The thematic and visual links between Noah and Darren Aronofsky’s earlier films: a gallery

vlcsnap-2014-10-03-16h13m51s23The six films made by Darren Aronofsky to date all tackle different genres and subjects, but they also have some striking things in common.

For one thing, they have generally been made by the same creative team, including composer Clint Mansell (who has scored all six of Aronofsky’s films), cinematographer Matthew Libatique (who has shot all of Aronofsky’s films except for The Wrestler) and a number of recurring actors (such as Jennifer Connelly, Ellen Burstyn and especially Mark Margolis).

But the films also have some thematic overlaps. As I mentioned in my review of Noah for Books & Culture, Aronofsky films often dwell on the notion that it is impossible to touch perfection and survive. They also tend to revolve around characters who are obsessed with something, often to the characters’ detriment. And more often than not, they tend to make references to the Bible, some more pronounced than others.

And that brings us to Noah. When the film came out, a number of critics (such as The Playlist’s Drew Taylor) noted that it had some striking things in common with The Fountain in particular. But Noah actually harks back — visually and thematically — to pretty much all of Aronofsky’s earlier films to one degree or another.

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Creation, evolution, the Fall and more in a new Noah clip

Six weeks after Noah came out in theatres, the filmmakers have released another clip — and it’s one of the best sequences in the entire film. The Creation sequence begins with a single shot that captures billions of years of evolution, from the Big Bang to the mammals that existed just before humanity came along, and it goes on to show the Fall, Cain killing Abel, and the violence that has continued throughout human history right up to the present day. You can watch the video — and read a few thoughts I have about the significance of this clip — below the jump.

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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 flicking its tongue at the camera. And it is 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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Second impressions: Noah (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2014)

The first time I saw Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, I took six pages of notes, and I watched it with the memory of an early draft of the screenplay lingering in my brain. So I was distracted on at least two levels: by a need to jot down as many quotes and facts as I could, and by an awareness of how the script had evolved. Never mind people who obsess over how the film may or may not have deviated from Genesis; I kept thinking of how the film was deviating from that early script!

Needless to say, I don’t normally take that kind of background knowledge to the theatre when I go to see a movie, and I knew it wouldn’t be fair to Noah to hold that knowledge against it either. I also knew I needed to just sit back and watch the movie like a proper movie, to bask in the drama and let it unfold.

And so, on Wednesday morning, I saw the film a second time. And I can think of no better way to sum up the difference between my two viewings of the film than to say that I didn’t cry at all the first time I saw Noah, but I shed tears on a few separate occasions the second time I saw it. It’s a powerful, powerful film.

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First impressions: Noah (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2014)

It’s tempting to say that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has brought back the Bible epic. It’s certainly the first major live-action Bible movie to be produced by a Hollywood studio in decades. But the fascinating thing about this film is how utterly different it is from the Bible movies that came before it. Aronofsky has not revived the genre so much as he has utterly transformed it.

Unlike most Bible films, which take place within decidedly historical contexts, Noah is based on the earliest, most “mythic” chapters of Genesis, as well as some of the Jewish legends that have grown up around those chapters. Building on the ancient otherworldliness of these stories, Aronofsky has created a grounded yet somewhat fantastical environment that is, at times, strikingly reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings movies.

But the core biblical themes — of temptation, wickedness and punishment — are still there, and Aronofsky infuses the genre with his own personal style, not least in his use of haunting dream sequences and in his focus on a morally ambiguous protagonist.

Put it all together and you’ve got something quite unique.

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