Scripture to Screen: 'Noah' Sparks Controversy, Talk

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LOS ANGELES - The much-talked about film "Noah" is finally hitting theaters. But Hollywood's $130 million adaptation has generated buzz for months.

Some Christian leaders say director Darren Aronofsky has pushed creative license a bit too far in the film he's been working on for the last 16 years. 

Aronofsky's fascination with Noah began at 13 years old when he won an award for his poem on the story. 

Memories Made Alive

"I had a great teacher, and one day she said, 'Everybody take out a paper and a pen and write something about peace,'" he recalled during an interview with CBN News. 

"And I ended up writing a poem based on Noah and it ended up winning a contest," he continued. "And so Noah has been sort of this patron saint for me in my life, sending me down the path of storytelling and being a creative person."

Bringing his twist on the Bible story to the big screen is a dream come true for Aronofsky.

"This film is great entertainment first and foremost, but then it is a visual spectacle of all of the wonders that happen in the Bible," Aronofsky told CBN News, describing the final product.

That spectacle of wonders includes the massive ark Aronofsky built, using the Bible as a blue print. It also includes Hollywood heavyweights, like actors Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Not a Children's Story

The Academy Award-winning Anthony Hopkins plays Noah's grandfather, Methuselah. In his interview with CBN News, Hopkins recalled the first time he heard the Noah story.

"It was the first biblical story I heard," Hopkins said. "I was in Sunday school. It was the only day I ever attended Sunday school and I remember going home and telling my mother about the snakes and the elephants."

But when it comes to that childhood story and the film, Hopkins said, "There is no comparison. This is a sweeping epic of a story that goes beyond the Bible."

An early draft of Aronofsky's script for the film inspired a graphic novel from Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon. But the film is not a children's story. Russell Crowe's depiction of Noah is dark and the tension in his family is heavy.

"At its core, it really is a family drama," Crowe said. "There is this task to be fulfilled and a very determined person, somebody who is going to get the job done as he says at one point to his son. But it is very easy to talk in terms of being relentless in the pursuit of something, but quite often a person like that is going to cause problems for other people."

"Some religions say Noah is a prophet. Some people talk of him in terms of having super hero status," Crowe continued. "He was, in my mind, just a man given a particularly heavy task, and quite a burden to carry."

An Environmental Crusade?

The biblical text of Noah's story is short. In fact, Noah doesn't speak, nor do we hear from his wife or children.

That was the biggest challenge for the director as he took the story from scripture to screen.

"The one thing that was clear was this image of an old guy with a long white beard in a robe and sandals isn't really what's going on here. It really isn't a nursery story," Aronofsky said. "For me, when I was kid, and I heard the story, I always thought, 'What if I wasn't good enough to get on the boat?' So, for me, it was a very scary story."

He recalled that some his research for the film offered interesting insight.

"There were a lot of clues. The more you look. The more interesting things sort of emerge," Aronofsky said.

Aronofsky's interpretation of those clues has prompted some criticism about the film, among all the buzz and anticipation of its release.

Leaders in some Christian circles have called it an "environmental crusade." They also accuse Aronofsky of taking too many creative licenses that veer away from the Bible account.

"All the controversy is coming out of people who have not seen the film," he said in response to the early criticism. "And now that people are seeing the film, the tide has changed."

In that changing tide, the National Religious Broadcasters organization did praise the film for its "faithfulness to the biblical themes of sin, judgment and restoration."

But that praise came after Paramount Pictures agreed to advertise the film as being "inspired by the story of Noah," noting "artistic licenses had been taken."

The Real Epic Tale

"People are realizing that the values that we have in the movie are very, very connected to the original story," Aronofsky said. "And actually raise a lot of conversation about the original story."

Even with controversy, this epic film has people talking about an Old Testament Bible story that hasn't inspired a blockbuster until now.

"The Old Testament film has been a genre that has been dead for 50 years, since Cecil B. DeMille's time," Aronofsky said.

"No one has taken the old book and tried to bring them to life for a 21st century audience," he said. "And with all the incredible digital effects that have been used for super hero figures, when you have these original super heroes, like Noah, what you can bring to life is so exciting."

'Noah' is the latest wave in a flood of faith films riding high at the box office.

Anthony Hopkins on "Methuselah" (Noah’s Grandfather)


Jennifer Connelly on "Naameh" (Noah’s Wife)


Douglas Booth on "Shem" (Noah’s Son) & Emma Watson on "Ila" (Shem’s Wife)

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.