The Subversion of God in Aronofsky’s Noah

Brian Mattson’s brilliant post about the Gnosticism of the Noah movie has struck a cord of truth in a Christian world that doesn’t know why it is bothered by the film, but knows something’s rotten in Denmark. He points out from various gnostic and Jewish mystical texts the monist gnostic and Kabbalah influence on Aronofsky’s interpretation of the sacred Biblical story. Don’t worry if you can’t understand the academese gobbledygook. It will be explained below.

Peter Chattaway tries to discredit this revelation in his bulldog support of the movie, but the snake is out of the bag. The reason Noah is polarizing is because it is a subversion of the Biblical story. This is why both sides have some apparently reasonable explanations for their take. Subversion is the act of retelling a story through the prism of a different worldview or philosophy or theology or politics or take your pick. The nature of subversive storytelling is to work within the cultural memes and received narrative that people are familiar with, but to infuse that narrative with new definitions.

The movie Noah is a subversion of the Judeo-Christian story of the Biblical Noah with an atheist humanistic environmentalism accented with Kabbalah-light.

In this way, I would say that both sides are partly right. In our postmodern world that has argued the death of the author, there is a disdain for objective meaning rooted in the text or authorial intent. Therefore, we have embraced a very subjective “reader response” way of interpreting things. People tend to be more concerned about what they see or get out of a story than what the author may have intended. Thus our narcissistic culture obsessed with what we subjectively feel over what is objectively true. Traditional hermeneutics (or interpretation) seeks to understand what the intent of the author is first, and then to respond with their opinions for or against. It can recognize the subjective experience and even acknowledge that sometimes the intent of the author is not achieved. But it respects the fact that in addition to ambiguities and unintended consequences, there is real authorial meaning in the text, or in this case, story.

What I see happening is that the Christian defenders of the movie Noah tend to be importing their own Biblical interpretations onto the Aronofsky movie, justifying all the Biblical subversion and incongruities with their own ad hoc harmonizing attempts, while virtually ignoring Aronofsky’s own self-proclaimed hodge podge mixture of pagan environmentalism, humanism and atheism and a little Kabbalah mixed in for good po mo measure. In this way, Chattaway and the defenders are right that Noah is not strictly gnostic or strictly humanist or strictly atheist, and obviously does in fact traffic in Judeo-Christian imagery. Indeed. Aronofsky, like most people does not liturgically follow the dogma of ancient sectarian philosophies and religion. Mattson was not suggesting that. Aronofsky does what most modern modern westerners do: He picks and chooses elements of things he likes from a variety of ultimately incongruous systems of thought.

The problem is that dissenters against the film have been unfairly smeared as being obsessed with an unreasonable fidelity to factual Biblical details. Other than the usual few extremists, many of us do not mind that there is creative license taken. Earth to cynics: We get it. It’s okay to make changes to fit the theme of the movie or limitations of the medium. I took a lot of creative license with my own novel, Noah Primeval, and Christians have not attacked me (except for those handful of extremist fundamentalists). What we are concerned about is what the changes add up to mean. What is the storyteller making the story to mean? In this way, dissenters are respecting the director more than the defenders. And since the “auteur” himself has expressed certain aspects of his worldview, such as being an atheist, and humanist with a touch of Kabbalah fancy, we would do well to consider that in our understanding of his movie.

And yes, just because the filmmaker is an atheist doesn’t mean he can’t retell a sacred story, or even do it better than some Christians could. But in many cases that atheism or humanism can actually “repurpose” the story to another view — and it often does. And that is what has happened. The sacred story of Noah has been subverted into a humanistic but ultimately pagan narrative.

If someone made a movie about Martin Luther King Jr. and portrayed him as a religious nut who had hallucinogenic delusions thinking they were from God, and almost murdered white people before turning pacifist, the African American community would rightly be adamantly opposed to such a story (And Hollywood would never do that, would they?). It wouldn’t matter if the filmmakers said, “Hey, lay off, we showed that in the end he brought about real change for civil rights didn’t we?” It matters how you get there.

Mattson’s claim about the influence of Gnosticism is largely right. No, Noah isn’t a dogmatic or consistent reproduction of one of the various strains of ancient Gnosticism. But in the same way the 2nd and 3rd century Gnostic Gospels subverted the Biblical Gospels by retelling the story of Jesus through a twisted unbiblical paradigm of inversion, so Noah is doing the same thing.

I don’t know how much clearer it can be. Aronofsky is an atheist. He does not believe in the God of the Bible. If you doubt this, ask him yourself, “Do you believe that the Biblical Yahweh really exists and is the one true God?” He has said that he believes the Noah story is merely a myth that is not “owned” by the Judeo-Christian worldview. So, Christians and Jews, when he is retelling your sacred narrative about Noah, God is merely a metaphor to him for something else much more important to him. For a different god. It has to be, by his own self-definition.

