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Will Aronofsky's "Noah" Inflame Religious Right and Court Environmentalists?

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik July 12, 2012 at 9:35AM

For those fan-boys diligently following the every move of "Pi" maven Darren Aronofsky, the latest developments on his next film "Noah" -- a retelling of the Biblical story of the man and his ship, starring Russell Crowe -- may be old-ish news. But the web-chatter surrounding the project climbed again yesterday with a sneak peek at the production's Ark--and an Aronofsky Tweet referencing Genesis 6:14. It all compells me to finally put some thoughts down about a project that I've been curious about ever since it was announced, not only because it's from Aronofsky, but because it's likely to be a lighting rod in our country's culture wars.
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For those fan-boys diligently following the every move of "Pi" maven Darren Aronofsky, the latest developments on his next film "Noah" -- a retelling of the Biblical story of the man and his ship, starring Russell Crowe -- may be old-ish news. But the web-chatter surrounding the project climbed again yesterday with a sneak peek at the production's Ark--and an Aronofsky Tweet referencing Genesis 6:14. It all compells me to finally put some thoughts down about a project that I've been curious about ever since it was announced, not only because it's from Aronofsky, but because it's likely to be a lighting rod in our country's culture wars.

noah

As further details about the project have come to light, Aronofsky is already baiting religious conservatives, whether he intends to or not. Synopses about the film -- based on Aronofsky's comic book series (pictured) -- suggest a film that aims to go explicitly against the Biblical grain.

"Far from the stereotype of the patriarch that one appends the character of the Bible, he looked like a warrior," according to a synopses for the comic book on which the film is based. "He looks like a Mad Max out of the depths of time. In the world of Noah, pity has no place. He lives with his wife and three children in a land barren and hostile, in the grip of severe drought. A world marked by violence and barbarism, delivered to the savagery of the clans that draw their reason to survive from war and cruelty."

In interviews, Aronofsky has also suggested that the film's message has less to do with theological teachings than current environmental concerns. In a widely quoted passage from an interview at Slashfilm, Aronofsky said, "I think it's really timely because it's about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what's going on on this planet. So I think it's got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He's a really interesting character."

Last year, speaking to IFCtv.com, Aronofsky went so far as to say that the film would not be "a very religious story." Well, tell that to religious conservatives.

The rightwing film website Libertas already went on the attack last year, with a lengthy column that criticized Aronofsky for just such comments. The writer chastised Aronofsky's work for films that were "coldly neurotic" and "lacking" the kind of "warmth and humanity" in previous retellings of the Noah story, such as John Huston’s  The Bible: In the Beginning (1966).

"Emphasizing only the ‘dark’ or ‘dirty’ aspects of [the story] and depicting Noah as some sort of tormented drunk is an evasion of the Bible’s description of him as 'a just man and perfect in his generations,'" the writer argued. "The stories of the Bible are compelling because they contain both light and dark, good and evil, the spiritual and the material in a highly condensed, symbolically rich form. If you abstract one element out of the mix in order to fulfill some ideological or propagandistic purpose, you actually rob these stories of the sublime mystery that makes them potent subjects for art."

Aronofsky's films, of course, do have light and dark: in fact, they're painted in extremely stark hues of light and dark. In a piece I wrote a couple of years ago for IFC.com ("Requiems: The Melodramatic Imagination of Darren Aronofsky"), I argued that Aronofsky's moral universe is right out of traditional family melodrama--lurid worlds of the good gone bad, victims and virtue, and the potential for redemption. All in all, it's not exactly radical. And if conservatives took a close look at "Black Swan," they might like what they see.