experiences. "What we were trying to do is say, "look, there's incredible poetry" in this story," he told Paul Brownfield about Noah. " That is more powerful than any argument about literal truth."" (Aronofsky talks 'Noah'). He said that Genesis is "really a great metaphor to understand our lives, how we live every day., All religion deals with that." And in regards to the Genesis text in Noah, "we tried to take that huge cosmic idea and put it into human hands...[Like God, Noah] chose love! He chose mercy, which for us is the exact same story as the story in the Bible, just put into human terms" (Religion News Sevice). In this way, both premeses can be true: Aronofsky does remain true to the Genesis text; however, the story is now about human struggle, not God's. To Aronofsky, the existence of an objective God is moot. The important aspect of God is how human experiences are explored through Him. In Noah, Aronofsky has thake the familiar story and turned it into a human metaphor. Aronofsky isn't subverting the text of Genesis, per say, but only the Evangelical stranglehold on it's meaning and application. The Evangelical bloggers were right to fear Aronofsky's Noah not because it tries to subvert their Scriptures but rather because it tries to subvert their monopoly on them.
But how does this apply to Gnosticism? Harold Bloom in his books Anxiety of Influence and Anatomy of Influence and most of all Agon explores what a Gnostic theory of poetry and art would actually look like and what a gnostic rewriting of a text looks like. Valentinian reading, to Bloom, is "an allegory of reading, and again an allegory of misprision. By misprision I mean literary influence viewed not as benign transmission but as deliberately perverse misreading, who's purpose is to clear away the precursor so as to open a space for oneself" (Agon 64). Gnostics of all ages historically, he argues, have performed creative misinterpretation of the texts central to their traditions. Valentinius, the "strongest" of all Gnostic redactors says Bloom, obliterated the Jewish Bible and Plato's Timaeus in order to further his own doctrines of cataclysmic creation and gnosis.
Vaientinius is troping upon and indeed against his precursor authorities, and the purpose and effect of his troping is to reverse his relationship to the Bible and to Plato, by joining himself to an asserted earlier truth that they have distorted. (XXX)
So do contradictions exist, first, in the storyline? Steven D. Graydanus puts it succinctly when he says that "there are really two questions here: First, what does the film add to the biblical story? Second, what does the film take away from the biblical story?" ("The 'Noah' Movie) Unless you believe adding to stories constitutes a contradiction to the text (in which case, next time you talk about Adam and Eve eating an apple or there being work or sports or Coffee in Heaven, flick yourself), to rightly say Noah contradicted the Genesis account it must explicitly take away from one or more written elements in the story, not just add to them from another source.
So what happens in Noah, exactly? In the beginning of the film, we're confronted with a "righteous" man in a wicked world. Noah is concerned with stewarding creation, following the Creator's will, and protecting his family. The turning point comes when Noah has a vision of doom and gloom, an incomplete vision which sets him out on a journey. Following what he believes to be God's voice, Noah visits Methuselah, is commissioned to build the ark, builds it, defends it from the unrighteous and tainted, sails the seven-in-one seas and crashes on a mountain, finally getting drunk and falling out with his son Ham before reconciling and restoring the covenant with his children to procreate and steward creation. So far, nothing contradictory.
Further, inclusion of the Watchers, Methuselah as a mountain mystical hermit, the entire third act with Noah, Illa, and Tubal-Cain inside the ark are not contradictions, they're additions. Thus, they're not necessarily contradictory to the text, unless they inherently disqualify some other verse or element of the text already present.
However, the Devil's in the details, or so the conservatives would say. Albert Mohler of Fuller Theological Seminary notes several (seeming) contradictions which none of the defenders I've found reconcile: first, in the film, Aronofsky doesn't include wives for Ham and Japheth on the ark ("Drowning").
"And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood." (Genesis 7:7)
Next, Mohler argues that Tubal-Cain is taken out of his proper context in Genesis 4:22. "Aronofsky invents a scene in which a barely adolescent Noah witnesses the murder of his father, Lamech at the hands of the movie's arch villain, Tubal-Cain. Genesis makes that impossible" ("Drowning"). But does it? The genealogy of Cain in Genesis 4 starts with Cain and continues several generations until it stops with Tubal-Cain and his sister Nameeh. It names him as a man who "forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron" (Genesis 4:22), inspiring Aronofsky's characterization in the film. He is the 8th generation in the line of Cain and the last in the genealogy, also, like Noah, the son of a "Lamech". Noah is also the 8th in the line, but rather the line of Seth. Is it so irrational to think that Tubal-Cain and Noah could have been alive concurrently, both being the 8th in the line of their respective ancestor? Noah's age at the time he witnesses Lamech's murder also makes sense. Seth was born a little later than Cain, him being the third son after Cain and Abel. Thus, the 8th generation of Seth would be slightly younger than the 8th generation of Cain, exactly the situation we have in Noah. Also, doesn't Genesis' placement of Tubal-Cain at the end of Cain's line hint he may have been the final child before the flood? Again, only at a surface glance does this present a contradiction with the Genesis text, when, really, what's really present is an air-tight and extremely creative interpretation of the story elements.
