NEW YORK (RNS) The “Noah” epic releasing in theaters this Friday (March 28) promises to be controversial, with director Darren Aronofsky calling it “the least biblical biblical film ever made.” As the story of Noah remains near and dear to people of many faith traditions, the film has already unleashed a flood of criticism.

Darren Aronofsky on the set of NOAH. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

Darren Aronofsky on the set of “Noah.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

But Aronofsky says every part of the story fits the biblical narrative. He said the story of Noah illustrates a long tension between wickedness and forgiveness. “All of it’s a test,” he said. “We were trying to dramatize the decision God must have made when he decided to destroy all of humanity.”

In an interview, Aronofsky described where he got the idea for the film, how he plans to respond to critics and why he focuses the film on themes of justice vs. mercy. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Where did the idea for the film come from?

A: I was raised Jewish in Brooklyn. I can’t really remember my first exposure to the Noah story, to be honest. It’s one of those things we’re all taught very, very young. But I got connected to the story in such a deep way when I was in seventh grade. I had this magical English teacher. One day, she said, “Alright, everybody take out a pen and paper, and write something about peace.” I wrote a poem called “The Dove” about Noah. It turned out it was a contest for the United Nations, and I ended up winning the contest and reading the poem at a UN convention a few weeks later. It was the first time I perceived myself as maybe a storyteller. Noah has sort of been this patron saint, because it was the first time I ever really wrote something that won something.

Q: So how did you come back to the story?

A: After I made the film “Pi,” I was looking for a next film and started thinking about Noah. It didn’t happen for a few years, because Hollywood wasn’t really interested in making kind of a biblical movie. The idea wasn’t around back then, but now it’s very in vogue.

Q: Was this before “The Passion of the Christ”?

A: I actually first set it up in 2000, so yes. But Hallmark came out with its own Noah film, so we stopped working on it for a while. Our first draft was in 2003, and when the film started to happen, my mom tracked down my teacher, who was 78 years old. I invited her to the set, and she’s actually a one-eyed crone in the movie who says, “You! You!”

The poster for "Noah" the movie. Photo courtesy of Grace Hill Media

The poster for the movie “Noah.” Photo courtesy of Grace Hill Media


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Q: Has making the film made a difference for your faith at all?

A: I don’t think it’s changed in any way. I don’t think this has affected it in either way. It’s been more about bringing this story to life and breathing life into it.

There’s a complexity that’s not necessarily written in the words of the Bible but it’s hinted at. The second thing Noah does after the flood is he goes and gets drunk and then has this falling-out with his son. To us that was a huge clue to their relationship. So we started to build a whole story out of that relationship between Noah and Ham and how they got there. That led to this whole idea of good and bad within all of us, and the struggle of righteousness in all of us, to try to balance justice and mercy in our lives. If you look at the film, every character is sort of dealing with these ideas of wickedness and forgiveness.

Q: Is that tension or struggle between good and evil something that plays out in your own life?

A: The idea of original sin is a really interesting story to help us all think about what goes on inside of us, that we all kind of have a sense of the right thing to do, and we all understand what the wrong thing to do is. And we understand that there’s a decision in front of us.

We started to realize these big ideas about justice and mercy in the film. It started with Noah being called righteous in his generation, and we tried to figure out what that meant. What we’ve discovered is that people who are a lot smarter than us and who study theology talk about righteousness as having a balance of justice and mercy. As a parent, you understand that if you’re too just, you can destroy your child with strictness, and if you’re too merciful you can destroy them with leniency. Finding that balance makes you a great parent.

For us, since Noah is called righteous, we asked, “OK, what is his balance of justice and mercy?” So at the beginning of the film, he clearly wants justice, very much like God. By the end, when the rainbow happens, he has learned mercy, forgiveness and grace.

Q: You take some creative liberties; do you anticipate any pushback?

A: Where are there liberties? Find me a contradiction in there that can’t be explained. Of course there’s liberties, I mean, we’re making a movie here. If you read the four chapters that the Noah story takes place in, Noah doesn’t even speak. How are you going to cast Russell Crowe and not have him talk? Noah’s wife and his sons’ three wives aren’t even named in the Bible.