So what is that god? That is what dissenters are getting at. Appreciate all the similarities with the Bible you want, but you simply cannot argue successfully that Aronofsky is presenting the Biblical God Yahweh. He doesn’t believe in that God.

Case in point: God in the movie Noah. God is “believed” in, but he never speaks. He is silent. Noah has dreams of a Flood and he interprets it as judgment from “the Creator.” Later, Noah believes God wants him to end the human race by murdering his granddaughters. In the end he can’t do it, and we hear from the sage words of Illa that God wanted Noah to decide if humanity was worth saving. But God never speaks up to let us know what he really thinks.

Defenders will say that God was silent because he was withdrawing from the evil (meat-eating) mankind. And since the Flood really happened, well, isn’t that proof that the visions were from God after all? So isn’t that Biblical in result?

Not if you take Aronofsky’s own views seriously. As an atheist, he doesn’t believe in the Biblical God, so if he is retelling a Biblical narrative, the best way to deconstruct God, or to make him in the story as if he wasn’t really there at all would be to claim that he is silent. This is brilliant subversion. Think about it, folks, God NEVER speaks in the entire movie. Not even to tell Noah that he was wrong to almost kill the girls. Even when righteousness is finally achieved in Noah’s “redemption,” God still does not speak. He never speaks. That is not happenstance. There is a reason for that. A Non-speaking God is virtually the same practical thing as a non-existant God. And it is explained when Illa tells Noah that “God wanted you to decide if man was worth saving.”

MESSAGE: It’s all up to us humans, not a god.

Of course, the original sacred narrative requires a “god” in the story, but an atheist director wants to deconstruct that god into a being who is merely believed in, but ultimately is no different than humans making our own meaning. Effectively there is no difference between this “god” and no god at all. This is a common belief of humanism that even if there was a God, he wants us to decide for ourselves. To give us all those nasty commandments is just a jealous judgmental deity who doesn’t want us to grow up and be mature and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

Sound familiar, all you Bible scholars? Call it the influence of gnosticism, call it humanism, call it atheism, or not. Just throw out all the “isms” if it’s all too much academic-speak. The point is that all these trajectories have the same origin point: The lie of the Serpent. They all try to circumvent God by positing that man can “know good and evil” for himself. Man is to decide his fate and destiny, NOT God.

Take away God’s propositional personhood and you’ve already reduced him to the functional equivalent of mere subjective belief, which is no different than delusion. This is using a story about God to subvert that God. Remember, Aronofsky is an atheist who believes that man was NOT made in God’s image, but God was made in man’s image. So no matter what interpretation Jews and Christians may bring to the movie, Aronofsky is not affirming the Biblical God. This is not a conspiracy theory, folks. Aronofsky is the one who admitted that he does not believe the God of the Bible. It’s simply how a good atheist uses a sacred narrative to spin his own view against the text.

Now, in the Biblical Noah story, it is very important that God does in fact still talk to the righteous Noah. This is not a silly little unimportant detail that neurotic Christians are needlessly obsessed over. This is everything. God is there and he is not silent. And he is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong, and if mankind is worth saving. We are not the captains of our destiny and the masters of our fate. For that is what the Serpent was saying in the Garden: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

But didn’t the Watchers come from heaven, and didn’t the Flood actually happen just as the dreams predicted? Doesn’t that show that God was real in the story? Well, one of the dreams was drug induced by Methuselah, which places it squarely in the broad mystical tradition that does not require a god for such things. So visions are the religious experiences of mystics or sensitives, but without a God speaking propositionally, they really do not require a god at all. There is a reason why an atheist director never has a God who speaks, because a God who speaks would be a truly existent being.

As for the Watchers, this is where more subversion comes in. Of course there will be some elements that may point to spiritual reality, but the real purpose is to dethrone the living God, so allow the lesser spiritual stuff which satisfies that “myth loving fantasy side” of us, and focus on redefining God and his relationship with man. That is how subversion works. Use the cultural memes and narratives but invest them with new meaning. So including other spiritual realities like angels does not discount the deconstruction of God going on in the story. You can have your angels, but not your Biblical God.

But even with the Watchers, there is a complete inversion going on there as well. In the Biblical Enochian tradition, the Watchers who came to earth were fallen and delivered evil occultic secrets to mankind. So there is a mutual culpability of angelic and human sin that brings on the Flood. And the fallen Watchers were then imprisoned in Sheol for their disobedience. But in the movie, The Watchers gave wisdom to man that was abused. So again, that which is considered negative deception in the Biblical tradition is considered positive wisdom in the movie.

