Even in Hollywood, Noah’s Ark survives a flood

January 3, 2013

In retrospect it was a gross misnomer and an audacious assumption to call the Titanic “unsinkable.” But in theory, the notion that such a designation should apply to a water vessel is rather basic and logical, and can probably trace its origins to the biblical story of Noah.

When God promises to bring flood waters upon the earth so vanquishing they will “destroy all flesh under the sky,” he instructs Noah to build an ark to withstand it. 

Said ark is made of gopher wood, various compartments, and according to God’s instruction, measures about 450 ft x 75 ft x 45 ft. It is completely enclosed, saved for “an opening for daylight” and in fact weathers the calamitous storm intended by God to reset life on earth. 

For remarkable feats to occur in the Bible, though, is really unremarkable. It often seems the bible’s very purpose is to imbue the many miserable conditions of human life with a sense that the miraculous is possible. In reality, for anything to be as “unsinkable” as Noah’s Ark would require both superlative (or supernatural) design and the unintended (or preordained?) kindness of nature.

In no small feat of irony, a Hollywood film about Noah and his Ark had the right mix of the aforementioned blessings. The Darren Aronofsky-directed movie which stars Russell Crowe as Noah was filming on location in Oyster Bay, Long Island when Hurricane Sandy hit last November. The actress Emma Watson, who also stars in the film, then tweeted: “I take it that the irony of a massive storm holding up the production of Noah is not lost.”

According to the New Yorker, who reported from the set in late November, “Aronofsky’s ark stood fast against the winds of Hurricane Sandy, even as they ripped up more than three hundred trees from the surrounding arboretum.”

Perhaps that’s because, as production designer Mark Friedberg explained to the magazine, the crew closely followed the biblical dictates. As the New Yorker’s Julian Sancton noted, the ark looked like a “gigantic windowless log cabin crudely slathered in pitch.”

“The Bible itself lays out the dimensions of what this thing is,” Friedberg told him.

Sancton continued:

Per Genesis, Friedberg built the ark with three levels: one each for birds, reptiles, and mammals. Insects will bunk with the reptiles. “At first there weren’t going to be insects, for budget reasons, Friedberg said, “but Darren decided, ‘We can’t not have insects.’” (Friedberg made cheap bugs out of Lucky Charms cereal, bulgur wheat, and coffee beans.) Instead of the Biblically prescribed gopher wood, which appears nowhere else in the Scriptures or in any botanical almanac, Friedberg’s team used pine and carved foam.

At a time when the ark could have been rendered digitally, Aronofsky’s insistence on a life-size set was equated as a “Herzogian extravagance,” but the filmmakers aspired to as much verisimilitude as possible. And also: artistry. 

According to the article, the ark’s design is influenced by the German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, who is not Jewish, but whose work is said to bear the influences of Jewish mysticism, the Old Testament and especially the German history of the Holocaust, among others.

Aronofsky, who is Jewish, has said that making this film is the realization of a lifelong dream. Last July, when he first laid eyes upon his modern-art-modern-ark, he tweeted: “I dreamt about this since I was 13. And now it's a reality. Genesis 6:14.”

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