If you read the story of Noah, it’s very straightforward. The character of Noah just builds the ark and collects the animals. But the struggles, the effort of building an ark, of being responsible for all those animals, being responsible for your family, it’s not explored at all. So how exciting to actually say, “Oh wow, here’s this great story, how do we put human emotion into it?”

Q: So it sounds like you’re not anticipating much criticism.

A: A lot of people are going to be like “What? Noah, drunk and naked? How dare you?!” It’s in the Bible. People are going to say, “Giants walking the earth? Fallen angels? How dare you?!” But it’s in there.

Q: Do you have any hopes for what people take away from the film?

A: My job is first and foremost as an entertainer. I entertain people, and I try to make films that are exciting, and fun, and emotional, and moving, and filled with action, and that’s all I care about.

Q: With the good-and-evil tension, it seems like you’re content with just leaving that tension. Whereas other people might look for some conclusion.

A: Yeah, but that’s not real. I think that’s the greatness of these stories, is that in that first story in Genesis, they talk about how temptation led to sin, and original sin, and how that defines who we are. To me, that struggle is a really great metaphor to understand our lives, how we live every day. All religion deals with that.

Q: If I were to guess which scene would make some people uncomfortable (without revealing spoilers), it seems like there’s a part where Noah appears to be in almost direct disobedience to God.

A: All of it’s a test. We were trying to dramatize the decision God must have made when he decided to destroy all of humanity. At the beginning of the Noah story, everything is wicked and God wants to start over. The pain of that, the struggle of that, must have been immense. To basically go from creating this beautiful thing to watching it fall apart, and then doing this horrible thing where you have to try and start again.

So we tried to take that huge cosmic idea and put it into a human’s hands. That’s what Noah’s story is. If you think about that moment, when God looks at the wickedness, it grieved him to his heart. We wanted to get that grief, that struggle, and stick it into Noah, so we can understand as people what it must have felt like. What would hurt more than to do — in vague terms — what Noah is about to do? Which for us was an exact metaphor for what the decision was, what the Creator went through. But he chose love! He chose mercy, which for us is the exact same story as the story in the Bible, just put into human terms.

KRE/AMB END BAILEY

34 Comments

  1. “But he chose love! He chose mercy, which for us is the exact same story as the story in the Bible, just put into human terms.”

    how is killing all of humanity equal to love and mercy? I love this director but hes not making much sense in his last answer…

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Article author

      Tyler, it’s a good question, but I don’t want to reveal a spoiler to give away the full context. If you see the movie, the last part of it might make more sense.

    • First, it is important to know that archeologists have found evidence of a great flood from about the time period that Noah would have lived – a flood that covered most of the Middle East (which is one interpretation for “the waters covered all the earth”). Second, though Noah was found to be righteous, we see that he is a sinner, just like the rest of us who are not the Son of God. So all of us are in need of God’s mercy. As sinners, a just God would be obliged to condemn us. Even if you believe the flood covered the entire planet, God had mercy on Noah and his family. Third, if you look at the beginning of Genesis 6, it says that “all the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence…for all the people of the earth had corrupted their ways.” If you follow the narrative from Cain and Abel to Noah, you see a story of progressive corruption from disobedience to murder to reveling in our sinfulness to being “full of violence”. It is hard to imagine, but it is merciful to end a life that has no chance of redemption.

      • “First, it is important to know that archeologists have found evidence of a great flood from about the time period that Noah would have lived – a flood that covered most of the Middle East (which is one interpretation for “the waters covered all the earth”). ”

        No they didn’t. We have some barely tested hypothesis concerning the formation of the Black Sea which the news media and Creationists went gaga over. The “flood myth” studies have proven to be more indicative of the commonalities of riverine cultures than to any one real event.

        That being said, the value of the Noah story is not in pretending it actually happened. But as an early forerunner to the apocalypse story. Apocalypse stories give people a chance to criticize current society and fantasize about a “reboot”. Noah’s Ark is the granddaddy to The Day After, Mad Max, and The Walking Dead.

        • http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/evidence-suggests-biblical-great-flood-noahs-time-happened/story?id=17884533

          Perhaps I overstated my thought above – there is evidence, not proof, of a flood that may have covered 100,000 square miles of the Middle East, where Noah would have lived, when Noah would have lived. The point really was in responding on what “mercy” means. It’s a tough question, one I struggle with even now. Is it possible to be merciful to Noah and his family by saving them from the flood and also to be merciful to thousands of others by drowning them?