And that brings us to the Serpent. In my next post, I will explain how the Serpent and the Garden of Eden is subverted in Noah.


P.S. When The Matrix came out, I am the first to say that while I had some profound connections to certain visual elements in the film, such as the “born again” scene when Neo wakes up in the pod, or other “Christ imagery,” I nevertheless had to face the fact that it was NOT a Christian themed movie. No matter how much I personally experienced it. Now, we are all free to ignore what the author says and simply interpret the story through our own subjective viewpoint, but that is disrespect toward the authors that we would not want for ourselves and it illustrates our narcissistic culture. The Wachowski brothers, who are avowed Nietzschean atheists were using Christian memes and blending them with other religious elements to subvert them with their “army of metaphors” as a story that ultimately deified man as saving himself. They were subverting the well known Judeo-Christian worldview and I wrote about it here.

32 comments on “The Subversion of God in Aronofsky’s Noah

  • larry zimmerman says:

    great job its about time someone has the “”””””””” to say something.

  • J Michael Pearson says:

    After preparing to write a play… study of film, a couple of seminars with luminous photoplay gurus, and not a few books on screenwriting… it became perfectly clear to me that movies are Greek theater, (Humanistic), Dialectic, (Plato), and Gnostic, (Joseph Campbell). Awakening or becoming, [u-pick ’em], has always been the irreverent dystopian function in the universe of the Transhumanisitic idylls peculiar to any age. Second guessing any culture’s propagana fools will never trump sound Biblical understanding……”and the Greeks seek after wisdom” …And so the world rages on and on, still searching…[“and he causeth the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first”…]… You’ve hit the proverbial nail where it deemed to be fit.

  • reposted on facebook. nice job. btw, i read your book hollywood worldviews and really enjoyed it; would love to see an update of/addendum to that sometime with new movie examples.

  • I find it hilarious how so many people are so riled up about this film. You guys do realize it (i.e., Noah and the flood) is a fictional story, right? It never actually happened.

  • You just made the positive affirmation that “Noah and the flood” “is a fictional story” and “never actually happened.”
    Please prove it.
    Moreover, you assert that it is “hilarious” that “so many people are so riled up about this film” which depicts that which, in your view, is fiction. Now, since according to you Noah and the flood is fictional why are you riled up enough to log in, and comment about it to the WORLD WIDE web?

  • Hi Ken – Sorry, but I can’t prove the flood didn’t happen any more than you can prove that Earth wasn’t visited by extraterrestrials in the early 1600s. It’s up to the person making the positive claim (i.e., something DID happen) to prove it. And there’s absolutely no evidence for the global flood described in Genesis.

    • Actually, archeological evidence supports the flood account in the Bible. Many other scientific evidences support the flood account. If you are willing to do a little research, you will discover that there is more than ample proof for the flood.

  • Thanks for getting back to me friend.
    Do not disregard the fact that you positively affirmed your knowledge of the fact that it did not happen. If you think that it has not been proved then you should simply state as much and leave it at that. When you make a positive affirmation to knowledge then you will be expected to prove your claims.
    So, 1) why are you riled up about it and 2) what would you consider evidence of a worldwide flood?

    • We have very solid research on the geological history of Earth. Nowhere in the record is there any indication of a global flood. While absence of evidence does not always equate with absence of evidence, our knowledge in this area is sufficient to support the claim. Thus my positive affirmation of the nature of the flood myth. Now, all you or anyone else has to do is to find such physical evidence and we will re-evaluate. Many awards await…

      I’m not riled up. I simply find this whole topic amusing. Probably in much the same way you might be amused at people who vigorously debate Star Trek hypotheticals (assuming you’re not a Trekkie yourself of course).

      • this thread of discussion has virtually nothing to do with godawa’s original post. he’s not arguing for the historicity of a global flood, nor that the director of the noah movie should be excoriated for not following the (relatively sparse) biblical account of noah in genesis.

        rather, he’s pointing out that aronofsky is intentionally subverting the biblical story of noah — a project whose legitimacy godawa does not challenge — and noting that christian defenders of the film seem to willfully ignore that intention, preferring instead to press their own (more christian-compatible) interpretations onto the film. he notes that the christian public seems okay with this, as they are less concerned about authorial intent (in this case, the intent of aronofsky, not the author(s) of genesis) than their own subjective, viewer response. and he’s decrying (if that’s not too strong a term) the tendency for so-called believers to adhere to such a subjective concept of truth.

        since godawa is a filmmaker and not a scientist, it makes sense that he would be address issues of storytelling and how we understand the story, rather than tackling geological history — right?