However, no film can be completely air-tight. Chattaway points out in his review of the film that the birds are sent out before the ark crashes on the mountain ("The ' Noah' Movie"). This is true. Instead of Noah sending the birds after the ark crashes, Japheth sends them in hopes they will find someplace for Ila and Shem to land their raft. There is no reconciling this contradiction, but, all in all, it's a minor departure for dramatic purposes, far from enough to term the film as a whole Gnostic or heretical or untrue to the Genesis account or Gnostic, for that matter. On a purely narrative level, Noah remains almost unflinchingly true to both the major and minor plot elements in the Genesis story, despite it's "embellishments" and creative interconnection of events and characters. No gnostic subversion here, either.
In one regard, Mattson is correct: the cosmogony of the film is one of up and down. Up is where God and angels dwell and down is where humans and animals dwell. In the film, the Watchers come from space and to space they return. Whenever the characters want God to speak, they look up and call to the sky (greeted, though, by only by big, blue ominous nimbostratus clouds). In the finale, God's message of the rainbows comes in the sky. In Noah, God is literally up there, man and Creation are literally down here.
But is such a cosmogony really that unfamiliar to traditional Judaism and Christianity and Genesis? A couple verses from Mattson's and McDurmon's own Scriptures to consider.
Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deuteronomy 26:15)
Then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name...then hear from heaven, from Your dwelling place, their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause and forgive Your people who have sinned against You. (2 Chronicles 6:33/39)
Is not God in the heights of heaven? And see how lofty are the highest stars! (Job 22:12)
Now, what Mattson and McDurmon are really getting at is the Gnostic conceptions of creation. In Gnosticism--like in Eastern thought, argued by Elaine Pagels as a large influence on Gnosticism--matter is evil, an illusion, an abomination, a "catastrophe" as Bloom terms it, something to be escaped. All matter is the product of Sophia's lustful copulation with the Pleroma, birthed of error and ignorance. God and Spirit good, matter and Earth bad.
So is this the view of matter and spirit Noah postulates? Hardly. Noah makes it very clear in the film that, though because of man now-fallen, Creation, matter, and earth were originally good.
We broke the world - we did this. Man did this. Everything that was beautiful, everything that was good, we shattered.
We take only what we need. XXX
Shem: "Why are they innocent?"
Ila: "Because they still live as they lived in the garden."
Noah smiles. XXX
When Gnostics speak about “The Creator” they are not talking about God. Oh, here in an affluent world living off the fruits of Christendom the term “Creator” generally denotes the true and living God. But here’s a little “Gnosticism 101” for you: the Creator of the material world is an ignorant, arrogant, jealous, exclusive, violent, low-level, bastard son of a low level deity. He’s responsible for creating the “unspiritual” world of flesh and matter, and he himself is so ignorant of the spiritual world he fancies himself the “only God” and demands absolute obedience. They generally call him “Yahweh.” Or other names, too (Ialdabaoth, for example).("Sympathy")
evil deity. Who wants to destroy everybody...Both Tubal-Cain and Noah have identical scenes, looking into the heavens and asking, “Why won’t you speak to me?” “The Creator” has abandoned them all because he intends to kill them all.
Is this the portrait of God in Noah? Well, sort of. Noah's God is certainly violent and merciless in ways: he essentially commits genocide on the wicked, destroys the earth with a flood. He certainly demands obedience, encasing the Watchers in stone when they go out of their way to help Adam and Eve, and destroys (most of) the human race as a result of disobedience and the results thereof. He does withhold his Word and Voice. As Mattson notes, both Noah and Tubal-Cain have bouts of unrequited screaming at God for direction and purpose, answered only by a cloudy sky. But again, are these unfamiliar to orthodox theology? The Jewish God is violent. He sends the flood, demands the sacrifice of entire nations and people groups, millions of animals for sins, judges his people with the sword multiple times, has Moses slaughter 3000 of his people for idolatry, etcetra, etcetra, etcetra. This is the God of the Old and New Testaments:
“I have trodden the winepress alone;
"You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me."
