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Archive for April, 2014

Another common criticism that is brought against Aronofsky’s Noah is his inclusion of “rock monsters.” While this is a clear step away from the Holy Scriptures’ telling of the story it is a legitimate use of artistic license (one that I think was well done) that does have a basis in the Judeo-Christian tradition. These “rock monsters” are Aronofsky’s reinterpretation of the Nephilim.

So who are the Nephilim? They are first mentioned in Gen 6:4, the word being translated as giants. While this translation is not necessarily incorrect, a better translation may be “the fallen.” There is definitely some obscurity to the text. First, there is the problem of how best to understand the word itself, and then there is also the problem of determining who the Nephilim actually are. Many (most?) interpreters take the Nephilim to be the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of man (Gen 6:1-4). In this interpretation the sons of God would be the descendants of Seth and the daughters of man would be the descendants of Cain. However, some read Nephilim to refer to the sons of God rather than their offspring. In this case, the Nephilim would most likely be a form of fallen angels. Aronofsky seems to merge these two interpretations into one.

Traditions which look to the Nephilim as fallen angels also look to them as damned. In 1 Enoch the Nephilim are imprisoned in hell and their offspring with the daughters of men are wiped out in the Flood. Aronofsky, however, does not look to the Nephilim as damned nor as the cause of the extreme corruption and degradation of mankind. Rather, they are depicted as benevolent beings who came to help mankind in his distress. They are the originators of man’s technological learning and subsequent advancement, only to later be turned upon by those they had helped. For their “sin” of descending upon the earth they are apparently abandoned by the Creator to Whom they are still faithful, must suffer witnessing the destruction of creation through the tools they gave to man, as well as suffer death. They are redeemed through their faithfulness and assistance to Noah at the cost of their own lives. We find in this presentation a mirror for ourselves and, while it is not by any means an exact parallel, there are some similarities between the Nephilim and Tolkien’s valar and elves. Aronofsky here gives a lot of material to chew on philosophically and theologically.

To those who criticize the movie because of the Nephilim (in the movie they are called “the Watchers”), I have one fundamental question: what really is your problem? We are dealing with an obscure mythic text of Scripture and the Nephilim are a mythic representation of who knows what. Their presence and action in the movie in no way contradicts the essence of the Noah story. So besides finding them odd looking, what really is the problem?

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In the review before this post it is pretty clear that I do not like Aronofsky’s Noah. That said there are many positive aspects of the movie. Unfortunately, some of these unfairly have come under fire from conservative/Christian reviewers due either to ignorance or political ideology. Two in particular I would like to address here: the accusation of the movie being environmentalist propaganda and the mythologizing of the story through the addition of the Watchers (or “rock people” as some reviewers like to call them). The second of these two accusations will be discussed in part two of this defense.

The Holy Scripture paints an incredibly bleak picture of the world during Noah’s time saying that “the earth was filled with violence” and that “all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” (Gen 6:11-12) This is actually a bleaker picture than that painted by Aronofsky. Aronofsky describes the animals at that time as being like they were in the Garden, but “flesh” in the above Scripture does not refer only to man; it refers to all creatures: “man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air.” (Gen 6:7) One could argue that Aronofsky’s portrayal of animals as innocent while man is guilty is environmentalist propaganda, but regardless of whether it is or not the simple fact remains that man truly is the root of corruption throughout the earth. It is man whom God looked upon and saw “that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5) In the story of the Creation and the Fall, of which Noah is an extension, the state of creation is dependent on man. The burden falls upon his shoulders. If one insists on bemoaning that man is the villain in Aronofsky’s Noah then they must also bemoan that man is the villain in God’s Noah.

I appreciate Aronofsky’s presentation of the world at the time of Noah. It shows an earth that is “filled with violence” (see above). He begins with the Fall of Adam and Eve and the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. This immediately sets the stage of man’s relationship with other men. This continues with the introduction of Noah when as a child he witnesses the murder of his father, and as an adult must defend himself and kill three men who attempt to kill him and pose a threat to his family. The primary antagonist is Tubal-Cain, who according to Scripture is the first to forge “instruments of bronze and iron.” (Gen 4:22) There is a long tradition both Christian and Jewish that this includes weapons. The degradation of man is seen first in his violence to others and this violence is carried on throughout the movie. It is within this context that man’s abuse of creation takes place. This abuse includes the eating of animals for it wasn’t until after the Flood that animals were given to man for food. (cf. Gen 9:3-4) In light of this, once again regardless of whether or not this was intended as environmentalist propaganda by Aronofsky it is in keeping with the story of Noah as told in Scripture. Considering this when we see animals in Noah hunted or cut to pieces we should feel sad. When Tubal-Cain eats one of the animals on the ark we should be horrified.

In Noah the world due to man’s violence and lust (in the original sense) is barren. The image of a barren and desolate world is a great example of an artistic rendering of the relationship between man and creation as depicted in Genesis 3-6. The Fall as told in Genesis 3 regards man’s relation with God, with himself, and with each other. There is more to it though. It is also the origin of man’s disunity with nature. First, Adam is told that he will have to work by the sweat of his brow for food. The land will yield thistles and thorns, and man will have to eat bread. Gone are the days when man can pick freely of the Garden. This disunity is taken further with Cain. The land that he tilled was stained with the blood of his brother whom he murdered. As punishment the land would no longer produce for Cain. He could no longer be a farmer, but was now condemned to wander and would eventually settle and establish a city (Enoch). He did not build a town or village. He built a city. Cities require greater consumption of natural resources to sustain its population. This is due to the amount and type of buildings that make a city. There is a greater need for food and its surplus for winter and famines. Where there are cities there are advances in the arts, clothing, adornments, and a greater need for the resources to make those items. There is greater need for fuel, minerals, plants, etc. Cain went from tiller to taker. So is there a legitimate connection between cities and the abuse of the environment according to the Scriptures? Evidently yes, and this is seen all around us today. One need not be an environmentalist to see how fallen man has abused and continues to abuse what has been entrusted to him, nor does one need to be an environmentalist to be horrified by this abuse or convicted to fight against it.

