By Saul Sudin
Darren Aronofsky’s dreams are finally coming true. As he tweeted recently, production is underway on his film adaptation of the Torah’s story of Noach, a project he has ambitiously hoped to make since his Bar Mitzvah. The filmmaker behind Pi, The Fountain, and the Academy Award-winning Black Swan is taking a radical (by Hollywood standards) approach to the source material by going beyond the literal King James Bible text that most western societies are familiar with and delving into Rabbinic commentaries and Midrashic embellishments to round out a more intense, contemporary-feeling retelling. Our sages teach that no part of the Torah is mere history, but is meant to have a continually modern application. Aronofksy’s Noah seeks to play in that sandbox.
The new film has an all-star cast that continues to grow. Russell Crowe has been cast as the titular Noah, with Jennifer Connolly as his wife Naameh, Ray Winstone as a rival of some kind, and Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s grandfather Metushelach (Methuselah), the oldest living man at that time, who was given the honor of passing away prior to the flood. Two of Noah’s three sons have also been cast, and Emma (Harry Potter) Watson and Saoirse (Atonement) Ronan are also linked to the film, presumably as the sons’ wives.
As details about the film’s story have begun to emerge, film bloggers have acted with shock at the audacity of Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel’s vision. The building of a giant physical ark (pictured above) is a rarity in a filmmaking landscape where everything is computer generated, but the story starker elements are what seem to be truly shocking some critics. The world that this Noah inhabits is full of devastation and drought, where vicious hordes of corrupted people rule the landscape; a concept glimpsed in the graphic novel version of the story released last year in Europe. What’s more, this is an age when man existed side by side with creatures unknown to us today, such as giants and angels. The Watchers, as they are called in the script, are eleven-foot-tall fallen angels with six arms and no wings. Drew McWeeny, film editor for HitFix.com, has read the script and describes it thusly:
“As wild and dangerous as parts of the script read, I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens when people start to discuss the ideas embedded in the work and Aronofsky’s approach to Biblical history. Is his movie meant as pure allegory? Is this how Aronofsky imagines actual events? There is a sincerity from the very first page that will make it hard for people to argue with Aronofsky’s intent here. He’s written this as a serious look at our place on this planet and our rights as citizens of the world.”
McWeeny goes on to say that “I think it would be hard to pin this version of the story down to any one faith, and in shaking off the dusty respectability of the accepted version of the story, Aronofsky and Handler may have actually found a way to give it a stronger thematic resonance than I would have imagined.” While diverging from the established popular notion of the Flood narrative and certainly taking their own liberties, it is obvious that Aronofsky and Handel are drawing heavily on their Jewish backgrounds for this approach. With all due respect to Mr. McWeeny, it is much more apparent to those who have studied the Judaic exegesis.
Noah is expected to be released in the USA on March 28th, 2014.