The director walks us through a timeline of the controversy surrounding his biblical epic
Since he was 13-years-old, the story of Noah and mankind's demise at the hands of God has obsessed cult director Darren Aronofsky, and we're celebrating his environmental epic with Aronofsky on Dazed – an in-depth look of his work as an auteur of our time.
It's now been a decade since Mel Gibson's biblical adaptation The Passion of the Christ – the highest grossing R-rated film in US history and #1 voted most controversial film of all time – has pissed off bible thumpers worldwide. There's been time to allow the dust to settle. Until now.
1982: She taught us with a poem
Director Darren Aronofsky has been working his adaptation of the bible story Noah for over seven years. He initially wrote a poem at 13-years-old about the story in Vera Fried's seventh grade class. The poem – an assignment given to the class to write a poem about peace – was submitted by Fried to a United Nations competition and went on to win. Fried attended the NY premiere of Noah, and was "the woman who inspired this whole thing," says Aronofsky. "I got a nice e-mail from her daughter a few weeks ago, saying how this kind of validated her entire career, which is crazy because we all have that teacher who inspired us."
2007: From the bible to the big screen
It was first mentioned back in 2007 that he would adapt Noah, after he told the Guardian he was "several drafts into a screenplay about Noah". This was about the time that he brought Clint Mansell on board to soundtrack the film. "Now I read a script a long time ago, I can’t really remember how long ago it was. Probably after we did The Fountain, I think. So it’s probably 6-7 years ago, something like that."
2011: Noah's back on the table
Although he had his eyes set on directing Wolverine 2 after The Black Swan was tipped for an Oscar, the idea was pulled from under him due to reasons unknown. Suggestions have included a breakup with girlfriend Rachel Weisz, "travel concerns", and perhaps most accurately, that 20th Century Fox wouldn't relinquish creative control over the film to Aronofsky. The role of Noah was originally offered to Christian Bale, then to Michael Fassbender, both of whom turned down the role due to scheduling conflicts.
“Now the only people who are upset are literalists. For me that’s the enemy. Anyone who takes things literally”
February 2014: Studio troubles
Paramount was very worried about how Noah would deal with such tender subject matter. Seemingly behind the back of Aronofsky – before principal photography was even completed – the studio was hard at work putting together test screenings. The $125 million epic had to be closely watched by the studio to protect their investment, so they held advance screenings with cuts of the unfinished film. ""I was upset – of course," Aronofsky told The Hollywood Reporter. "No one's ever done that to me."
When I ask about these screenings, Aronofsky gives me his own account. "No, I knew about it," he says, "it’s just not the way I do things. For me, it’s like once again when you do something different, it doesn’t really work in the testing system."
March 2014: Banned in Arabic countries
Prior to the film's release, Noah was banned in Bahrain, Qatar, and UAE – and just today, Malaysia can be added to that list – as the local government said it would contradict the teachings of Islam. The film has also been banned in Egypt for similar reasons, as it violates Islamic law and could "provoke the feelings of believers." Add that to the onslaught of criticism from religious conservative groups in America who chimed in that it didn't follow the story in the bible closely enough and that the main character was portrayed too darkly. "Because it’s beyond expectations in a lot of ways, the film," he says of why the film has garnered so much controversy. "It sort of rocks people’s expectations. It’s not an old man with a long white beard – it’s Russell Crowe with an axe. It’s very, very hard for people to get a grasp of what they’re seeing."
Should people be offended? "I think the controversy is old at this point, it’s an old story. It was all based on people who hadn’t seen the film. And now the only people who are upset are literalists. For me that’s the enemy. Anyone who takes things literally."
March 2014: Meeting with Pope Francis
There were internet whispers earlier this year when it was reported that Russell Crowe and Aronofsky were in talks to meet with the Pope to get his blessing for the film. Unfortunately, that meeting was cancelled due to fears it would leak to the press. They did, however, reschedule. "Yeah, we got to be in his audience. We were there on Father’s Day, and so his speech was all about how to be a good parent, and he talked a lot about this idea of having a balance of justice and mercy. Which are exactly the themes in our movie." Did Pope Francis see the film? "I have no idea," he continues. "I think he doesn’t want to get into that whole promotion element of it, which I completely respect and honour."
April 2014: The flood comes
Now that Aronofsky's film has hit theatres stateside, the controversy has ebbed away as people have begun to realise that the central message behind Noah is a positive one. "He saves the animals. How is that not ecological? He’s not going out and finding all the young babies to save. He’s saving the animals. Y’know. And in Genesis 2:15 the first thing that God tells Adam to do is tend and care for the Garden. There’s clearly an environmental message in the opening chapters of Genesis."
"Any time you try to do something a little bit outside the box, it’s always hard," the director says. "Luckily, I had a studio that really wanted to make the movie. Then people when they started to see the movie were, ‘Oh wow this is really different than anything out there.’"
Noah is in cinemas today