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Russell Crowe & Danielle Spencer

Noah’s Watery Chaos

So, someone said that as a theologian, I should go and review the new ‘Noah’ movie.  (Mother : ‘Why did you see that when you recommended I didn’t?’ – Well, this was as good an excuse as any 🙂 ).  There have been lots of reviews in the Christian world ranging from ‘Great, a bible movie’ to ‘It’s the spawn of the devil’.  I went in believing pretty much the latter, and when I came out, on reflection, still believe pretty much the same.

So, first the good points.  The flood, when it comes, is not some gently rising water, but heavy rain, jets of water bursting from the earth and huge surging blasts of water.  It is unequivocally world-wide in scope.  The ark is not some tiny tub boat but a huge barge.  The pre-flood land is just one continent, as described in the bible.   The wickedness and violence of the pre-flood civilization was graphically depicted.  Cinematically, it’s a pretty good film, good effects (and remarkably short credits for such an effects laden film).  The acting is pretty good.  I’ve seen Emma Watson’s performance slated, but I thought it not bad at all.  And that’s about it on the plus side.

The deviations in details in themselves are not such a big deal (starting with Noah’s father being murdered when Noah was young, when in fact he died shortly before the flood) – you can kind of expect that sort of thing – creative licence.

The film takes a radical environmentalist approach – whilst man is violent against fellow man in the pre-flood civilization, the emphasis is very much on ‘civilized’ / urban man as parasites and cancerous consumers in creation.  The bad guy, Tubal-Cain, murders Noah’s father, whose family line is depicted as the defenders of nature.  Now, concern for nature and good stewardship is one thing, but this really was about a pagan radical environmentalist approach where only animals are innocent and worth saving, and this issue drives a major part of the plot and the tension within Noah’s family in the film.

Noah gets his instructions from God via weird dreams and visions (or hallucinations – at one point he gets guidance from God after his grandfather Methusaleh – a rather witch-doctory figure who is obsessed about tasting berries one last time – gives him some spiked tea).  It also adds rather bizarre twists in the form of ‘the Watchers’, a concept that comes from ancient Jewish religious literature about fallen angels who rebel out of lust for human women.  However, here in the film, they are spirit beings of fire who come down because they pity humans and want to teach them, only they are punished by ‘the Creator’ by being imprisoned in hardened and misshapen rock bodies.  Eventually, they come to Noah’s aid and help build the ark, and then at the start of the flood die defending the ark from the Tubal Cain’s evil army who are trying to seize the ark, being explosively released back up to heaven as they are killed (with the last one deliberately killing himself to deny the (almost) last attackers entry into the ark’s door).

The real problem is the deeply twisted worldview.  The film seems to set out to mock and degrade the biblical worldview.  The bad guy, Tubal-Cain, repeatedly emphasizes that man is made in the image of God with dominion over animals, a biblical comment,  but for him this means eating meat, even tearing limbs from living animals to eat.  This is contrasted with Noah, who becomes convinced that God has called his family to the task of saving animals only to die out themselves once the task is finished.  He is convinced of this by the fact that his adopted daughter (who later marries Shem) is apparently barren due to a childhood wound.  He denies his other sons the chance of wives, leaving Ham’s intended to be trampled to death by the attacking army, leading Ham to hate him, (and later to very nearly murder him in a conspiracy with Tubal Cain, who has managed to axe his way onto the ark and kills and eats animals in the hold).   Then in the ark Noah tells his family that they will bury him and his wife, and then the younger sons will bury the older until the youngest returns back to dust, extinguishing the human race.  When it turns out Shem’s wife is pregnant, Noah determines that if the child is a boy, it can live, but if it is a girl he will kill it, because a girl can ruin this kamikaze plan because she can reproduce.  He even burns the raft Shem and his wife plan to escape his genocidal fury on.  This issue is a major source of the tension in the second half of the film, obviously designed to raise questions of theodicy and justice.  Noah claims that to kill the daughters is just and God’s will, whilst his wife says that if he does it, she will never forgive him, even though she forgave all else.  In the end, Shem’s wife produces twin girls (the Creator has provided, says Noah’s wife – ie girls who can grow to be wives for the single sons), and Noah goes to murder them both in their mothers arms, but at the last minute doesn’t follow through, but kisses them instead, and goes away utterly dejected, thinking he has failed God – this is the reason why he gets drunk after the flood (and at which point Ham leaves the group to wonder alone on the earth, rather like Cain).  In the end the film ‘resolves’ this issue, with Shem’s wife telling Noah that ‘the Creator’ had left the choice of whether to save humankind or not in Noah’s hands, and Noah (finally, oh so reluctantly) has chosen love / mercy.

So, Tubal Cain is depicted as arrogantly stating the biblical world view about the position of man, all the while being brutal (he murders Noah’s father at the start of the film to claim valuable natural resource), and believing that the only way to become a man is to kill someone, whilst Noah believes all humanity should be wiped out, to the point that his little baby granddaughters should be killed.  This is – spiritually speaking – a watery chaos.  But unlike the real Flood (which at one point the film correctly depicts as an overthrow of creation back to days two and three of creation – the land vanished and the waters of above and below mingled) here the chaos is of a different source.