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (Revelations 19:11-13)
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:39-44)
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, How much more the hearts of men! (Proverbs 15:11)
O LORD of hosts, You who test the righteous, Who see the mind and the heart. (Jeremiah 20:12)
And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit. (Acts 15:8)
Ila: Why are you alone, Noah? Why are you separated to your family?
Noah: Because I failed him, and I failed all of you.
Ila: Did you? He chose you for a reason, Noah. He showed you the wickedness of Man and knew you would not look away. And you saw goodness too. The choice was put in your hands because he put it there. He asked you to decide if we were worth saving. And you chose mercy. You chose love. He has given us a second chance. Be a father, be a grandfather. Help us to do better this time. Help us start again.
In Noah, the existence of humanity is a blight upon the earth. Rather than suggesting that humans had misused and abused the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, human dominion is depicted as the fundamental problem. ("Drowning")
XXX INSERT CONVERSATION BETWEEN NOAH AND WIFE
"XXX Damned if I don't do just that quote".
" XXX I am a man, made in your image quote. I give and take life...
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
The first two chapters of Genesis both tell the story of Creation. These two tellings lay out two seemingly contradictory relationships between mankind and the natural world. In the first story man is formed and given dominion over the Earth and all the beasts within it. If we look around us, we cannot deny that we do indeed possess that dominion. Where once Prince William Sound was essentially untouched, now, with our understanding of man’s influence on climate, we can truly say that there is nowhere on our planet that is not influenced by mankind and our activities. Like it or not, we do preside over this world. The question is simply how we will choose to exercise that power.
In the second version of the Creation story, God breathes the soul into Adam and places him in the Garden “to tend and to keep it.” In this telling we are asked to hold the planet and its inhabitants in our safekeeping. It is our first responsibility. Made in God’s image as we are, possessing the power to create and destroy worlds, holding dominion over the globe and its inhabitants, we are asked to be good stewards. We have taken the dominion that was offered us. Have we taken the responsibility of stewardship? (Genesis)
But speaking of men, doesn't Noah's personification of Noah contradict his description as a "righteous man, blameless in his generation" in Genesis 6? Not according to Thomas Aquinas. Aronofsky and Handel have done some reading in the church fathers, it seems, and base their definition of righteousness in Aquinas' definition: righteousness is a correct balance of justice and mercy. Handel and Aronofsky describe it similar to parenting.
Insert parenthood quote XXX.
In the end, the philosophy of the film is clear: humans, along with all Creation, are intrinsically good and the "firstfruits of creation" designed and created to have dominion over and steward creation. And Noah's arc is learning, again, that humans are part of that world, and learning how to love best the object of his care. A lesson which leads us to the final facet of Noah in which there is, in fact, a spattering of Gnosticism.
The rainbows don’t come at the end because God makes a covenant with Noah. The rainbows appear when Noah sobers up and embraces the serpent. He wraps the skin around his arm, and blesses his family. It is not God that commissions them to now multiply and fill the earth, but Noah, in the first person, “I,” wearing the serpent talisman...
Notice this thematic change: Noah was in a drunken stupor the scene before. Now he is sober and “enlightened.” Filmmakers never do that by accident.
He’s transcended and outgrown that homicidal, jealous deity. ("Sympathy")
To Mattson, the snakeskin passed from generation to generation in the film represents knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve are "enlightened" out of the garden by the serpent, take with them the glowing snakeskin to remind them of the gnosis from generation to generation. When Noah loses the snakeskin, he loses the enlightenment and is subject to the whims of the homicidal Demiurge. Only when he regains it at the end of the film does he regain enlightenment and return to good-old happy and merciful Noah.
But the gnosticism isn't here. The problem with Mattson's thesis that the snake is the good-guy and that the snakeskin is the means of salvation is that Noah doesn't have the snakeskin when he re-learns mercy. Ham does. Second, if the snakeskin represents knowledge, why doesn't Tubal-Cain gain "enlightenment" while he has it? Or Ham, for that matter? It's because the snakeskin is impotent in and of itself. It's not the skin or the snake that's important, it's what it's a reminder of.
But Mattson is right that the snakeskin does represent a type of knowledge, and in this the film does present a gnostic soteriology. Even the defenders of the film agree with Mattson: the snakeskin represents a type of knowledge. R.T. Holt nails it when he writes:
When the film gives us Glimpses of the Garden of Eden, the snake originally glows like Adam and Eve, only to shed its luminous skin and become a dark black. The visual metaphor seems clear; the serpent abandons the glory of creation to become a creature of evil, and humanity soon follows after it. So the snakeskin reminds his family of the Eden that was lost, a testament to creation's original perfection. ("Is Darren Aronofsky's NOAH")
Doesn't the snakeskin represent evil? Not necessarily. The serpent was created good and then shed that goodness to become the tempter. The skin it wore when God created it is not a token of evil, but of original goodness -- and thus a true relic of paradise and a token that evil is always a corruption of goodness, never a thing unto itself.
