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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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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Was Noah a righteous man? How righteous was he? How righteous should our portrayals of him be?

Darren Aronofsky recently said he wants his upcoming movie Noah to “smash expectations of who Noah is”.

And Russell Crowe said last year that the title character, played by him, is “not benevolent. He’s not even nice.”

The Gospel Herald has now picked up on these quotes and combined them with Monday’s bogus Variety story to suggest that the film will contradict the Bible, which describes Noah as a “righteous man”.

But what does that mean?

Let’s start with Aronofsky’s quote.

In context, it’s clear that he was talking not necessarily about Christian perceptions of Noah, but about the general perception of Noah that everyone has grown up with — everyone, that is, who has ever stepped inside a preschool or nursery where the walls are decorated with images of a man and a boat and lots of smiling animals.

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