'Noah' hits rough religious waters on-screen

Thoughts on religious controversy on the Noah movie?

Darren Aronofsky's 'Noah' has found ardent admirers and louder religious criticism before its March 28 opening. Will it survive the storms at the box office?

Director Darren Aronofsky has seen his share of controversy in a body of work that has included uncompromising films such as Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan.

But there hasn't been anything quite like the storm that has erupted over his treatment of the Old Testament tale featured in Noah, out Friday. The maelstrom has battle-tested studio heads reaching for appropriate biblical comparisons.

"It's been a unique journey," says Rob Moore, vice chairman of distributor Paramount Studios. "I actually feel like some combination of Noah preparing for the storm, or Joseph, where you feel like you're in some foreign land and you're trying to figure out how to make it all work."

The story of Noah's construction of a massive ark to save Earth's animals from God's flood-borne wrath is sacred text in the Koran and the Bible, and is one of the most popular stories with children.

Yet no filmmaker has fully taken on the tale for Hollywood until Aronofsky's quest, which actually started when, as a 13-year-old student, he won an award for his poem about the tale. It continued to inspire him as an adult.

"It seems strange to me that one of the greatest stories ever told had never been made into a feature film," says Aronofsky, 45. "In some ways I have been working on this for 32 years. When I first pitched the film, I didn't think there would be much controversy.''

He was wrong on that last point. Noah, which stars Russell Crowe in the title role, along with Jennifer Connelly (as Naameh) and Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), has become a lightning rod. Aronofsky and screenwriter partner Ari Handel's leaked script was first called out by a movie blogger in October 2012 for depicting Noah as an "environmental wacko."

Aronofsky insists the comments refer to an old draft of the script. But criticism of Noah's depiction and the environmental themes, has continued.

Representatives of Muslim-dominated Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia have made clear their countries will not distribute the film. Conservative radio talk show host Glenn Beck, who initially criticized the film based on a review that he read, saw Noah over the weekend.

"It was awful," Beck said on his radio show Monday, calling it "pro-animal" and "strongly anti-human."

Paramount has worked with religious organizations such as the American Bible Society After viewing the film, chief communications officer Geoffrey Morin urged debate about the topic "and digging into God's word for yourself" in a positive op-ed piece in USA TODAY.

After discussions with members of the National Religious Broadcasters, Paramount and the NRB made a joint announcement in February to change Noah'smarketing materials to stress that it was an interpretation of the biblical story. "The film is inspired by the story of Noah," the marketing wording now reads. "The Biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."

NRB President Jerry Johnson posed the all-important question in a series of articles on the organization's website: Should Christians organize churches to see Noah, or boycott it?

While taking issue with some of Aronofsky's vision, Johnson wrote many would "enjoy" the "quality production."

"Most importantly, you can have healthy gospel discussions about some of the positives, and even the negatives," Johnson wrote. He also made clear it was not a "buy up a block of tickets" moment for churches.

How will the controversy play out at the box office? Movie industry publication Variety reported robust tracking at $35 million-plus for this weekend. Further, Noah opened strong last Friday in South Korea and in heavily Catholic Mexico ($1.4 million, matching Gravity's opening in the market).

Former ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, have also seen the film and praised the educational possibilities it presents.

Rodriguez says Noah "occupies positive space" even if it deviates from the Scripture.

"There were elements that made me feel uncomfortable. I won't deny that," says Rodriguez. "But I will have no hesitation recommending it to my churches. This is not Noah 101 from the book of Genesis. But it's a pro-faith movie, a pro-God movie, a pro-family movie. Without a doubt."


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Steph, thanks for posting.

My partner and I were going to go last weekend, but I was too tired and then had too much take home work to do.  Maybe next weekend.  I wonder why this didn't get put onto the summer blockbuster schedule?  Seems like it would fit.

