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

The thematic and visual links between Noah and Darren Aronofsky’s earlier films: a gallery October 6, 2014

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.

Now that Noah has been out on DVD for a few months and I’ve had some time to mull this over, here is a gallery of images from all six films, charting most of the connections between Noah and Aronofsky’s earlier movies that have occurred to me so far (some trivial, some profound). The images below are grouped by theme and presented more or less in the order in which those themes appear in Noah.

BIBLICAL TITLE CARDS

Noah never quotes the Bible onscreen explicitly, in terms of giving chapter and verse, but the opening title cards do summarize the early chapters of Genesis:

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The Fountain, for its part, begins by quoting Genesis 3:24 explicitly:

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MEN WRAPPING THINGS AROUND THEIR ARMS

In Noah’s very first scene, the young Noah watches as his father Lamech wraps a snakeskin — the “garment of skin” given to Adam and Eve by God — around his arm:

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Noah himself will go on to do this at the end of the film:

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Many viewers have observed that the snakeskin, wrapped around the characters’ arms like this, resembles the straps of the tefillin, which are worn by observant Jews during prayer. Aronofsky depicted a Jewish character doing just that in Pi:

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In The Fountain, Tommy the space traveler keeps track of time by tattooing lines on his arms:

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In The Wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson wraps tape around his arm before one of his wrestling matches:

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SCRAPING MOSS AND BARK

The very first shot of the adult Noah is a shot of his hands scraping moss off a rock:

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In The Fountain, Tommy the space traveler scrapes bark off a tree for food:

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FLOWERS

Before he has his visions, Noah sees a “miracle” — a flower that sprouts instantly when a raindrop hits the soil:

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In The Fountain, flowers sprout instantly from the ground when sap from the Tree of Life is spilled there:

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HIP-HOP MONTAGES

One of the recurring motifs in Noah — it is part of all three visions that Noah has — is a quick-cut montage of the serpent in Eden, Eve’s hand plucking the forbidden fruit, and Cain’s hand lifting the rock with which he is about to kill Abel:

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Aronofsky first used this technique, which he dubbed “hip-hop montage”, in Pi, where he repeatedly used a quick-cut montage of the protagonist taking his medicine:

pi-hiphop1 pi-hiphop2 pi-hiphop3 pi-hiphop4

Aronofsky then used the technique in Requiem for a Dream to depict the drug use of the main characters — and also the addiction to television of Sara Goldfarb:

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SCREAMING UNDERWATER

Noah screams underwater at the end of his first vision of the coming Flood:

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Marion Silver screams underwater in her bathtub in Requiem for a Dream:

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SILHOUETTES

Naameh asks Noah about the vision he just had:

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Later in the film, we will see Og leading Noah’s family to Methuselah’s mountain…

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…and Cain killing Abel in a sequence that goes on to depict soldiers through the ages:

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In The Fountain, Tommy performs tai chi as his biosphere bubble flies through space:

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WOUNDED ABDOMEN

Ila is wounded when Noah and his family discover her:

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Earlier, Noah tried to save an animal that had been speared in its abdomen as well:

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In The Fountain, Tomás the conquistador looks down at his abdomen after he is wounded by the man guarding the Tree of Life:

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In Black Swan, Nina Sayers performs her climactic dance while mortally wounded:

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SKULLS ON STICKS

The Watchers place skulls and skeletons at the edge of their territory in Noah:

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The Mayans place skulls on sticks outside the entrance to their temple as a warning to would-be intruders in The Fountain:

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FLAMING SWORDS

Methuselah wields a flaming sword in defense of the Watchers in Noah:

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The man guarding the Tree of Life wields a flaming sword against Tomás in The Fountain:

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SPIKY SEEDS

Noah plants a seed that came from the Garden of Eden:

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Izzy offers Tom a seed to plant over her grave in The Fountain:

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TREES

The camera looks up at the forest as it finishes growing instantaneously in Noah:

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Max Cohen looks up at the trees in a park in Pi:

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The tree in Tommy’s biosphere grows leaves instantly as it is showered with energy from the death of the star Xibalba in The Fountain:

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BIRDS

Two doves fly towards Methuselah’s mountain in Noah:

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A fake bird flies overhead in Pi:

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LEADING MEN WHO GO BALD PART-WAY THROUGH THE STORY

Noah has hair at the beginning of the film, but when the story jumps ahead ten years and we see him after most of the Ark has been built, his head is shaved:

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Max Cohen shaves his head in Pi:

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Tommy the space traveler is bald, unlike the earlier versions of this character, Tomás the conquistador and Tom the neuroscientist:

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FENCES

Refugees tear down a fence in Tubal-Cain’s camp in Noah:

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The Mayans raise a fence against the conquistadors in The Fountain:

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DOPPELGANGERS WHO TAUNT THE PROTAGONISTS

Noah has a “vision” of himself as an evil meat-eater:

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Sara Goldfarb sees a version of herself step off the TV screen and into her living room, and is taunted by this apparition, in Requiem for a Dream:

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Nina Sayers is haunted and even threatened by her doppelganger in Black Swan:

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BODY-CAM SHOTS

When Tubal-Cain sticks his spear in Samyaza, the latter character tilts back and falls over, lifting Tubal-Cain in the air, and we see a shot in which Tubal-Cain’s face remains stationary within the frame while the background whips this way and that:

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While Ray Winstone, the actor playing Tubal-Cain, did not wear a camera on his body per se, the shot in question looks remarkably similar to body-cam shots in earlier Aronofsky films. For example, Max Cohen walks around New York in Pi:

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Marion Silver walks down the hall after sleeping with someone for money in Requiem for a Dream:

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And Sara Goldfarb hears a strange noise at the door in Requiem for a Dream:

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SPIRALS

Hurricanes cover the Earth in Noah:

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Max Cohen pours creamer into his coffee while discussing the ubiquity of spirals with Lenny Meyer in Pi:

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MEN ACCEPTING DEATH WITH ARMS OPEN WIDE

Methuselah greets the tsunami with open arms in Noah:

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Tommy’s arms are thrown back by the force of Xibalba’s explosion in The Fountain:

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CIRCLES OF LIGHT

Circles of light emanate from the Big Bang as Noah tells the Creation story:

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We saw a hint of this image earlier, when Noah had his second vision of the Flood — the one that concluded with animals swimming towards a glowing Ark:

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Circles of light emanate from the dying star Xibalba in The Fountain:

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THE TREE OF LIFE

The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as they appear during the Creation sequence in Noah:

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Lenny Meyer and Max Cohen discuss how, in Hebrew, the numerical value for one of the names of Eden (Kedem = 144) and the numerical value of the Tree of Life (Etz Chaim = 233) are both numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, in Pi:

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Tomás the conquistador finds the Tree of Life in The Fountain:

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THE AKEDAH

Noah, believing that God wants to destroy humanity forever, prepares to kill his miracle grandchildren in a scene that many people have compared to the binding of Isaac, when Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice his own miracle child:

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The protagonist in The Wrestler goes by the stage name Randy “The Ram” Robinson, and is described by one of the other characters at one point as a “sacrificial ram”, which harks back to the ram that was ultimately sacrificed in Isaac’s place:

wrestler-ram

And that’s about it for now. If you can think of any more overlaps between Noah and Aronofsky’s earlier films, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them here.

March 19 update: Film buffs are beginning to put out “supercuts” that explore the recurring visual motifs in Aronofsky’s films. You can check some out here.

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