So the first thing I want to make clear is that this movie is not suitable for young children. It is quite violent and some of the violence is of a sort that children will find especially frightening.
Since the original story is just a few paragraphs long, Aronofsky has fleshed it out with some material from the Jewish Apocrypha, plus some stuff that he just made up. Whatever you may say about the result, you can’t deny that it is interesting.
After Cain slew Abel he went off, got married and fathered a long line of descendents called the Cainites. (That much is in Genesis.) The Cainites, having learned about technology from some fallen angels called the Watchers, proceeded to build a technological civilization that used up the Earth’s resources and turned it into a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic desert.
The main body of Cainites, led by their evil king Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), go around stealing things, oppressing the innocent and generally stinking up the place.
Meanwhile the descendents of Cain’s younger brother Seth have tried to stay out of the way of the Cainites and eke out a living as noble primitive vegetarian tree-hugging environmentalists.
Noah (Russell Crowe) and his sons are the last descendents of Seth. Noah has a disturbing dream in which the world is submerged in water. He decides to set out on a dangerous journey to consult with his wise old grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).
Methuselah serves him some psychedelic tea which causes Noah to have a more complete vision. Now he understands: the Creator intends to drown the Earth, but Noah’s mission is to build a great ark to save the innocent animals.
Methuselah is a delightful character. Surprisingly, Tubal-Cain is almost as delightful–reprehensible of course but very entertaining.
What surprised me most is how unlikeable Noah is. He becomes a monstrous fanatic who even manages to make Tubal-Cain seem sympathetic by comparison. Though he has a last-minute change of heart before totally damning himself it is rare to see a Hollywood movie with such an offputting hero.
After prescreening the movie with religious audiences the studio put a lot of pressure on Aronofsky to recut it into something more conventional. He manfully resisted them and I am sure that the movie is better as a result. Whatever you may think of this it is surely better than some bland children’s-book pap.
Predictably the usual assortment of religious fundamentalists have denounced the movie. Oddly they seem particularly offended by the portrayal of Noah as a tree-hugging vegetarian. Christian and Jewish leaders of the more educated sort have generally given it guarded praise, describing it as sincere and thought-provoking. The movie has been banned in most countries where Islamic authorities get to make such decisions.
I can give it a qualified recommendation. It certainly won’t bore you, but be prepared for some unpleasant moments.