On asking questions, not assuming answers, about Noah

Brian Godawa has now updated his post on the Noah serpent — twice! — in response to posts of mine in which I debunked the claim that Noah is Gnostic and tried to untangle just what the snakeskin represents, both in Judaism and within the film specifically.

Brian’s a good guy, and he’s done a lot of research into the Noah story, and I have found his posts on that subject very informative. But when it comes to his analysis of Darren Aronofsky’s film, it seems to me that he has certain blind spots, or that he insists too strongly on filtering his experience of the film through a certain worldview without fully engaging with the film on its own terms.

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Be as wise as serpents, but stay away from snakeskins!

“Temptation led to sin.”

That’s the second sentence in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. It’s printed on the screen for all to see. It is accompanied by an image of a serpent shedding its light skin and emerging as a darker, more foreboding creature. It is also followed by images of violence and destruction.

To those who are even half-familiar with the story of the Fall, you might think that this would all seem pretty straightforward. But no. Instead, a bizarre idea has surfaced in recent days, to the effect that Aronofsky’s film espouses a kind of Gnosticism.

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No, Noah is not Gnostic. (Say that ten times fast!)

Thanks to a lengthy blog post by Brian Mattson, a theologian with the the Center for Cultural Leadership in California, the latest meme to work its way into public discussion of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is that the film is somehow Gnostic, and that it presents a worldview in which God is really Satan and vice versa.

Is there anything to Mattson’s claims? Not really, and here’s why.

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Bible movie of the week: The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966)

The title speaks of beginnings, but the film itself marked the end of an era. The post-war Bible-movie craze — which began with Samson and Delilah (1949) and arguably peaked with Ben-Hur (1959) and its record 11 Academy Awards — petered out over the next several years, and The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966) was pretty much the last major Bible film to be produced by a Hollywood studio for the next couple of decades.

The problem was not that the film was a flop, per se, but that it cost so much to make. Reliable box-office figures are harder to find, the further back you go in time, but according to Wikipedia, at least, The Bible was the top-grossing film of 1966, with a domestic gross of $34 million. Then again, roughly half of that money would have stayed with the theatres, and the film is said to have cost as much as $18 million — and that probably doesn’t count the cost of prints and advertising. So whether the film made its money back would seem to depend on how well it performed overseas.

In any case, I recently revisited this film and noticed a few things that I thought were worth noting here. (See also my recent post on Abraham and the Three Visitors, which discusses one scene from this film that I don’t get into here.)

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The Garden of Eden gets cameos in Noah and Son of God

I attended a preview screening of Son of God last week, and while it’s far too early to post a review of that film (it doesn’t open theatrically until February 28), producer Mark Burnett and the others who spoke at the screening were certainly keen to drum up interest in the film and its impending release; they asked everyone there to spread the word via social media, etc. So consider this blog post my small contribution.

One detail I did find interesting is the fact that the film begins with a montage that ties the story of Jesus to the stories in the Old Testament (using footage from the OT episodes of The Bible, of course). That means that this film begins, in part, with Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, just as Darren Aronofsky’s Noah will apparently do.

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The Noah trailers: a shot-by-shot analysis

It can be fascinating to see how the same movie is marketed to different audiences. Is Noah a family man of prayer, as the trailers that have played at various church conferences suggest? Or is he an action hero who wields weapons in self-defense, as the just-released international trailer suggests? Well, in Darren Aronofsky’s hands, he appears to be both — and that’s just one of several fascinating ways in which the trailers for Noah are sending different signals to their various markets.

What follows is a shot-by-shot analysis of the two trailers that were released today, focusing primarily on the North American trailer, but continuing with some screen-caps from the international trailer and a note about the elements in the church-conference trailers that were not included in these new trailers.

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A few brief thoughts on the screenplay for Noah

In all the years that I’ve been writing about film, I have read only a few screenplays before seeing the films in question. Last week I added Darren Aronofsky’s Noah to that very short list.

The script I read is credited to Aronofsky and Ari Handel and seems to be identical to the one that has already been reviewed by Christian screenwriter Brian Godawa and Hitfix columnist Drew McWeeny. However, I don’t want to say too much about it here, because it seems we’ve all read an earlier draft than the one that was used to make the actual film.

For one thing, when Paramount announced two years ago that it was going to produce the film, they also announced that John Logan had been hired to rewrite the script — yet his name appears nowhere on the undated screenplay that I read. For another, there have been reports for almost a year now that Ray Winstone will be playing a “nemesis” of Noah’s named Tubal-Cain — and yet there is no character by that name in the screenplay that I read.

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Adam and Dog and expressions of Grace

If you haven’t seen the Oscar-nominated animated short Adam and Dog yet, you really should. It’s a beautiful, inspired and, in its own way, challenging take on the story of the Garden of Eden, as seen from the limited — but still keenly felt — perspective of the world’s first domesticated canine.

I loved it from the moment it was first posted online two weeks ago, and I saw it again a couple days later, this time on the big screen, where it was screened as part of the touring Oscar Nominated Short Films program.

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The Oscar-nominated story of man’s first best friend

It turns out one of the five nominees for this year’s Oscar for Best Animated Short is a version of the story of Adam and Eve, as told from the point of view of a dog. Adam and Dog actually won the Annie Award for Best Animated Short one year ago — beating such better-known films as Pixar’s La Luna, Disney’s The Ballad of Nessie and Warner’s I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat — but it somehow didn’t get much exposure or qualify for the Oscars until this year. And now that the Academy is casting its final votes, the entire short film has been released online:
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