Noah's Co-Writer Speaks

Ari Handel, co-writer of Noah, was interviewed by Relevant Magazine about the controversial theology in the film. He's one of those guys that just gives a terrific interview (he's one of the reasons I saw it in the first place), and I recommend it to you.

My takeaways:

Handel's a really intelligent, diplomatic, and articulate guy. Smart to have him be the "voice" of the filmmakers.

A key passage: "What I’d tell people is it’s very important to us that nothing we actually did directly contradicted the Genesis story. There are some places where people think we did, and I’d just say, 'We didn’t.' It was all grounded somewhere. It wasn’t just the Genesis story the way you expected it. But it’s grounded. Anything we did that isn’t explicitly there isn’t arbitrary."

It was all grounded somewhere.

Exactly. Grounded in texts outside the biblical narrative. That's not, in and of itself, problematic. But the texts they used, as far as I can tell, are a hodgepodge amalgamation of things, some of which are esoteric traditions that have an interest in subverting the biblical story, not affirming it. Also notice that he confirms that nothing in the film is accidental. Everything was thoughtful and "grounded" in a source somewhere. That's what I suspected.

He insists that nothing "contradicted the Genesis story." First, I take that as an admission of my original point: many details, themes, and symbols are simply not from the Genesis story. Second, he's just wrong that "nothing" contradicted the Genesis story. Plenty of others have plowed that field, so I needn't rehash it.

About the snake skin thing, Handel ought to know what he was thinking, and I'm glad he cleared it up. The idea of a "skin" of immortality that the Serpent shed is found in nascent form, (one source, no doubt, among others) in Philo of Alexandria, Questions and Answers on Genesis, I, 33. His idea is that the snake wanted to appear young and innocent, so as to deceive Eve into thinking he had the key to remaining... young and innocent. Suffice it to say, there's nothing about passing this skin along as an artifact.

It's interesting, to be sure. But if you're unaware of who Philo is, let's just say that he is the father of reading the Hebrew Bible in obscure, allegorical ways that conform it to Platonic philosophy (i.e., the "graded" universe of spirit/mind/male="higher and good," matter/flesh/female="lower and bad"). He's the head of a stream that ultimately forms the river of precisely the kinds of Neoplatonic speculation I originally identified in my review.

As it is, Aronofsky and Handel have taken the symbol of the Serpent (a Gnostic "dog whistle" of all dog whistles) and turned it into a magical blessing; they have the characters wrap it around their arms reminiscent of Jewish Teffilin, the small, black boxes that contain the Torah.

Replacing Torah with a Serpent.

If people still want to believe (perhaps even Handel himself) that this isn't a subversion, they can. But I'm not buying it.

Brian Mattson