“While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.” This quote is the caveat that can be found on Noah’s official website and that will be presented in all future marketing materials. While it may seem odd for a movie to feature such a disclaimer, the new Darren Aronofsky film really needs such an explanatory message considering the large amount of controversy that surrounds it, not only for the choice of its final cut but also for the way the film has been marketed and received during advanced screenings.
Noah is an adaptation of the Biblical story found in Genesis. The titular prophet (Russell Crowe) receives a message from God and realizes that the world is in danger due to its great sins. Noah is the only one who can take action and decides to build an enormous ark to welcome a pair of every creature so that life will prosper after the destruction brought forth from the Flood. However, as far as humans are concerned, God only wants to save Noah and his family (played here by Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman). Naturally, the rest of humanity doesn’t like this plan too much and turns against the prophet, who will now have to fight for the safety of his family even harder.
The story is possibly one of the most well known around the world, especially given the fact that Noah isn’t a purely Christian character but appears in the Quran as well. But it is here where the thunderstorm of criticism is unleashed. Although Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) has declared in an interview with the New Yorker that Noah isn’t trying to be a religious film (“Noah is the least biblical film ever made. I don’t give a f**k about the test scores! My films are outside the scores.”), the public seems to be concerned that a major studio like Paramount is just trying to exploit a religious story for its own profit. The director has tried to calm the criticism saying that every doubt will disappear once people start watching the movie, but his opinion seems to be way too optimistic. Paramount already knows it and Aronofsky might be aware of it too, considering that he went into production without final cut rights, which is a rarity for the filmmaker. However, he seems to be resistant to the changes that Paramount has suggested, to the point that he has been accused of not being able to work within the parameters of studio films because he doesn’t respect the opinions of producers. It has to be true considering that Paramount had to hold test screenings all around the country and in Mexico to get an idea of the audience’s reaction. The movie was shown in New York City for a predominately Jewish audience, in Arizona for Christians, and in Orange County, California for a mixed public. What is concerning is that in all locations the movie generated troubling reactions, maybe because Aronofsky decided to include giant six-armed angles and fantastical animals, basing his take on the story on the graphic novel by Ari Handel that includes human barbarism and a ravaged landscape, similar to the one we can already get a glimpse of from the trailer of Noah.
It surely is impressive that the CGI surreal animals featured in the movie are the most complex digital shots to date, but it is not a guarantee that they will be enough to make us appreciate the movie. Apparently, it is the ending that has created the most problems. In the original version of the story, Noah and the ark’s inhabitants survive the Flood while the Earth is destroyed due to their resilient faith, but in Aronofsky’s vision the character seems to be more of a madman than a man of faith. This fits perfectly into Aronofsky’s knack for psychodrama, and rumors have it that once the film focuses on Noah’s family aboard the arc it turns into such a movie, but for many it “ betrays the essence of the Biblical character” (W Radio critic Mario P. Szekely). Not to mention that the director himself has called Noah “the first environmentalist”, which confirms the supposition that he is first of all aiming to put his own creative stamp on the character. Aronofsky has surely detached himself from a purely religious approach and even has Noah telling the story of creation through an evolutionary lens. It isn’t surprising then that when the movie was presented at an NRB International Christian Media Convention, it was not screened in full and the discussion wasn’t taken seriously enough to come to a definite cutting down of the debate. So although the movie was made for believers and non-believers alike, and it is especially interested in challenging the preconception of attending a religious film, it is definitely encountering a pretty hostile reception from everybody.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Noah is a prophet mentioned in the Quran as well. In the Islamic culture it is forbidden to portray in art characters of the Holy Scripture. It is therefore unsurprising that the movie won’t have a Middle East premiere. Actually, censorship from Qatar, Bahrain and UAE confirmed that the Noah won’t be released in their countries at all. As if it wasn’t enough of a slap in the face to Paramount, Cario’s Al-Azhar, the highest authority of Sunni Islam, issued a fatwa – or a religious injunction- against the film, which is considered provocative for Islamic believers. Controversy has even found its way into how Paramount has been marketing the film with their big blockbuster trailers and TV-spots. I’ve already mentioned some of the more bizarre elements that are rumored to be apart of the story, but from the marketing presented thus far you wouldn’t have a clue that such far-fetched creativity was added to the Biblical story. Paramount has been advertising a much more faithful adaptation while Aronofsky has been doing his best in interviews to stress that this is inarguably his version of the story and not a faithful retelling.
As a whole, Biblical epics are really making a comeback this year with Son of God, Noah, and the upcoming December release of Ridley Scott’s Moses epic, Exodus. The trend shouldn’t be all too surprising as producer Phil Crooke says, “Hollywood has always pursued special interest groups. They represent large groups of potential moviegoers. There are 91 million evangelical Christians in America. This is not just a big spiritual revival — this is box-office potential”. Last year, the History Channel saw some incredible success with their mini-series The Bible, which averaged 11.4 million viewers and became America’s most watched cable show of 2013, reigniting the idea that it was cool to draw stories from the Holy Scripture again. Son of God, directly derived from the mini-series, has already had quite the run at the box office, with a total box office gross of over $41 million so far. This positive reception of recent religious movies is another point against Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which is the first Biblical adaptation to deviate so far from its sacred text. The movie will open on March 28th, but its anyone’s guess as to what Paramount is expecting. Sure they say “there is no such a thing as bad publicity”, and the movie has been a hot topic of discussion globally for the past couple of months, but how positive can it be for a Biblical epic to reach theatres having been banned from multiple countries for violating religious quotas and having the disapproval of many religious groups? With a budget of $130 million, Noah is seeming more and more like a risky gamble for Paramount and Aronofsky and we personally can’t wait to see what all the fuss is about when the film is finally released nationwide.
Article by Giulia Rho