I love sci-fi.  I love The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and really enjoyed Avitar.  I liked Jurassic Park, and the DaVinvi Code.   If we don't think about the origin of the Noah story being steeped in biblical and koranic tradition, it makes for an interesting sci-fi or legendary story.  

For my partner, it's almost entirely that way.  He grew up in communist China, and had no exposure to christian/jewish/muslim except as kind of exotic and strange behaviors by Westerners.  He doesn't have the baggage I have, and it's fun to watch through his eyes. 

If the story pisses off some fundies, that's so much the better.Maybe taking it out of the religious context, and making it an allegory is the way to go.  If there are good production values, cool!

Then there's Gilgamesh, but how many people will go to a Gilgamesh movie?

Thanks again for posting, Steph!

Daniel, a lot of people on here have decided not to see the movie. Anti-theist sort of thing, I guess. I almost went last weekend, but got sidetracked with a few other and more pressing things. Thanks for stating you plan on seeing it. I didn't want to be the only one who was curious. Not being a purist, I still haven't seen The Passion of the Christ. Scarface with Al Pacino, sure. But Mel Gibson? Too bloody and gory for my tastes,

One thing that struck me as odd in a review of the movie - may have been the NY Times, not sure. Aronofsky, the director, is an admitted atheist. From other reviews I have read, it has themes of pro-environment, anti-capitalist sentiments. Which is one reason, I suppose, the fundamentalists are gripping about it. Anyway, I may check it out if I can get in on the afternoon matinee discount tickets.

Steph, thanks for posting this. Very interesting topic.

Pat if going to the movie annoys fundamentalists, that's a great reason to go!

I didnt see the Passion if the Christ. Like you say, gory, sadistic. Wallowing in piety..... Also The Last Temptation although again thats worth going to annoy christians.

This just seems like a good epic. if it was Gilgamesh i would consider it cool. I would like the epics of Zoroastrismism or Aztec religion, but that's not going to happen.

I have no interest in seeing this film.  It hasn't lit any fires under me on any level:  sci-fi, curiosity, special effects, story-line or film-making.  

I haven't seen The Passion of the Christ either.  Probably won't.  But that's not to say that I don't watch religious films.  I really like The Last Temptation of Christ.  In fact I enjoyed the music from that film so much that I purchased the soundtrack, which was done by Peter Gabriel.  Mysterious and eerie music.  A cool mix of ancient and modern sounds.  

I've even watched the 1915 film version of The Golem because I have an interest in silent films. 

Jesus Christ, Superstar is a fun film as well.  I saw it on the big screen in a theater about two years ago.

But Noah?  I have no plans to see it unless someone wants to pick me up at home, drive me to the theater, and pay for my ticket.  Seriously, I'd rather stay home and watch any Edward D. Wood film from Netflix that I've seen before.  Now THOSE are some entertaining films! 

What have we become? a bunch of pansy-asses afraid of fundamentalist right wing delusionists, wanting to please them even if it means having to bow down to their silliness. Sure, it may not get the $$$ the film makers wanted if religious boycott it. So what!? If delusion believers don't want to see it, and nonbelievers don't want to see it, maybe it is time to give up on those old made up tales and begin to support art and theater that take on more interesting subjects. 

It might be a good action movie; my concern is not what the evangelicals think, but what sort of validation the casual mainstream believer might derive from it.

I wonder how many years it took Noah to sacrifice all those animals.

This is the Joan who I know and admire! i always want you on my side!

You've got it Daniel. 

Hell, if Glen Beck is slamming it that's reason enough for me to see it.
I really dislike that man and all he stands for.
I have an in law l once held in high regard. Until l walked into his home and found him watching Beck. My respect for his intelligent slipped that day. I knew he was a republican but Beck! Shocking.

"Accurate fiction? Accurate as in accurate to the bible fictional story?"

You nailed it! 

That's like boycotting the 2008 Speed Racer film because it didn't faithfully follow the 1960's cartoon series. 

That's funny! What is that line from a movie I never saw? ... stupid is as stupid does!"




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