Exclusive: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel on the meaning of “righteousness”, whether villains can believe in God, and the hurdles they faced when pitching Noah

My interviews with Darren Aronofsky: 1998 | 2014 pt 2 | 2014 pt 3 | 2014 pt 4

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and speaking to both Aronofsky and his co-writer/co-producer Ari Handel immediately after the screening. The following is part one of our conversation. The film comes out Thursday night.

I don’t know if I should admit this, but a copy of an early draft of your script drifted my way, so when I read it, I was struck by the justice and mercy theme, and it was really interesting to see that here in the finished film.

Darren Aronofsky: Well, that was a big part of the movie for us. I think when Ari and I started working on the project and we started reading the Bible over and over again, there’s this term where they call Noah “righteous,” and so what does that word mean? People sort of have a sense of what the word means, but there’s a lot of ways to define it when you really try to figure it out, and so we started talking to a lot of people and looking it up and tried to understand it, and a lot of the different theologians and scholars that talk about it, we came upon this idea that it was a perfect balance of justice and mercy.

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How do we define “wickedness” in biblical films?

If there was one theme linking the trailer and the TV spot for Noah that came out two days ago, it was “wickedness”.

Previous ads showed Methuselah telling Noah that mankind has earned the wrath of God because mankind has “corrupted this world and filled it with violence” — but yesterday’s ads pushed the language in an even more explicitly biblical direction.

The title card that opens the new trailer states: “At a time when wickedness was great in the world… so too was the response.” And the narrator in the new TV spot declares that the film takes place at a time when “wickedness ruled the hearts of men”.

This echoes the beginning of the biblical Noah story, which states: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”

But what exactly did that wickedness consist of?

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Peter O’Toole announces his “retirement” from acting

Peter O’Toole announced his retirement from acting yesterday, and I must admit I’ve been dwelling on Bible movies enough these past few days that my first thought was, “Well, I guess that’s another part that the makers of Mary Mother of Christ will have to re-cast!” O’Toole had been attached to play Symeon, the old man who was informed by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah (as per Luke 2).

It wasn’t the first time O’Toole had agreed to play a small part in a Bible movie. In the early days of his movie stardom, he played the angels who bring condemnation to Sodom and Gomorrah in The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966), which I’ve always been inclined to see as sort of a meta-sequel in which O’Toole gets revenge for the rape his character endured in a similar Middle Eastern town in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). More recently, he played the prophet Samuel in the prologue to the Book of Esther adaptation One Night with the King (2006).

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Review: Noah’s Ark (dir. John Irvin, 1999)

Just about every kind of disaster film has appeared on screens big and small in the past few years, so it was only a matter of time before some producer turned to the Bible for inspiration. The result is Noah’s Ark, a two-part mini-series produced by Robert Halmi Sr., the renowned showman who has made it his mission to bring literary classics such as Gulliver’s Travels, The Odyssey and Moby Dick to TV sets everywhere.

Floods, volcanoes, meteors, tornadoes, shipwrecks — Noah’s Ark has it all. The film also begins with a glaring anachronism. In Genesis, the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah are not destroyed until hundreds of years after Noah’s lifetime. But in Halmi’s version, scripted by Peter Barnes, Noah (Jon Voight) is a native Sodomite, albeit a righteous one, who flees the town shortly before its destruction; his best friend Lot (F. Murray Abraham) also escapes, even though he is decidedly not righteous.

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