          • Very overstated. Much of Ballard’s findings linking the Black Sea events to Noah’s Ark are more confirmation bias than actual evidence.
            http://www.skepticink.com/lateraltruth/2012/12/19/robert-ballard-goes-out-of-his-depth/

            But your point was more allegorical/theological anyway so this is a bit of a diversion. My bad.

            But when you frame the Noah story like an apocalypse story. Noah being the first “doomsday prepper”, you see its literary power. Its a story about remaking the world. Having that wish to just “reset” society.

            The most important aspect of post-apocalyptic stories is the magnification of social issues. The worst of society gets magnified, the best of society becomes more precious in its scarcity. World destruction myths serve the purpose of illustrating why the good in society must be extolled to various cultures. In the Middle East, what better way to illustrate the wiping out of society than a flood. The most destructive and familiar form of natural disaster they knew.

  2. The Noah movie will be spectacular. The cool secret is that it will generate five million conversations and ten million tweets. God appreciates all of the free publicity and knows how to make use of it. To learn more about
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  3. My problem with this movie (and I’m SO disappointed, as I was looking forward to seeing this) is that people will be going to see this movie as Biblical… not a fictional story. And it is not God-based. I understand it will be discussed…. matter of fact, it will be ARGUED. Just based on the interview with the producer alone, and then reinforcing by reading my Bible, this is NOT the story of Noah in the Bible… but is certainly advertised as being so. Christians will know… my fear is for the ones who don’t know, but leave the theaters thinking it is. :( Satan at work again.

  4. Me snd my biological son ashton m wsy r catholic and presbyterisn god is good , but I do think the mormon religion is a white trash dump tiff leeis tiffanncarduccimargotti

  5. I am a born again Christian, and I was kind of hesitating to go and see this movie after all the bad reviews given by so many Christians. First, I want to say that I am very conservative in my views as well as I love Jesus, have read the Bible several times, and attend Church since I was 16. (I am 47 right now, and mother of 3). Having said that, I feel terrible for having even paid attention to so many bad reviews: The movie has MANY references to the Bible; in one scene, it even cites Genesis 1 and 2…exactly as it is in the Bible; Noah mentions several times that we MUST praise our Creator (and yes, one character (the little girl) mentions the word “God” (for those who said the movie doesn’t mention God!); the Bible doesn’t mention what happened during the months that Noah was inside the Ark, and the writer was imagining what could have happened: Trials, struggles, fights, etc. (I mean several months, living with people 24/7 there must have been all of that!); the evil man inside the ark, even though he actually was not there as flesh, represents the evil that I am sure could have still tried to make bad things happen inside the ark! The fallen angels (Watchers), even though these are not Biblical, they still teach us several things, and one of them is that they didn’t go to heaven UNTIL they had repented (meaning that God is so merciful that even if a person has been bad during all his life, if he repents even at the end, he will be going to heaven), etc.

    I would say that this is a Sci-Fi movie combined with a lot of what MIGHT have happened inside the ark, and with many Biblical references and Godly messages that might prompt a non-Christian to go and read the Bible. If you are a Christian, you would agree that this is better than watching a sci-fi movie with bad words and sex references…just think: If it were the story of Noah, like we have seen it so many times…would you had gone and seen it again?

    I mean, let’s support writers and Directors that could have talked about something else, but decided to talk about God and the Bible (in a very difficult environment like Hollywood)! Maybe that’s what Jesus would have done!

  6. He obviously did not read the book of Enoch which also contains info about Noah and the Watchers and fallen angels. The Book of Enoch plainly says that Noah’s seed will re-generate the Earth so it was always in God’s hands and not in Noah’s. He also does not undertand Hebrew culture or do extensive research. Noah’s children had wives and children by the time the Ark was finished. And the Earth was not an apocolypse. He obviously wrote a fiction crap based on a true event to promote an issue fraught with micconceptions.

  1. […] “If you read the story of Noah, it’s very straightforward. The character of Noah just builds the ark and collects the animals. But the struggles, the effort of building an ark, of being responsible for all those animals, being responsible for your family, it’s not explored at all. So how exciting to actually say, “Oh wow, here’s this great story, how do we put human emotion into it?”  – Darren Aronofsky, here […]

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