The clues are there right from the start.  Instead of ‘In the beginning God…’  the film starts ‘In the beginning there was nothing…’  and this is the way that Noah on the ark starts his account of the days of creation (with the imagery making it blatant that a big-bank evolution scenario is in view here).  The ancient pagan myths of creation start similarly – when there was ‘nothing’ or ‘chaos’ out of which the first gods come.  In fact, the film – as far as I can recall – never ever used the terms ‘God’ or ‘Lord’, only ever ‘the Creator’.  That in itself might not seem so sinister, until you connect the dots, the clues which are there right from the start – that this film, whether deliberately or not, is basically Gnosticism wrapped in an outer shell of bible story.   It’s not completely Gnostic, probably because it is meant to appeal to non-discerning Christians, and so has to keep at least some semblance of biblical worldview, so there are some underlying contradictions, but Gnosticism is the dominant worldview.  I first realized it was an element at the point when the spiritual ‘watchers’ are cast to earth and as soon as they hit the ground become trapped, imprisoned in misshapen rock bodies, their inner fire caged, but then suddenly the earlier clues make sense.  The big clue is in the veneration of the skin left behind by the serpent from the garden of Eden – more on that later.

For those who don’t know what Gnosticism is, or why this is such a big deal, Gnosticism was the earliest major heresy that the church faced.  Some of the New Testament was actually written to counter this heresy.  Gnosticism already existed in some form – it was a kind of new-age movement of its day, taking many forms, sometimes even somewhat contradictory ones.  It taught that evil was bad and the spirit was good, and that people were pieces of the divine or ‘spirit’ that had the misfortune to be trapped in physical bodies.  The goal was – by gnosis (knowledge – secret keys) – to escape the evil physical world and return to the ‘divine’.  Whilst a few groups promoted free sex, most had an ambivalent or even hostile view of sex, because it was the means by which more fragments of spirit got trapped in human bodies – and in fact many groups had an especially dim view of women for the same reason (perhaps finding an echo in the film Noah’s decision to kill the newborn if it was girl?).  For Gnostics, there were a series of divine emanations, but ‘the Creator’ was a wicked and malignant and rebellious being, a kind of imposter who created the physical world, and this wicked ‘God’ was the known by several names, but was identified with Yahweh, the God of the bible.  Thus when the ever adaptive Gnosticism took on ‘Christian’ forms, it was a huge challenge to the teaching of the church, because the story of Jesus was the opposite – of God becoming human to redeem humanity through a resurrection of the body.  The Gnostic versions tended to have a Jesus who came down from the true divine, but only in a pretend body, who taught the true ‘Gnosis’ or secret knowledge to ascend the planes of existence and escape the spiritual bondage of the physical world made by ‘the Creator’ God, the hostile God of the Old Testament.  They also tended to view the Fall as positive – the Creator wishes to deny Adam and Eve the ‘Gnosis’ or knowledge, but the serpent successfully induces them to free themselves of this bondage, and given that Eve was the first to gain this knowledge, she was highly honoured.

As I said, the picture in the film is confused because – I suggest – it is written to try and slip its true nature under the radar, and so has to convey to an at least ostensibly biblical view – thus there is no explicit appeal to some benign divine beyond the ‘Creator’.  This means that the implied character of the Creator is highly problematic.  He has the features of the Gnostic evil Creator, yet at the end, the film makes out God to be good and on the side of love and mercy because he gave the choice to Noah and Noah eventually ‘succumbs’ to love and mercy.  But Gnostic type themes are there in the film – when the fallen angels are punished by being entombed in spiritual bodies, but then when they are killed revert to their true form, escaping their physical prison and go to meet (merge?) again with the Creator.  But back to that snake skin and the Eden story.  There is a depiction of Eden and the Fall that is repeated three times in the film.  On the surface, it seems biblical – there is a snake, a glowing Adam and Eve seize the fruit (depicted as a beating heart) and disaster ensues.   But as the snake slithers towards the tree, it sheds its skin, and one of the first pair (Eve?) sees it on the way to the tree and squats down, curious, and picks it up.  This skin becomes a kind of heritable talisman for the line of Seth (the good guys) and is passed down from father to son and appears at the start and the end of the film.  At the start, Lamech is just about to ritually pass it on to Noah, when Tubal Cain murders Lamech and takes the snakeskin talisman.  Tubal Cain is killed by Ham after Ham protects the fugitive on the ark and conspires with him to kill Noah – confusing I know, but at the last second after leading Noah into an ambush, Ham has a change of heart, and kills Tubal Cain, which Tubal Cain ‘rewards’ as he dies by telling Ham he has now become a man, and handing him the talisman.  At the end, Noah, having accepted that humans are to continue, takes the snakeskin (Ham having thrown it at Noah after the drunken-naked incident and stalking off into the wild) and uses it in a ritual blessing for all his remaining children and grandchildren.  It is clear, given the repeated use of this version of the Eden story, and the ‘inclusio’ type use of the snakeskin at the very start and end of the film, that this is the real underlying theme.  Thus, the few good points are undermined, deliberately subverted to an anti-biblical and pagan message.   The atheist director boasted of the film that it is ‘the most unbiblical biblical film ever’.  He wasn’t kidding, he stated it exactly right when he said this.