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The scenes on it, firelit and shot by handheld cameras, feel as intimate as a nine-figure film set on a three-hundred-cubit-long ark can.The script that Aronofsky constructed with his writing partner, Ari Handel, honored the Old Testament narrative—but that narrative is barely an elevator pitch.“It is,” Aronofsky said proudly, “the least Biblical Biblical film ever made.”This was the director’s attempt to emerge from the art house and join his contemporaries Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Christopher Nolan as a mainstream visionary—and to show a Spielbergian touch with an epic. Aronofsky was more interested in the tribulations that the Bible elides: the anguish of all the people denied room on the ark.When Aronofsky worried that his film, “written by two not very religious Jewish guys,” might be too existential for either a mass or a Christian audience, he was reassured by the fact that Paramount’s vice-chairman, Rob Moore, a devout Christian, had said that he loved the script. What if one of them did get aboard—and then tried to thwart Noah’s plan?One of the challenges of turning the Noah story into a film is that the only conflict in the Biblical narrative is, implicitly, between Noah and God (whose impossible demands Bill Cosby famously answered with “Right. A warlord who murdered Noah’s father, Tubal-Cain combines brutality and wounded bewilderment: why does God speak to Noah but not to him?He’s played by Ray Winstone, a British character actor who is a master of the endearing thug.
The director’s characters stare at the sun, slice their faces with razor blades, stab themselves with mirror shards.
“Where Russell is an aikido opponent—you have to accept the force coming at you and work with it—Ray is a fun sparring partner,” Aronofsky said.
He put his arm around Winstone and explained the scene: Tubal-Cain is climbing the ark with an axe, trying to hack his way in, when the flood hits. ’ And then we’re going to dump a whole fucking lot of water on you, and you look around, amazed—this is the end of the fucking world! After watching a take on his handheld monitor, he added an air mortar to the six buckets of water, so the actor would have to struggle to stay upright.
He had wanted to make the Noah story ever since he came to Hollywood.
Now Paramount Pictures agreed to produce it, at a final cost of a hundred and thirty million dollars; the visual-effects budget alone was triple the entire cost of “Black Swan.” No longer would a count as a success.