Over at Libertas, Govindini Murty offers an incisive preview/critique of what we can expect from Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” project. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read on there recently, and I highly recommend reading it. Obviously, none of it is direct criticism of the film, since the film has yet to be made. But drawing extensively from Aronofky’s comments on what he wants to do with the project, she discusses the story of Noah in the context of other Biblical epics as well as other flood myths. While contemplating the artistic potential (or lack thereof) of secularizing one of the most widely-known religious myths in Western civilization, she seizes upon Aronofsky’s conception of the Flood as environmental fable to draw a devastating conclusion about the ideological implications of this project:
Isn’t [radical environmentalism] a religious viewpoint akin to the religious viewpoint that Aronofsky derides in the story of Noah? Doesn’t the story of Noah – and of the world’s other flood myths – feature a God/gods who want to destroy humanity for its crimes? Now it’s the environmentalists who believe that humans should be punished for their crimes against the earth. Interestingly enough, this means that in an environmentalist version of the flood myth, the environmentalists would be placed in the position of the condemning gods. What a telling reversal.
Personally, even if this is the approach that will characterize Aronofsky’s Noah project, I’m still looking forward to it. I find religious art of any stripe intriguing, and even a well-crafted secular version of a religious myth can be worthwhile if it’s done well. (For instance, I’m still hoping that Paul Verhoeven can get his “Jesus was a man, baby!” movie off the ground.) Darren Aronofsky makes punishing, provocative films. To say that I “enjoy” or “like” them wouldn’t be quite accurate, but they invigorate my critical faculties to an extent that a lot of other films don’t. Even if his films are on the mediocre or simplistic side (like The Wrestler or Black Swan), there’s no getting around the forcefulness and conviction of his storytelling. Any film that provokes genuine critical discussion has served a fruitful purpose. I’d almost rather be outraged by a film than bored by it. I’ve had more interesting conversations about Natural Born Killers (which I hated) than I have about, say, Hide and Seek (which I’ll bet most of you don’t even remember, do you?).
The Fountain was, to me, a perfect example of religious art. You could argue that it’s actually a secular film gussied up in religious terms (it wasn’t, but the argument could be made), but on a core level, the film isn’t as interested in religious dialogue as it is in expressing a certain set of assumptions, or precepts, in an artful way. More than that, the absolute, full-bore zeal with which those precepts are illustrated marks it as religious. Not every deeply religious film has to be so in your face, but there’s no mistaking the sense of wonder and awe at the core of that film. In most ways, the film is diametrically opposed to the doctrines by which I interpret my own Christian faith, but The Fountain nonetheless stirred my soul and opened my eyes to a completely different worldview. That’s a kind of power I respect. It’s the same kind of power present in a film like Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?, but expressed in a completely different way.
The upshot is that, even if Murty has Aronofsky’s number nailed down pat, his Noah movie might still be worthwhile — just so long as it’s done with the same religious conviction as his best films. Even if the vengeful god of this particular Noah story is anti-human environmentalist venom, at least it will be a sermon with some soul in it.