NOAH, the “great” debate and my friend Jeff - A chat on the latest film by Darren Aronofsky.
Teri: Was wondering if you saw this and what you thought??
Jeff: I’m no expert on either Gnosticism or Kabbalah, so I can’t answer Mattson’s piece bit by bit. But as I read it, a few red flags were raised in my own mind based on what’s actually in the film, especially the overt messages its sending (that are in contrast to what Mattson finds to be “subversive”), plus there’s a link I’ll provide at the end that is much more articulate than I can be about what Mattson had to say (and how he’s off).
As I read Mattson’s take, a few red flags started to go up in my mind as what he was describing is not what the film was communicating. It doesn’t surprise me that Aronofsky would have pulled elements from the Gnostic and Kabbalah traditions, especially the latter considering how it was referred to in his first film PI. That said, there’s a difference between crafting your own take on a story while using inspirations from a variety of sources (which is how I see the film) and actually trying to subversively promote the ideology of those various sources (as Mattson argues - wrongly, I believe).
Mattson can argue that, but by his own logic a Gnostic and Kabbalahist could (and even should) also easily argue that Aronofsky is subversively trying to peddle Judeo-Christian theology by gussying it up in special effects and Lord Of The Rings style battles. The truth is that Aronofsky pulls too much from all the various sources to be endorsing any of them because, at some point, his mixing of them contradicts them, and so in some instances you have mixed and competing messages that cancel each other out. Even while Gnosticism and Kabbalah share some mystical similarities, they themselves also cancel each other out in a number of ways (such as the Dualist vs. Monoist dynamic Mattson discusses).
NOT TO MENTION that some of what Mattson gripes about as coming from those two sources, well, Christianity and Judaism have their own and even similar takes on those same elements (but obviously slightly different). The Adam and Eve representation comes to mind, as its fairly common in Judeo-Christian circles to describe them as having been “clothed in glory” before the fall, explaining why they didn’t realize they were naked until they had sinned and their glory had fallen away. (Mattson’s biggest contradiction is his talk of how Gnosticism teaches that the material world is bad and evil. Well, so what? It may, but the movie sees the material world in a very different, and opposite, way. It sees beauty in it all; that’s why some have actually complained the movie is a tract for tree-hugging Environmentalism.)
But where he’s most off is in his biggest complaint, the representation of the serpent in the Garden. In the film NOAH, it couldn’t be more clear that the serpent is evil. I don’t care what those other traditions teach (or how Mattson describes their teaching to be), those traditions are not present in this film, either on the surface or even an examination of its subtext. And you don’t have to take my word for it; there has been no shortage of DETAILED outrage by Evangelicals over the past few days, going bit by bit through the movie, listing its so-called heresies, and not one has complained about the serpent being good. There’s a reason for that: because its not! If it was - even remotely - you would’ve heard that shouted from the rooftops.
No, instead, the serpent is clearly an evil force in this film. Not only is he consistently depicted that way, but he’s actually the first to shed his glory, and then tempts Adam and Eve to do the same. Which, according to the film, is what ends up not only causing all kinds of evil but then causes mankind to bring them and the world to the state we now find them in. There is no blaming God in Aronofsky’s film. All evil flows from that serpent. The Creator in Aronofsky’s film has sadness and regret (not vengeful anger) over what’s become of mankind, and therefore is saddened that righteous judgment must be implemented. But it’s clear that mankind brought this on themselves.
This whole cultural argument is downright exhausting, I have to say. While I certainly respect peoples having concerns, especially as it’s largely motivated by a desire to keep Scripture and Scriptural teaching pure (a value I share), between this movie and the recent World Vision controversy, I’m plumb wore out by *the response* and how quickly The Mob Mentality is ready to raise its torches and pitchforks, especially when you’ve got guys like Mattson representing his own half-truths (specifically as it relates to *how* the various influences are represented in the film, and what the overall message and themes of the film are compared to what some ideologies teach).
All that to say - read this. It’s a very well-written piece by Peter Chattaway, and he takes Mattson’s piece to task in a very respectful way that is guided by a calm, dispassionate level of critical-thinking sorely lacking in this larger debate. Plus it has the virtue of offering an explanation for the use of the Snake skin in a way that actually makes complete and obvious sense within the context of the film (because Mattson’s explanation clearly does not).
Teri: Thank you. I always appreciate your approach to films as well as your approach to those who are quick to “throw stones” so-to-speak. As much as I hate having large debates about films such as these, because often those who I am “debating” per-say are not able to be openminded and critical thinkers I have found myself surrounded by debates, opinions and frustration in heaps and it helps to hear words from those who look at the whole picture and can think objectively. Thank you for taking the time to write all of that. I appreciate it more than you know.
Jeff: You’re Welcome Teri. Glad to be able to do it. And it helped me formulate my own thinking on it, which will come in handy with the inevitability that others will be referring to this piece as well.