      • So you don’t consider fossils found on mountaintops evidence of a worldwide flood? There is an AMAZING amount of evidence for this. The propaganda mills called public schools and almost all universities do their best to suppress any of the information, though! I learned about it by educating myself and reading quite a few books on the subject. (And became enraged at the effectiveness of the brainwashing done in public schools!)

  • YOU FAIL my friend; there are people who go to Star Trek camp to learn to speak Klingon…and stuff ;o)
    Well, if you are not riled up then neither are people who take umbrage at having their sacred text misrepresented. But then again, you are posting to the entire world. But fine, let us let that one go.
    I asked what you would consider evidence and you did not reply on that point except to say that I should “find such physical evidence” but for what are you looking evidencewise?
    We have very solid research on the geological history of Earth and we are literally drowning in evidence of the flood. Moreover, if I may employ a quip: if a worldwide flood occurred what would we expect to find? Millions of dead thing, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the Earth. And what do we find? Millions of dead thing, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the Earth.
    Moreover, on a history point we find another line of evidence. You mention the “flood myth” and it is a fact that separate cultures all over the planet contain, within their most ancient myths, legends, histories similar tales of a worldwide flood.

      • Good point. And thanks for your thoughts. I really appreciate your insight as I’ve been trying to weigh all these opinions for their merit.
        I knew when I saw it that the character of God in it was questionable and the fallen angels really bothered me, but you really helped me narrow the focus as to what exactly it was doing.

  • The interesting things are rarely me tend. First, even if Aronofsky drew mythology from non biblical sources, he was not even true to those, for globally, traditions explicitly state the Noah was righteous, an exception among the rest, and that was why God (or gods) called to him for the purpose of saving mankind. Second, aside from the horribly corny and melodramatic subplots (which were bad event from a fils rioting perspective. I’ve never seen so much crying since a Nicholas sparks adaptation), there were many elements that completely subverted basic principles, much less details, of the biblical thesis. We can grasp the directors anti or extra- biblical bias, but the, I suppose he should not have used the name “Noah” to imply any I lick relationship. It would have been better cinema, but heck what’s good cinema without subverting it for the sake of great marketing?

    • Stupid autospell! Moderator, please use this one!

      . First, even if Aronofsky drew mythology from non biblical sources, he was not even true to those, for most global traditions explicitly state that Noah was righteous, an exception among the rest, and that was why God (or gods) called to him for the purpose of saving mankind. Second, aside from the horribly corny and melodramatic subplots (which were bad even from a film writing perspective: I’ve never seen so much crying since a Nicholas sparks adaptation), there were many elements that completely subverted basic principles, much less details, of the biblical thesis. Brian mentioned these, such as a personal God, love, communion with mankind, purpose, omniscience and mercy. We can grasp the directors anti or extra- biblical bias, but the, I suppose he should not have used the name “Noah” to imply any biblical relationship. It would have been better cinema, but heck what’s good cinema without subverting it for the sake of great marketing?

  • Peter Chattaway’s Patheos review/endorsement of Arnofsky’s Noah, amplifies my alarm by a factor of ten. It’s not the cerebral, philosophical issues of gnosticism that I am alarmed by nearly as much as the Kabbalistic spirituality that he highlights (and gives ample, proud proof of) as the spiritual source for the movie. Kabbala, Cabala or Qaballa – is the fountainhead of most of the world’s occultic practices, including astrology, gematria, numerology, tarot cards, phrenology and much much more. Your article pretty well nails the coffin on Arnofsky’s Noah: as it is indeed “all about” Kabala. No wonder so many Christians (rightfully) find this movie disturbs their spirit. Kabbalism is as anti-God and luciferian as it gets!
    As someone who’s unfortunately studied too much about this “Jewish mysticism” I’d STRONGLY advise anyone (believer or unbeliever), to stay far, far away from this movie – and warn others to do the same.

  • Hi everyone, I just wanted to state for the record that Muslims who follow the religion of Islam also believe in Noah as being a mighty messenger. I keep seeing Judeo-Christisn Noah. It should be Judeo/Christian/ Islam. We believe I all the same prophets. The only difference is we believe Jesus (Isa in Arabic) was not the son of God, but a mighty messenger. We also believe Muhammad peace be on him came with the final revelation from Allah (which means God on Arabic). He was the seal of prophethood until Judgment Day comes. On a side note I find it interesting that an atheist would make a movie on something he probably doesn’t believe in.

