How Aronofsky’s Noah Misrepresents God, Man, and Sin

Noahs-ark-pic

As the dust settles around Noah and Christian audiences set their gaze (or crosshairs) on Son of God I thought I would throw some brief and no doubt far from novel thoughts into the cooling cauldron of Aronofsky’s film. James has written a balanced post here; though making many qualifications, he suggests three features that we ought to appreciate and discuss. For despite the movie failing to clearly communicate the message of Genesis 6-9, many of its details and interpretive salvos are colourfully thought provoking, even helpful. However, in this post, I want to highlight areas where Aronofsky’s eisegesis contributed to the film’s failure in conveying Noah’s story, immediately embedded in Genesis and ultimately the seedbed for all of Scripture.

1. God is vague

From the outset of the film “the Creator” is palpably distant. This God, tending towards silence, gives Noah dreams. The interpretation of these dreams is however not offered by God but rather through an encounter with Methuselah the mystic. Noah is not lead by God but left by him, to ponder what on earth the Creator hoped to tell him. To risk pointing out the glaringly obvious, in Genesis we read that God spoke to Noah (see 6:13; 7:1); later he would establish a covenant with Noah and reiterate the promises of the Abrahamic covenant (8:20-9:17). But perhaps the most significant detail is found in Genesis 6:9, “Noah walked with God,” casting our minds back to Eden when God walked with Adam and Eve (3:8). The picture is one of closeness and intimacy, indicating that Noah was in the presence of God. Yet Aronofsky’s Creator is vague and unclear, leaving Noah to not only piece together the dreams but also determine the course of human history, which almost backfires when he decides to end human progeny. Aronofsky’s God is more akin to Dawkin’s “blind watchmaker” or George Lucas’ “Force” than the personal presence that we meet in Genesis, walking with and talking to his creation. To steal the wording from a post I wrote a while back: in Noah, God is denied the ability to reveal himself to what he has made, as we are asked to imagine he either has no qualms with being completely misunderstood and misrepresented or is simply incapable of making himself known. Without suggesting that Noah was unsure, even unconvinced about what God promised to do, we must maintain that his doubts were never because God was unclear.

2. Man and sin

Aronofsky's NoahI agree with James that Aronosky clearly showed the need for mercy in the light of evil. However where the film missed the mark was in its depiction of sin, which was implicitly defined as the mistreatment of creation. The city dwellers, led by Tubal-Cain, thought that their God-given dominion justified a rapacious handling of the created world. I have written regarding the covenant of creation, here and here, where I showed that Adam and Eve were appointed as custodians, rather than conquerors, over creation. This task involved faithful obedience to God’s authority, retaining the created order where God rules what he has made through his image-bearers. Therefore, responsible rule is not measured in care for the creation but submission to the Creator. Sin, seen in exploiting the environment or fratricide, stems from disobedience to God. Wickedness may become manifest in the abuses Aronofsky vividly portrayed, but is ultimately defined by man’s relation to God rather than what God has made. Aronofsky’s Noah completely muddied this point. Surely Noah’s description as righteous and blameless man, who walked with God (Genesis 6:9) means more than that he had green fingers. Oppositely, the wickedness of Tubal-Cain and his followers is grander than their distasteful misuse of creation. Unwittingly the film comes close to showing sin for what it is – in fleeting references to Eden as well as Tubal-Cain’s final speech – but this is unfortunately obscured by Aronofsky’s redefinition, away from obedience to the Creator and towards worshipping the creation.

Conclusion of sorts

The details might be unclear, because the Creator is vague, and the verdict of wickedness imprecise, because the urgency for environmentalism is an easier implication than repentance. Yet in the film, Noah correctly diagnoses humanity, as inherently evil. The solution he reaches is startling: the rebirth of creation cannot happen without the death of mankind. Tentatively, in closing, I want to suggest that Noah’s disturbing conclusion is not far from biblical truth. The curse of death is God’s just ruling for a world that has, since the Adam and Eve, embraced the rebellion of our first parents. More than simply embracing it, the biblical as well as empirical evidence shows that we are enslaved to it. Paul says that only one who has died has been set free from sin (Romans 6:7). Through faith we are united to Jesus in his death (6:5), the old self is put to death with him (6:6). This has brought about not only the hope of resurrection life in the future but also newness of life in the present (6:4). Paul exhorts those who have died to live to God and die to sin (6:10-11). Here Noah, the apostle Paul, and John Calvin collude, “[It is] as if God had declared that for us to be reckoned amongst his children our common nature must die” (Institutes 3.3.8). But the magnificent news is that this happens through the nearness of God, initially through union with Christ in his death and through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.

3 Things I Appreciated in Aronofsky’s Noah

Noah PosterI watched Noah with my Bible study and we had some interesting discussion afterwards. It’s a movie that most of the Christians I hang out with will (and do) hate and I understand why. Aronofsky’s Noah was never going to follow the biblical story accurately though was it? A helpful question to ask of the movie, “does it retain the message of the Biblical account?” Asking that sort of question allows us to get over stowaways, stone giants and the bloodthirsty Noah we had never imagined.

Honestly, I quite like the fact that it didn’t look like a children’s Bible with a happy giraffe poking his head through a window and a blissful Noah smiling out of the page. Both the happy giraffe and the stone giants are equally interpretive and incorrect. However, both could be used to tell the message of the story. At first glance, I would even guess that the grim face of Aronofsky’s blockbuster would be more likely to do it. So for the Christians who hate this movie and can’t see any redeeming features in it (or aren’t even going to go and watch it) here are three things that I appreciated from it. Far from endorsing the movie, however, I have to say that it failed at communicating the message of Noah and even among the positives I’ll make some qualifications.

