22/10/2014 It's not the end of the world: Darren Aronofsky's Noah and IMAX Apocalyptic Ecology

Published: 17 October 2014

It's not the end of the world: Darren Aronofsky's Noah and IMAX Apocalyptic Ecology

Sam Tongue
(University of Glasgow)

Part of: Literature, Theology and the Arts Research Seminars. Upper Seminar Room, Wed 5.00 p.m.

Taking seriously director Darren Aronofsky’s comments that Noah is 'the first environmentalist,' and also an early 'superhero,' this paper examines how Aronofsky’s recent film (2014) recasts the Noah story as a consumable apocalypse, one that inflates the short biblical text to IMAX proportions with a combination of technological props and extra-biblical material. However, by examining the film’s narrative of eco-apocalypse more closely (Gerrard, 2004; Buell, 2005), this paper identifies some issues that dilute the central environmental theme.

For all Aronofsky's protestations to the contrary, how does Noah fit into the filmic traditions of the biblical epic, with its combination of scriptural material, technological transcendence, and commercial conservatism (Forshey, 1992)? And how does this tradition necessarily mute some of the more radical eco-critical moments in the film? In order to engage these questions, I will offer a detailed analysis of some key scenes in the film, particularly around the theme of animal/human screen presence. Although many conservative commentators have decried the filmic Noah’s misanthropy and pro-animal stance, what kind of stance is actually taken toward 'the question of the animal'? For example, during the voyage itself, the hyperreal CGI animals are easily sedated; the lion lies down with the lamb but, within the film’s narrative trajectory, this ark remains a human-centred archive (Derrida, 1996), an animal collection under human jurisdiction. Anthropocentricism remains intact. If 'IMAX is Believing'™ what kind of visual and communal apocalypse/salvation does this film offer? I suggest that the central belief remains an anthropocentric ‘survivable apocalypse’ (Plate and Linafelt, 2003); IMAX and Ark bring together tropes of technological dominion and environmental stewardship to affirm that it is we who shall save the 'other' animals. 

First published: 17 October 2014