Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly star as Noah and his wife "Naamah"

Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly star as Noah and his wife “Naamah”

When you go to see Noah, which opens tomorrow (3/28/2014) at a theater near you, prepare to be rattled.  That’s what the film’s Director Darren Aronofsky promises and that is what he and Paramount Pictures delivers with their epic and fantastical film Noah.

I had a chance to preview Noah last week-end at Paramount studios in Hollywood and speak to both Ari Handel (Executive Producer and Screenwriter) and Darren Aronofsky (Director and Screenwriter) about their film.  Both men wanted to respond to some of the early criticism of the movie from mostly people who had not even seen it.

Not a Documentary

Noah, is not an attempt at documentary.  There is simply not enough information in Genesis 6-9 to make a two-hour movie about the great flood that destroyed the world and nearly all those who lived in it.  Other than the Bible, there are no source documents to consult from 4,500 years ago.  So Aronofksy spent years consulting experts in Jewish history and tradition as well as other history experts to develop Noah.  “It is going to be strange for movie-going audiences who normally know exactly what they are going to see.  Or who think they know the story. There is a lot of movie here that you won’t know is coming.”

Early critics of the film, for the most part, did not see the final cut of the movie as I did.   The movie is not anti-God, nor anti-Christian, nor does it fail to deliver on its central messages of love, mercy and compassion.  Noah, although a righteous man, is still flawed.  Many of the rumors swirling around about the movie that it had radical environmental undertones are simply not true either.

noah-movie-posterWhat the movie does show is that Noah and his family all have a relationship with their Creator and understand that each of them has a purpose on earth.  As Russell Crowe pointed out in an earlier interview, when Noah finally realizes that God is actually communicating with him to build an Ark to save his family and see the rest of the world destroyed, “There is no honor in the job God has given to Noah, that is the worst job that you can possibly get.”

What the film does wonderfully well is to cause you to rethink everything you thought you knew about Noah and the times he lived in.  Aronofsky and Handel both talked to me about how carefully researched Noah was before they wrote their final script.  “It has been a very long process in development, the ten years of research we did, the emotional connection I have had with Noah since I was 13 (see additional story below), you just try to pull on the truth that you know after all that to make it real for the audience.”

When most of us first heard or taught our children about the story of Noah, we sometimes tend to forget some of the darker elements that we see in this movie. Noah and his family are witnesses to the greatest slaughter of human beings ever–the first apocalypse as Aronofsky points out.  At one point in the movie, helpless survivors from the firsts few days of the flood are clinging to mountaintops screaming and pleading to get on the Ark in the driving rainstorm.  Noah’s wife (played brilliantly by Jennifer Connelly who also starred alongside Crowe and won an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind”) and their children ask, “Can’t we just save some of them?”  Noah is resolute that all must die because that is what God has commanded.

Even after the flood is over we see Noah as a naked drunkard.  “The movie leaves the nursery school story of Noah behind,” says Aronosky.

Handel agrees, “Noah is supposed to be a righteous man and yet is drunk and naked and cursing his sons and their ancestors.”

In addition, movie-goers will see something of how different Creation was just ten generations removed from Adam and Eve.  The world was inhabited by not just fallen men and women, but fallen angels as well.  Handel explains, “Noah lives in a time where his grandfather was alive when Adam was alive, and Adam actually walked with God, so Noah has no problem with believing that God is communicating with him.”

This is a carefully thought out film with attention to detail that is not often seen in Hollywood today.  The $160 million dollar production produced a life-size Ark and construction techniques that would have been available to the ancients.  It did not solely rely on computer-generated wizardry.  As Aronofsky pointed out, “A lot of films that come out of Hollywood have rubbed God-fearing people the wrong way.  This is not that kind of film.  I have been thinking about Noah for 30 years.  Ari and I have taken this project very seriously and spent ten years researching it and talking to everyone we could  to make sure it first and foremost respects the story from the Bible.”

What the film did for me and the small group that saw Noah last week-end was to start some serious conversations about what God asked of Noah, and how he communicates to each one of us today — down through the ages to the present day.  What is our mission?  What is the Creator’s plan for each of us?  We all have a purpose, how do we know what God wants from us?  It is clear that the makers of Noah are hoping to stir those questions inside us.  And for that we can be grateful that a more real Noah has made it to the big screen. I will be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments below and respond on my Facebook page as well.

Noah is rated (PG-13).

The Teacher, The Student and The Movie Noah

When Darren Aronofsky (Director and Screenwriter for the new Paramount film, Noah opening tomorrow 3-28-14) won an award for a poem he wrote about Noah when he was 13-years old, little did he know that one day he would direct a $160 million film about Noah.

Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky

Nearly 30 years ago Aronofsky was at the Mark Twain Junior High School on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York…or as he says, New Yawk.  His English teacher was Mrs. Fried.

“She was an eccentric teacher,” said Aronofsky.  “She told us to take out a pen and paper and write something about peace.  And I wrote a poem about Noah called ‘The Dove’.  It ended up winning a contest for the United Nations.  At the time I didn’t even know it was for a contest.  It was the first thing I had ever won creatively.”

One other thing that Mrs. Fried told her prize winning 7th grade student after she congratulated him, “She said, and it kinda rocked me at the time, she said to dedicate my first book to her and I am thinking back then, ‘write a book?’

“I don’t even know why I wrote a poem about Noah back then.  I did have an early memory before that of hearing the story of Noah and just remember being scared.  That even though it has been a parable for kids and is a nursery story for most children, with play-mobile sets, when you look at the story it is a very scary story. It is the first Apocalypse.”

As a child Aronofsky said he often wondered if he would be a good enough kid to be on the boat.  “I have wickedness and sin, so I thought, ‘Would I be able to get on the boat?’”

When Aronofsky first pitched the idea to Russell Crowe to play Noah in his new film he wanted to make sure this was going to be a different story than the one he heard growing up.  “I told Russell that he won’t have a big long white beard, wear sandals and be seen walking with two giraffes.”

Aronofsky felt it was important to tell the story in a different way, in part because of all the flood stories that exist throughout the world’s ancient cultures.  “Every culture has this story, in China, in the Amazon and even the Maya have this flood story, yet it has never been on the big screen.”

Now that the $160 million dollars production, 15 years in the making, is final on the big screen, there are all sorts of materials being developed for distribution, including a comic book.  This comic book will use materials from the scenes in the movie to tell the story and promote the film.

“When they finally finished the comic book and Paramount said, ‘Would you like to dedicate to someone?’ I said of course to Mrs. Fried,” said Aronofsky.

Aronofsky’s mother is a retired school teacher and was able to track down Mrs. Fried down in Florida.  She not only got the comic book dedication, she also got a part in the movie.  “She plays the one-eyed woman who screams one line to Russell Crowe in the film, so you will have to watch for that.”

Little did Mrs. Friend know what she wrought when she asked to get her pupil’s dedication so many years ago after her student won a United Nations writing contest in New Yawk.

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