The Real Issue
I had no particular interest in seeing the movie, Noah. I never originally planned to. I saw it because I needed to prep for a segment on my Web TV show with Brian Godawa (see it by clicking here) and I wanted to speak intelligently about it. I saw it, came home, wrote a review that I figured might get a decent viewership. There's no way I expected a 2,300 word blog post to attract a ton of attention. But it's now a lightning rod in a rather massive cultural controversy.
[By the way, please read Brian Godawa's post today. It's really good.]
Let me back up and recap a few things.
I saw a movie loaded with imagery and themes drawn from a variety of monistic, esoteric, mystical, and speculative religions that have their source in Neoplatonism. Among them, Kabbalah and Gnostic sects.
My critics openly admit that Aronofsky drew on a variety of these sources.
But, they seem to insist, his reliance on these sources is relatively harmless to the film, and these themes can be interpreted in healthy directions.
That's interesting and all (and I'll say more about it in a minute), but it isn't the primary issue in this controversy.
The issue is this: should Christian leaders have endorsed this movie, either outright or being used as part of a Hollywood promotional machine?
Given the fact that Aronofsky drew from these types of sources, and given the themes and imagery of his final product, I say the answer is no way. Others, obviously, do not share that conclusion. I say let Aronofsky and Paramount gin up their own clientele. To me, it seems perverse for them to lean on the Christian community for it, which they did, holding private screenings for leaders and people of influence.
That, friends, is the issue. I'm not condemning or shaming anybody for seeing the film, talking about the film, debating the film, or even enjoying the film. I'm concerned that certain Christian leaders were basically asked to "vet" the film for their constituents, and they came to conclusions that simply missed the themes I've highlighted. I find that to be a bit of theological malpractice. Not enough to "lose your license," be kicked out the kingdom, ostracized or condemned as a pagan or "enemy of the faith," or anything of the sort. But enough to warrant a censure, and to be encouraged to beef up theologically and do better next time.
Now, if you want to go on to debate ways to interpret all of these themes and imagery, that's fine. That's partly why seeing and talking about movies is fun in the first place! Just so long as we're clear that the Director did not get these ideas from the Bible; he got them from esoteric, mystical traditions that have as their purpose to subvert the original story.
[By the way, many people failed to grasp the rhetoric of hyperbole in my claim that it has "nothing" to do with the Bible. Obviously, all mystical re-interpretations of Noah have Genesis as their foundational source text. It's the very thing they're trying to subvert. I didn't think that needed to be said. I was wrong.]
So, with my view of the major issue clear, feel free to find ways of interpreting the monistic/Gnostic/Kabbalic imagery any way you please (that's one of the attractive features of these religions in the first place). But I'll just note an irony: It is not me who is stretching for fancy interpretations here. That was what I expected at first with my movie review: "Boy, this guy's really stretching. He's crazy!" The fact that my critics are the ones searching for ways to interpret the symbolism of the texts and motifs they admit Aronofsky used means that it is not they who are on the solid ground.
But, as I say, those are all less important issues, in my view.
One final thing to clear up on the interpretive side of things. A number of people challenged my idea that God wanted to kill Noah and his family too, because Emma Watson's character explains, "Maybe The Creator wanted you to decide" whether the human race lives or dies. Well, fine. The Creator doesn't reveal anything about himself or his purposes in this film, so you're certainly allowed to take her word for it. But it gets you no closer to anything resembling a biblical doctrine of God. And Christian critics should have had a response equally objectionable. God throws up his hands and says, "I have no opinion on the matter. You can live or die. I can go either way. You decide, Noah"? That's not evidence of God somehow exhibiting love or mercy instead of wrath; it's evidence of coldest of cold indifference.
And it represents pretty much the exact opposite of the Bible's account. God chose Noah. God commissioned Noah to build the ark and, after the flood, to undertake the original Adam's mandate to be fruitful and multiply. It was his purpose to save humanity. He didn't leave it up to a potentially vacillating, half-homicidal Noah. So even if this interpretation of the film is right, it is still no closer to being an acceptable rendering of the biblical story.
It's an interpretation that is not to the film's credit.