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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Is “God” missing from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? Please.

Reviews of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah have been trickling out for a few days now — you can read my own first impressions here — and one of the more puzzling remarks I’ve come across so far is a bit from Todd McCarthy’s review in The Hollywood Reporter.

Specifically, McCarthy, who likes the film, asserts in passing that Noah “will rile some for the complete omission of the name ‘God’ from the dialogue”.

When I first read that, I wondered who McCarthy could possibly be referring to. Who, exactly, would be so easy to offend, so eager to nitpick the smallest detail, so ready to assume the worst about this movie that they would live up to the stereotype invoked by McCarthy and actually make an issue of this?

Enter Breitbart News.

To be fair, Big Hollywood — the Breitbart website that has been hostile towards Noah ever since it published a critique of an early draft of the script in October 2012 — devotes only a few sentences to this bit from McCarthy’s review. But devote them, it does, quoting that one line and commenting that the absence of this word “might make the movie a harder sell to its intended audience–faith-friendly viewers.”

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Box office update: Bible movies and an evangelical surprise

Out with the old, in with the new.

The latest box-office estimates are in, and it seems that Son of God fell out of the top ten in this, its fourth weekend. The film earned $2.7 million between Friday and Sunday, or just a tenth of what it made when it opened three weeks ago. Its total gross now stands at $55.6 million.

The top ten won’t be without a Bible movie for long, though. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah opened in Mexico and South Korea this week and earned $14 million between those two countries, which bodes very well for its domestic release on Friday.

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Noah news round-up: a good first day in Mexico, the filmmakers talk about fear, grief, and literalism, and more

More good news for Noah from the foreign market: the film, which already had a strong opening in South Korea a couple days ago, had a similarly strong opening in Mexico yesterday. In both cases, the studio says the movie’s opening days were on par with the opening days for Gravity in those markets.

Several reviews of the film went online Thursday night (or Friday morning, if you live on the east coast) — you can read my own first review here — and it currently has a 73% score at Rotten Tomatoes.

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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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Noah news round-up: a big opening in South Korea, a look at the Jewish myths behind the film, and more

Well what do you know, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is already playing in theatres and raking in the big bucks… in South Korea.

Various sources are reporting that the film opened there on Thursday (which might mean yesterday, given that it’s on the other side of the international date line), and that its first-day gross was on par with that of films like Gravity and Inception. I imagine those particular examples are cited because they were big hits that, like Noah, did not have the advantage of being sequels or part of a franchise.

Amusingly, The Hollywood Reporter suggests that the film owes part of its success to the fact that South Korea “has a large Christian population”, while Variety notes that “a large percentage of the South Korean population is agnostic”. Well, there’s no reason the film couldn’t be playing to both audiences.

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