In Hebrew soteriology, return to one's good and perfect origins is important. Men are designed, in Genesis, with desires to love, be loved, experience pleasure, and, ultimately, survive. Sin is an aberration of these desires, these initial good desires hijacked by objects which never truly fulfill them and hurt others in the process. However, in Jewish soteriology, the means through which one attains this return is obedience to the Law. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Love is the context in which man was created, and the Law is oriented around such love. Through obedience, one returns to this love and acts it out, fulfilling the good desire to be in love with God and others around.
In gnosticism, on the other hand, salvation comes from the knowledge of one's origins, origins separate from the evil, illusory world, one with the good, True God. No obedience is required, only knowledge.
Valentinus of Alexandria, who abandoned the Great Church in Rom...rejecting the sacraments because he had seen that perfect cognition of the origins alone was salvation, the form of that knowledge, the Gnosis. (Agon 2)
In Noah, the knowledge of the snakeskin is a gnosis of origins. Noah must relearn the original goodness of man, of himself, the origins of humanity, in order to save himself and the human race directly in disobedience to that which he believes God has ordered him to do. Noah rejects obedience in lieu of origins, of gnosis, though it is a painful and temporarily self-destructive decision to do so (Valentinus would probably see ultimate Rest and Freedom far differently than a fat, bearded old guy boozing it up in a self-loathing binge on the beach). In this, Noah embodies the struggle between gnosticism and ecclesiastical religion, the agon between obedience and knowledge of self and humanity, however subtly. And in the end, the latter wins. This is not necessarily to imply that the God of Noah is a "false, homicidal maniac of a god", a demiurge, or that the snake is the real hero of the story. They're not. In fact, Ila suggests otherwise that, in fact, God wanted Noah to make the decision he did, contrary to what Noah believed. There's no reason to disbelieve this, or believe the God which sends rainbows at the end is any other than the God who sent Noah the visions of deluge and flame and restoration. But still, in the end, gnosis wins out over Law, knowledge wins out over obedience, giving Aronofsky's Noah (probably unintended, but present nonetheless) a gnostic twinge foreign to the Genesis text and ecclesial religion across the world. Not to mention giving the final (and mostly undeserved) hand to the smug, self-entitled conservative "intellectuals" swinging their blogosphere clubs at anything that moves until, finally, completely on accident and without a clue, they hit something truly subversive and "heretical."
That being said, another central tenant, as opposed to some of the other religions, is salvation through enlightenment or gnosis. Enlightenment, originally an eastern dharma, is the knowledge of the Buddha self through meditation. Through meditation, one realizes one"s Self in all, and all is nothing. All opposites create each other, including Self and other, so step outside the ill ausory world of opposites and escape existence itself, and the world with it. Wander enlightened, unattached, fully conscious of the eternal now/not-now non-duality. This is that, as the Buddhist scriptures say, a truth instilled in one's spirit through yoga. Similarly, Gnosticism posits gnosis, a special intuitive knowledge of self-in-god. Through it, one attains final liberation from the illusory world of error and the Demiurge. The main difference between the two hemispheres' soteriology is how enlightenment is attained: Buddhism through meditation and introspection, Gnosticism through special revelation of Jesus Christ (though the apostle Paul's XXX stages of prayer in XXXX crtainly smack of the Buddhist 16 levels of contemplation one takes to reach enlightenment). The essence is the same. The world is illusory, dangerous, and the best means through which to attain salvation is knowledge and withdrawal.
Another facet of Gnosticism shared with eastern thought is, as Dr. Mattson noted, monism. In gnostic theology, all spirits and beings are eminations of God, the primal androgynous monad or gendered dyad at the root of time and being. They are thoughts taken form: every time the original aeon has a thought, out pops another emanation. Thus come the emanations of justice, mercy, forgiveness, love, etc., all good thoughts that take the form of aeons but still have thir root in God. (Some) human spirits are such emanations). All bad aeons (anger, hare, greed, etc.) and the "powers and principalities--which also have form and substance--are rather emanations of Sophia (the aeon of wisdom) in her days of fallenness before her subsequent repentance. These aeons are birthed of error, thus have no real substance. The important idea, though, is that all spirits have their root in God. The central tenant of monism is that all that truly is is God. All that is not of God is illusion.
XXX INSERT ARGUERS AGAINST THIS READING
Gnostic Noah? - Say that Ten Times Fast!
But is Noah really gnostic?
Let's start with the cosmology.