Darren Aronofsky

What Can Reactionary-Religious Films Learn from “Noah”?

Russell Crowe as NoahAs consumers of film culture and product, we’re used to the many facets of faith.

It’s exponentially important to the continuation of the industry at large. We form allegiances with filmmakers, genres, actors, actresses, producers, screenwriters, franchises and series; we put our faith in these artists and their labors, hoping that they’ll satiate our selfish desires of fulfillment.

There it is: hope, the integral apple to faith’s orange—similar, yet still entirely different fruit. Faith requires pre-established trust, while hope is idealized fantasy that needs no foundation. We can hope out of pure curiosity, but faith requires establishment. Both go hand-in-hand, speaking to our collective desire to indulge in fantasy as we make our way to the theater weekend after weekend.

There are films and audiences that hope for far too much. Religious cinema is often cast aside as its own marginalized (sometimes rightly so) subsect of the film world. The stigma of “Christian” as a descriptor will automatically turn off a majority of the potential audience. It will appeal to the demographic of worshippers; the God-fearing will seek out films like The Passion of the Christ and the upcoming Exodus, and expect them to reaffirm their faith. Christian films rarely deviate from this give-them-what-they-want routine.

Christian films are anomalies of subcultural film in that they seem to cater only to other Christians. The New Black Wave that’s sweeping the country has universal appeal, as does the Queer cinema movement; Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, and Gregg Araki make films with subcultural and minority subjects, yet have the ability—and a desire—to speak to everyone.

Noah is a byproduct of the melding of contemporary Hollywood ambition with Christian lore. It’s different in that it offers an alternative approach to a historically-coded text, the biblical story of Noah, his ark, and the raging waters which cleansed the earth in the Old Testament.

It’s a film that can’t escape religious association and—in the hands of a visionary director—has the ability to reach beyond the divided camps of the Christian audience and those who are not Christian.

It’s a film that endured the brunt of built-in criticism; criticism that has taken its toll on the film’s long-term success and standing (Noah took in $4 million on Friday, which will likely result in a drop of over 50% for its second weekend).

The controversy surrounding the artistic liberties director Darren Aronofsky takes with the source material when transitioning from page to screen is to be expected, though it’s never wise to judge an adaptation on the degree to which it adheres to its source. Each text is its own entity, though the Christian audience has made it clear that Noah doesn’t have that luxury, especially when its source material is one of the most well-known symbnols of their religion, known around the world and by other religions for its appeal as a spectacle outside of being a biblical text.

It seems as if pro-religionism has become a trend of obligation. Over the course of the last seven months, ten Christian films have been released to theaters, five of which played on over 400 screens. Christian filmmakers feel the need to release dreck like God’s Not Dead and Son of God in reactionary fashion.

Films like Noah certainly aren’t helping the case for a Hollywood that’s more accepting of Christian subject matter, and it’s clear how Noah might rub the religious sect the wrong way. Aronofsky’s vision of the biblical tale incorporates elements of the whimsical; giant stone-like creatures with glowing eyes and CGI bodies appear only a few minutes into the film, making the bible seem more like another installment of the Lord of the Rings franchise.

Aronofsky treats the Old Testament exactly for what it is; a fantasy, and Christian audiences might respond to the film if they accepted that such biblical tales are as literary and constructed as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.

Noah centers on the title character as he receives visions from “The Creator” warning of an impending flood that will wipe out life on earth. Noah takes it upon himself to build an ark that will house one pair each of The Creator’s creatures until the flood is over, an the world will start anew.

Aronofsky’s script, co-written with Ari Handel, consciously deviates from any mention of the word “God,” instead lending itself more to the idea of The Creator as an amalgam of all life. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography speaks to this notion, sopping up vast earthly landscapes from high above, framing silhouetted characters against the night sky and cosmos, visually blending life on earth with its surroundings, globbing it all together for the sake of universality united under the connecting thread of life itself.

The Creator is perhaps one of the least-important pieces of Noah’s puzzle. Character struggle is often internal—sparked by Noah’s adherence to what he believes is The Creator’s plan—and speaks to the film’s relegation of The Creator’s will to second-fiddle in the shadow of Noah’s arc as a character. Noah begins the film as a man of faith, who sacrifices earthly desires for the sake of the will of a higher power, and ends as a man of his own volition.

video-undefined-196A7F3B00000578-247_636x358Faith is a capital principal of filmmaking in general. Studios trust that an audience will respond to their work. Characters generally find their faith in something–spiritually or other–is challenged, altered, or lost. Bob Harris loses faith in himself, his career, and the institution of marriage in Lost in Translation. Dr. Ryan Stone’s spiritual outlook is challenged after the loss of her daughter in Gravity. For many successful plots, something is lost only to be regained through unwavering faith and hope.