  • After reading most – if not all – of the available interviews with Aronofsky and Handel I get the impression that both writers see the Biblical story as a powerful myth, but that they decided to be as true to the “myth” as possible. Their takeaways from the story didn’t ultimately lead them to the cross, but this Bible story isn’t the gospel. Though – as is the case with the entire old Testement – you could see threads of the gospel in it. I think the end of the film particularly has a sense of man’s need for redemption as Ham wanders off and Noah says something along the lines of “Some things will remain broken”.

    Anyway, I don’t get the impression that God is absent from Noah’s choices and creation. Aronofsky uses visuals to ‘speak’ for God:
    “For him, it only makes sense to have God communicate to Noah through dreams and visions — especially if, as Aronofsky claimed on The Colbert Report, the Hebrew word used in Genesis for God’s messages to Noah lends itself to that interpretation:
    We decided to capture the majesty of the Creator through image and sound and music because we thought that would be much better. And there’s actually– There has been a big debate because people are saying, “Why doesn’t God speak in the film?” And actually the Hebrew word is this word “say” which refers more to dreams than it does actually to spoken word, and there’s a more specific word that would have been used if it was the spoken word. So we were inspired by that to actually make it something visual and inspiring.”

    It’s pretty obvious from the numerous miracles in the film, including the Nephalim, that God is very interested and involved in the world. How could this be more distant from an atheistic worldview?

    Also I think the environmentalism agenda of the film was much more an understatement if not non-existant than how you portrayed it to be in your early critique of the script. To me, there was a sense that man has responsibility to care for the creation and that through the fall and man’s wickedness the creation was also getting caught up in man’s cycle of violence. So part of man’s “evil ways” was treating everything horribly, including the earth and the landscape of the movie represented this violence. It doesn’t take a lot of connecting the dots to come to this interpretation. This is not the emphasis or ‘goal’ of the film, rather it seemed to me a side-note like “By the way, evil effects everything including the earth”. The take-away idea Aronofsky keeps coming back to is the idea that we’re living in a second chance and “Are we doing a good job with it?” This isn’t a sneaky way of shoving earth worship down our throats, it’s highlighting a theme of the story that’s already there IMHO.

    Concerning Noah’s “wacko” character twist, the filmmakers could have chosen more or less any path for Noah as there’s not much said about what Noah did except for building the ark and getting drunk afterward. Many story decisions could have had equal opportunity to garner box-office appeal, but – and this is especially surprising for a hollywood sci-fi blockbuster – the filmmaker’s chose a particularly challenging path: they used Noah’s story to dive deep into what the Bible is saying about God. Christian’s do this all the time with the cross, e.g. “Imagine what it would be like to sacrifice your only son, that’s like what happened on the cross” or “Imagine what it would be like to have the person you love the most betray you, that’s sort of like what happened in the Garden”. So in *Noah* we have “Imagine what it would have been like to create something that you love and then have to consider destroying it. Well, that’s one of the themes in the story of Noah”.

    I believe when Noah sees the horrors in Cain’s camp he is confronted with the truths that “All sinned and fall short” and “The wages of sin is death”. He’s convinced that he and his family deserve death because they are sinners as well, but only to finally come to an understanding of grace and mercy on the other side. So Aronofsky used plot, character, dialogue and action to exegete one of Genesis’ more subtle, but powerful themes. He puts this stuff into the character of Noah, and why not? He’s the most important character so let him be a metaphor for some of the most important themes. This is *good* artistic license and the spirit in which I believe these stories *should* be told.

    “Why would God punish angels for helping mankind?”
    Perhaps Aronofsky’s angles wanted to interfere with the way life was supposed to be after the fall. Perhaps they wanted to help Adam make life more like the Garden again because they sympathized with him (like the Nephalim says). This would explain the angels being punished by God: their sympathy led them to try to subvert (word of the day AHHHHHHHH!!) His justice. This seems like a simpler explanation rather than jumping to the conclusion of the un-biblical theme of God wanting man”doing it on his own”.

    Also, was the heart beating in the fruit when Eve plucked it? I’m wondering if the beating heart was representative of the tree of life and the only difference visually between the fruits on the tree were that the fruits on the tree of live are “beating” and the fruits on the tree of knowledge of good and evil were not beating. Makes more sense than this while rabbit trail of the forbidden tree offering life. Or maybe both trees fruits beat as a visual representation that they are supernatural?

    Ultimately I feel like you are grasping at straws in some of your conclusions regarding the paganism of this film. It’s an artistic achievement for movies about Bible stories and hopefully an inspiration for more Bible movies to come. That’s not to say that I don’t wish some things in the film were different or that this is some sort of “perfect” Bible movie, but I do believe it is an excellent film worthy of viewer’s time and attention.

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