1. Evil Must Be Destroyed

God Clicks DeleteTell the average person the story of Noah and you’re bound to hear about how the Christian God is a bloodthirsty, cosmocidal (that’s a word right?), angry old man and everyone should hate him. That’s because it’s pretty difficult to show someone how it could be good that God blot out everything he’s made. It was Gregory Alan Thornbury’s blog at TGC that I read before watching Noah that made me notice the way Aronofsky shows us a world in which evil is “really that bad“.

This is a critical starting point for Noah because, as Thornbury points out, only “against radical depravity can mercy actually make sense” and the point is, through the movie, I found myself on God’s side. I wanted the world to be destroyed and I wanted evil to be judged. I saw evil spread in a Tolkienesque way across the planet (not the most creative image any more) and I wanted God to fix it. I didn’t want to see his creation being ravaged and I didn’t want the dreary land of Mordor to swallow up everything good (and I wondered how Methuselah’s mountain had survived). If the only way to stop the advance of evil was to start again, so be it, clear the slate.

I was disappointed that Noah went to help the preyed on antelope and didn’t get attacked by it. I wanted to see animals as part of a creation in rebellion against God. After all, I would think a fallen world would make it hard to survive and fight against human flourishing. It made perfect sense why I didn’t get my wish when I found out why God was saving anything at all, it turns out the animals are innocent. A theological error I could have lived with if it weren’t the basis for so much foolish application today. The innocence of the animals also undermines mercy because they deserved it, a characteristic that does not belong to those in need of mercy. The need for evil to make sense of mercy never came into play anyway though as “Creator” is pretty much indifferent when it comes to “mercy” I also think that the evil I saw was not an evil that I thought was present in the world in which I live.

2. Flood Restores

New LifeThis is definitely my favourite point. One of the first things that excited me as I watched Noah was that first drop of water. If memory serves, it was the first hint of judgement. It was not only a hint of judgement though, it was also a promise of restoration. I appreciated the fact that Aronofsky’s flood was not purely destructive but that it had the underlying purpose of restoration and recreation (not relaxation, “re-creation”). The movie regularly invites to think of the “new world” or “paradise” and look forward to it.

In his New Testament Biblical Theology, Beale speaks of a five part sequence he calls “Inaugurated Eschatology”. He describes the pattern in the creation account (1) chaos of earth and waters (2) creation (3) commission of Adam as king for divine glory (4) Adam’s sin (5) Adam’s judgement and exile. This pattern Beale then identifies in the flood account: (1) chaos of earth and waters at flood (2) new creation (3) commission of Noah as new Adam for divine glory (4) new Adam’s sin (5) judgement and exile throughout the earth at Babel (see pg59-60). I have found Beale an incredibly compelling read and he is certainly worth working through. Nevertheless, consider the Genesis account.

I first noticed the “decreationalness” of things in 7:17-24 (you should read it before you carry on and think about creation as you do so). I don’t know whether the ark “floating on the face of the waters” is supposed to remind you of the Spirit’s hovering but I think the connection is what made me look for more. Looking for more, I noticed a whole bunch of creation parallels. Firstly the reason for the flood is framed in creation language: “I will blot out man whom I have created … from I am sorry that I have made them” (6:7). Animals sorted by kinds come onto the ark, as God created them. The sea covers the earth, the reversal of the time God had once gathered it, letting dry land appear. I mean really, everything dies in contrast to everything coming to life. The lynch pin for me though is in 8:16-17 where the recreational stuff comes to the fore and God says, as Noah is preparing to disembark, “Go out from the ark … Bring out with you every living thing … that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth” and then 9:1 “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them …” the creation mandate!

So although the flood is “decreational” in judgement it is recreational in purpose and I think that was evident in the movie.

3. Everyone is Evil

Evil InsideIn an incredulously profound moment, Noah explains to his wife that the same evil that had plunged God’s world into chaos and disaster was alive in him and indeed in everyone on the boat. Profound because Aronofsky’s Noah has seen something that Joe Bloggs either can’t or won’t. Incredulous because in spite of the fact that it is a revelation, it is difficult for the viewer to truly believe (there is just too much love by this point in the movie).

This realisation shapes the primary motivation for Noah’s character. Noah decides that he must prevent any human offspring from surviving in way that will enable procreation in the new world. This drives him down a path of homicidal insanity which works very hard at undermining all the gains made concerning as far as the justice of God. It is still a valuable point to take from the movie and Noah proves his case pointing out his own evil in his willingness to kill for his sons (although this point the audience would naturally think is an indicator of innate goodness rather than evil) and the base passions that in turn drive them (lust, for example – which is another passion not terribly concerning to our society).

The real weakness though at this point is that the viewer no longer sympathises with Noah and, as Nathan Lovell pointed out in his reflection, we sympathise more with the loving family members. That’s what it’s about after all, love (and the animals of course).

Conclusion

Christians, in my experience, make pretty poor audiences. On the one hand, we reject things because we don’t like them or they don’t fit our theological framework. On the other hand, we thoughtlessly embrace things we shouldn’t in the name of art. It’s worth reflecting on these things though so that we are better able to engage our culture. I wouldn’t recommend Aronofsky’s Noah but I would watch and discuss it with my Bible study again because the reasons for which we criticise things are as important as whether we reject or embrace them.

P. S. I am thinking about following this up with posts on (1) the good reasons to criticise this movie, (2) whether the biblical covenant with Noah has any value since God is going to destroy the world again anyway, (3) whether we can/should pity demons, (4) who the Nephilim were. So tell me if you’re interested in one of them (or something else) and I’ll write on that first.