Many of these characters become agents of change after internal struggle, or simply succumb to the higher power of narrative necessity or a screenwriter’s desire to see them through to the end of their own story.

Noah is no different. What the Christian audience wanted so badly to be a by-the-numbers retelling of a story they’re already familiar with ended up as a film that values the development of its human characters versus throwing its weight behind the grand scheme of religion. It is a Hollywood production through and through, one that just so happens to strip itself of the chains of religious association and create something new out of dated, fantastical source material.

There’s so much to take away from Noah if expectations aren’t placed upon its “duty” as a story rooted in religion. While faith is a necessary component of satisfactory consumption, it’s simply unwise to treat any Hollywood product as a legitimate reflection of any community, religion, or subculture. What Noah does well, however, is continue the small sliver of artistic favor that’s left in studio filmmaking. This is a film with more than one central female character. This is a film that re-envisions a familiar text for a modern audience. It defies the normative culture in so many ways.

The Old Testament is filled with stories, and accusations of misrepresentation are unfounded when half of what happens within the pages of the bible defies so much of the reality we live each day.

Can you make a greater statement by denying the fantasy or indulging in what meaning arises from the power of fictional construct?

Noah is another one of these stories that lends itself to the cinematic medium moreso than any other. It’s a grand-scale epic of spectacle and action. What we should be celebrating with Noah is what its existence says about the state of the contemporary auteur. The power of a director’s vision and conviction in his craft to take something so familiar and resurrect it as something fresh, something beautiful, and something that can speak to a universal audience instead of jerking off a compartmentalized one.

That should give us hope.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

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The Canada of Awards Season; Predicting the Winners

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Awards season typically unfolds in one of two fashions; predictably or, um, unpredictably.  And in a year when the pickings are as slim as Isabelle Caro’s arms and quality cinema sticks out just as much as her ribs (pa-POW, two too-soons in a row!), it remains the sole responsibility for the Hollywood Foreign Press-Whores Association to stir things up as best as they can.

In what can be viewed as perhaps the most hilariously out-of-touch years for the HFPA, 2010 ended up reaffirming what everyone already knew to be true; the Association is nothing more than a large group of aging (and annoyingly sentimental) gays whose only purpose is to be entirely unsurprising in their overly-gracious ‘recognition’ of an undeserving Hollywood elite, festering their own delirious attempts at ousting the Oscars as the King (who am I kidding…Queen) of all awards shows. I mean, did anyone aside from the cultured gay sub-community actually see Burlesque or The Tourist? Both films are nominated in the Comedic Picture categories more than once, baffling both mainstream critics, bloggers, and generally anyone with a pair of eyes, the ability to sit through Burlesque, and their impending (undoubtedly viscious) negative response to it. One theory suggests that producers and publicists for the film actually carted large portions of the HFPA away on vacation and sent each and every one of them a gift basket that included the film on pre-release DVD. Apparently one such member of the HFPA was insulted enough by receiving a copy of Cher’s Immobile Face from the film’s publicity department that he shot Ronni Chasen. But who could blame him? Self defense is entirely understandable, and receiving a copy of that film can certainly be considered an attack on one’s safety.

And I guess the point I’m trying to arrive at is that the Comedic categories of the Globes seem only to serve the purpose of promoting that one ‘good’ Comedy, the ‘offbeat’ critics’ darling that no one really saw. This year that film would undoubtedly be The Kids Are All Right, literally a drama yet holed into the comedic category in an attempt at inclusivity that ends up alienating more than encompassing due to the category’s lack of serious legitimacy audiences have learned to regard such a subdivision with.  I mean, it just looks comical to have one of the most progressive, impactful, socially-relevant, and emotionally-touching portraits of a contemporary family nominated next to a film that celebrates superficiality and cattiness. I’m looking at you again, Burlesque. Photobucket

But enough of my usual pre-telecast bitching, I’ll let the nominees speak for themselves. Peep my predictions for the impending snoozefest below:

Best Motion Picture – Drama

Nominees:

Black Swan (2010) – Predicted Winner 

The Fighter (2010)

Inception (2010)

The King’s Speech (2010)

The Social Network (2010)

The HFPA seems to have gravitated towards Arronofsky’s body of work more quickly than the AMPAS, and for that I genuinely give them credit. Their flair for unabashed theatrics and true melodrama (artful, skilled melodrama, not the cliché kind) incline me to believe Black Swan will undoubtedly take the cake here, seeing as the massive amounts of buzz surrounding the picture have literally quadrupled in intensity since the film’s release has gone wider and wider.