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When the trailer for Aronofsky’s Noah was first released my initial thought was that this movie would be either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. There were two things that could be known with certainty before seeing the movie: 1) it would not be mediocre, and 2) liberties with the Noah story would be taken. I did have a sincere hope though that the movie would be a milestone among biblical movies. Filmmakers are first and foremost artists. The story of Noah and the Flood provides magnificent material for artists to really sink their teetImageh into. The story also provides a strong framework, but leaves a lot open to the imagination allowing for a great amount of creative activity while staying faithful to the story. I was also encouraged that Aronofsky has held a certain fascination with Noah since junior high school and his desire to make a movie about Noah began when he was a teenager. I knew nothing about Aronofsky’s religious beliefs (I have since learned that he is an atheist), but I assumed he was some type of secularist. This didn’t bother me in the least. In fact, it was one of the factors that gave me hope for Noah. First, it was guaranteed to avoid any Christian cheese. Second, non-Christians who are inspired by Christian stories (be they biblical, biographical/historical such as the saints, or fictional) often bring them to life with positive insights that one does not typically come across in Christian circles. This is due to the fact that Christian stories have two essential elements that are universal to all: they are human and they are manifestations of the human desire for the divine. There is one thing, however, that is necessary in order for a re-telling to be any good. It must respect the original story. In this Aronofsky utterly failed and consequently the movie was exceptionally bad. Where did Aronofsky go wrong?

Central to the story of Noah and the Flood is the relationship between God, man, and creation. While references to God abound in Noah, He is oddly absent. This is Aronofsky’s fundamental mistake. He took a story that is divine-human and reduced it to human. Throughout the movie God is referred to as “The Creator.” This makes sense; it firmly roots Noah in a time that came long before God revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai or to Moses as Yahweh. It is also said multiple times that man is made in the image of God. In addition God takes an active role in revealing the coming flood to Noah and in His covenantal symbol at the end of the movie (It is no simple bow in the sky). He is also clearly depicted as being “above” creation instead of some kind of Gaia figure. Despite all of this, God seems aloof. He isn’t relational. Noah is seen as a good man, not because of his relationship with God, but for his living as a man of his time ought. He is a man of peace as shown through his relationship and words to his children. He is only violent when circumstances necessitate that he be, such as defending himself and his family. He properly exercises his dominion over creation rather than abusing it. When God reveals to him in a dream that He will flood the earth, it is to his grandfather, not God that he goes for guidance. He is told to build an ark, not through a dream, but through a drug-induced vision. When Noah calls out to God, he is met with no response. At the climatic point of the movie when Noah chooses not to commit a horribly murderous act, it is not God who intervenes to stop him, but Noah’s own sentimentality. In fact, it is not entirely clear what God wanted from him. This changes the character of the story so much that its similarities to the Noah of Genesis become superficial.

In Scripture, Noah is described the same way as his great-grandfather, Enoch: he is one who “walked with God.” (Gen 5:24; 6:9) This detail is significant because Enoch was not said to have died. Rather when it speaks of the end of Enoch’s life the wording of Seth’s genealogy changes this one time to say that “God took him” (5:24). This tells us that Noah was not merely a just man who paid due honor to the Creator; he was a man who had a unique relationship with God. An intimacy is implied here between God and Noah. God also takes a quite active role in the story. He not only tells Noah of the Flood and instructs him to build an ark, but also gives to him the dimensions for the ark, the type of wood to be used, the necessity of pitch, and the number of both clean and unclean animals that will inhabit the ark. He is also told that in addition to himself, his wife, and his sons, his son’s wives are to join them on the ark. The implication given is that it is an ark for all creation, not just animals but man as well. What results is a hero. Noah is heroic and saves humanity precisely because of his righteousness, his virtuousness. He does not succumb to the wretchedness of a humanity that has abandoned its Creator. It is because of this that the story of Noah is a story of hope. This is what makes it a great story.

Aronofsky, however, deliberately does two things to negate this. First, as detailed above, he dramatically changes the relationship between God and Noah by basically making God inactive as a character. Second, upon entering the ark one of Noah’s sons has a wife, who is barren, and the other two have no wives at all. Without any real relationship with God and no women who are able to conceive and bear children Noah is, of course, left with only one conclusion: the earth is for the animals and all of mankind is meant to die. This, combined with Noah’s exposure to the complete degradation of man, leads to a very dark Noah. Aronofsky’s Noah turns into a murderous hard-hearted man, the very thing he had opposed his whole life. He leaves a young woman who gained the love of one of his sons to be trampled to death. He quite firmly decided that he would kill his grandchildren if they were girls. Through these actions he becomes ever more isolated from his family and in the darkness of his heart stubbornly persists in pushing his family away. Even when he relents in killing his grandchildren he is not reconciled with his family. After the Flood he lives alone, apart from his family, and drowns his sorrow in wine. Noah begins his journey as the just man who is a sign of hope for all humanity to being an unjust man who falls down the long cold dark of despair. His eventual return to his family and return to the traditions of his fathers is like most of the movie a purely human act which is then met with divine approval through the sign of the mother of all rainbows (it was kind of cool). Through all of this Aronofsky abandons the story that so captivated him as a child and young man, and gave us yet another post-modern story of human degradation, angst, and solitude.

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