Darren Aronofsky’s bold reimaging of Noah and the Genesis Flood has created quite a controversy in the public arena. Critics from both the sacred and secular realms have taken to social media to denounce the film for a multitude of reasons. While proponents of the movie argue that it is an epic story reinvigorating an old Hollywood tradition.
Amidst all the hype and criticism it may be helpful to remember movies are works of art. Noah is Aronofsky’s canvas. With broad brush strokes he has created a series of motion pictures and artistically edited them to make one powerful story. Seeing the movie as a work of art is an important distinction; it sets the film free from the claim of being either environmental propaganda or religious dogma. It is simply a work of art.
Art, like music and poetry, has the ability to transcend the rational mind and go directly to the human heart. There are images in Noah which produce spontaneous tears. The heart is recognizing/remembering something and making a response. Of all the myriad of images in Noah the smallest, least remarkable one deserves further exploration. The image is the last seed from the Garden of Eden.
The Last Seed
Early in the film Noah and his family make the journey to the mountain where Noah’s grandfather Methuselah lives. Noah is seeking wisdom about the disturbing visions he is receiving. Methuselah tells Noah the Creator has chosen him for the task of building the ark. He then gives his grandson a gift; the last seed from the Garden of Eden.
There is nothing attractive or special about the small brown seed Methuselah places in Noah’s palm. Noah takes the seed and buries it in the earth and immediately a bubbling source of water springs up. It is a fountain of life and flows like a river out into the distance bringing new life wherever it goes. The seed also produces an entire forest full of trees. Noah instinctively knows these are the trees he is to cut down and use to construct the ark.
One small seed, planted in the earth releases rivers of water which bring new creation and the material for the ark in which the remnant of the old creation will be saved. Why are the images of seed, water, river, trees, and new creation so moving? What are the images reflections of?
The Promised Seed
There really was a seed from Eden. After the serpent’s deception of Eve and the sin of Adam, God the Creator speaks to the serpent saying:
“Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field, On your belly shall you go, And dust shall you eat, All the days of your life.” (Genesis 3:14 NASV)
And then in the next verse He makes the promise of the seed who will come and destroy the serpent.
“And I will put enmity, Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise (crush) you on the head, And you shall bruise (crush) him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15NASV)
Genesis 3:15 was called The Protoevangelium by the Early Church Fathers. It is the first Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. This seed: the promise of a Messiah was given to Noah, to Abraham, and to Israel in promise form. They all were looking ahead to a time the Messiah would come and crush the serpent’s head, cleanse the creation, and bring in the Age of New Creation. Noah, the Ark, and the Genesis flood pre-figure what God would do in and through the promised seed, the Messiah.
The Promise Fulfilled
And when the time had fully come the promised seed was deposited into the womb of a young Hebrew virgin named Mary (Luke 4:31-38). Jesus the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God recognized His vocation to be the seed that must die and be buried in order to cleanse the old Creation and bring forth the New (John 12:24). He willingly gave his life to be “cut down” and hung on a dead tree (bruising his heel). He was buried in a garden and remained in the grave for three days. On the first day of the new week He rose from the dead victorious over death having crushed the serpent’s seed. The Resurrection is the sign that the New Creation has begun. The Holy Spirit which Christ poured out after His resurrection is the river of life now bringing new life where ever He goes (John 3:16, 20:21-22)
Art and Noah
The poet David Whyte once said “Art is about remembering, not in the sense of memorization, but in the sense of deep memory. Remembering what it means to be fully human.” 1
Darren Aronofsky’s work of art, if nothing else calls the world to this deep memory of what it means to be fully human. In Noah he makes it clear that God is Sovereign and does not trifle with man’s sin and rebellion. He reminds human beings of their original design to be royal priests exercising God’s benevolent rule over the zoological kingdom and the creation. And finally he makes the audience remember that human beings were designed to live in communion with their Creator who is a God of grace and mercy.
For opening this “deep memory” in the post-modern secular world, which for the most part is ignorant of the Bible, he deserves respect and at the very least polite discourse.
Note 1: From the CD The Teacher’s Vocation by David Whyte