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Burlesque (2010/I)

The Kids Are All Right (2010) – Predicted Winner

Red (2010/I)

The Tourist (2010)

Do I even need to explain?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Nominees:

Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network (2010)

Colin Firth for The King’s Speech (2010) – Predicted Winner

James Franco for 127 Hours (2010)

Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine (2010)

Mark Wahlberg for The Fighter (2010)

My hope is that the AMPAS takes note of the HFPA’s insistence on nominating smaller pictures with little to no mainstream support this year, seeing as Blue Valentine contains a truly career-defining performance that will undoubtedly go down as Gosling’s best. I’m not sure if he or Franco can muster the votes to pull off a win in the category (Wahlberg’s in the same boat as well) seeing as the performances don’t have enough critical backing, and Eisenberg’s performance is nothing more than a tack-on to the far too long list of things The Social Network has been decorated with simply because it’s currently socially relevant (but will soon disappear like the fad its subject material is), so the only reasonable outcome I can see here is that the HFPA award Firth a win.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Nominees:

Halle Berry for Frankie and Alice (2010)

Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole (2010) – Predicted Winner

Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone (2010)

Natalie Portman for Black Swan (2010)

Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine (2010)

Jennifer Lawrence’s buzz got a little exciting there, didn’t it? I thought she was a shoe-in for Best Actress at the upcoming Oscars, but the sheer intensity of the categorical race this late in the game could shut her out entirely, seeing as Hollywood Elite actresses have all but erased her from critical leaderboards with their names alone. I have such a hard time believing Frankie and Alice was seen by the entire HFPA let alone Berry’s performance being good enough to warrant a nomination, but I guess we’ll never know considering the film has yet to see substantial (and backed) commercial release. I’m in love with Williams’ recognition, however, seeing as her performance is hands-down the most painful and moving of the year. It’ll come down to a battle of whose name is bigger, however, with Kidman likely to edge out Portman.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Johnny Depp for The Tourist (2010)

Johnny Depp for Alice in Wonderland (2010) – Predicted Winner

Paul Giamatti for Barney’s Version (2010)

Jake Gyllenhaal for Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Kevin Spacey for Casino Jack (2010)

I swear to god the jokers in the HFPA look through the year’s resumes for Hollywood Elite and pick the one categorical film that actor did and nominated it simply because the industry produced nothing more substantial during the year. I have no idea where to even begin speculation surrounding these men, considering the awards season buzz for each and every single one of these performances has been literally nonexistent even after these nominees were announced. I’m assuming Depp’s votes will split, but then again the other performances nominated have little critical backing and would look ridiculous on the HFPA’s hands. I’m truly stumped on this one, so I’ll give it to “the name” because I have no idea who else to suspect.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right (2010) – Predicted Winner

Anne Hathaway for Love and Other Drugs (2010)

Angelina Jolie for The Tourist (2010)

Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Emma Stone for Easy A (2010)

The words “Angelina Jolie” and “comedy” simply don’t go together, and even she (speaking at the premiere of the film she’s nominated for here) mocked her inclusion in the category earlier last year. I’m truly glad to see Emma Stone get some recognition for a performance that actually fits within the typical standards of what one might consider a truly skilled “Comedic” performance. If it were up to me, Stone would win based on legitimately being apart of the only real ‘comedy’ within this list of nominees, but Bening will win in order to cement the HFPA’s credibility when she wins her Oscar later this year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:

Christian Bale for The Fighter (2010)

Michael Douglas for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Andrew Garfield for The Social Network (2010)

Jeremy Renner for The Town (2010)

Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech (2010) – Predicted Winner

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Nominees:

Amy Adams for The Fighter (2010) – Predicted Winner

Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech (2010)

Mila Kunis for Black Swan (2010)

Melissa Leo for The Fighter (2010)

Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (2010)

Best Director – Motion Picture

Nominees:

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan (2010) – Predicted Winner

David Fincher for The Social Network (2010)

Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech (2010)

Christopher Nolan for Inception (2010)

David O. Russell for The Fighter (2010)

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Nominees:

127 Hours (2010): Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy

Inception (2010): Christopher Nolan

The Kids Are All Right (2010): Stuart Blumberg, Lisa CholodenkoPredicted Winner

The King’s Speech (2010): David Seidler

The Social Network (2010): Aaron Sorkin

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

Nominees:

Burlesque (2010/I): Samuel Dixon, Christina Aguilera, Sia Furler(“Bound to You”)

Burlesque (2010/I): Diane Warren(“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me”) – Predicted Winner 

Country Strong (2010): Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges(“Coming Home”)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010): Carrie Underwood, David Hodges, Hillary Lindsey(“There’s A Place For Us”)

Tangled (2010): Alan Menken, Glenn Slater(“I See the Light”)

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

Nominees:

127 Hours (2010): A.R. Rahman

Alice in Wonderland (2010): Danny Elfman

Inception (2010): Hans ZimmerPredicted Winner

The King’s Speech (2010): Alexandre Desplat

The Social Network (2010): Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Best Animated Film

Nominees:

Despicable Me (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

The Illusionist (2010)

Tangled (2010)

Toy Story 3 (2010) – Predicted Winner

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:

Biutiful (2010)(Mexico/Spain) – Predicted Winner 

The Concert (2009)(France)

The Edge (2010)(Russia)

I Am Love (2009)(Italy)

In a Better World (2010)(Denmark)

Best Television Series – Drama

Nominees:

“Boardwalk Empire” (2009) – Predicted Winner

“Dexter” (2006)

“The Good Wife” (2009)

“Mad Men” (2007)

“The Walking Dead” (2010)

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

“The Big Bang Theory” (2007)

“The Big C” (2010)

“Glee” (2009)

“Modern Family” (2009) – Predicted Winner

“Nurse Jackie” (2009)

“30 Rock” (2006)

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

“Carlos” (2010)

“The Pacific” (2010)

“The Pillars of the Earth” (2010)

Temple Grandin (2010) (TV) – Predicted Winner

You Don’t Know Jack (2010) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

Hayley Atwell for “The Pillars of the Earth” (2010)

Claire Danes for Temple Grandin (2010) (TV) – Predicted Winner

Judi Dench for “Cranford” (2007)

Romola Garai for “Emma” (2009)

Jennifer Love Hewitt for The Client List (2010) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Alec Baldwin for “30 Rock” (2006) – Predicted Winner

Steve Carell for “The Office” (2005)

Thomas Jane for “Hung” (2009)

Matthew Morrison for “Glee” (2009)

Jim Parsons for “The Big Bang Theory” (2007)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Nominees:

Toni Collette for “United States of Tara” (2009)

Edie Falco for “Nurse Jackie” (2009)

Tina Fey for “30 Rock” (2006) – Predicted Winner

Laura Linney for “The Big C” (2010)

Lea Michele for “Glee” (2009)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Nominees:

Steve Buscemi for “Boardwalk Empire” (2009)

Bryan Cranston for “Breaking Bad” (2008) – Predicted Winner

Michael C. Hall for “Dexter” (2006)

Jon Hamm for “Mad Men” (2007)

Hugh Laurie for “House M.D.” (2004)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama

Nominees:

Julianna Margulies for “The Good Wife” (2009) – Predicted Winner

Elisabeth Moss for “Mad Men” (2007)

Piper Perabo for “Covert Affairs” (2010)

Katey Sagal for “Sons of Anarchy” (2008)

Kyra Sedgwick for “The Closer” (2005)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

Scott Caan for “Hawaii Five-0” (2010)

Chris Colfer for “Glee” (2009)

Chris Noth for “The Good Wife” (2009)

Eric Stonestreet for “Modern Family” (2009)

David Strathairn for Temple Grandin (2010) (TV) – Predicted Winner

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Nominees:

Hope Davis for The Special Relationship (2010) (TV)

Jane Lynch for “Glee” (2009) –  Predicted Winner

Kelly Macdonald for “Boardwalk Empire” (2009)

Julia Stiles for “Dexter” (2006)

Sofía Vergara for “Modern Family” (2009)