When I first saw a trailer for the movie "Noah," I wasn't particularly attracted. Then I thought, I go to see films about every other culture's myths and epics, so why shouldn't I see this one? I was pleased that I did go, as much out of the satisfaction of curiosity as anything else, but I must say that overall "Noah" is, in my opinion, a very well done movie and interesting to watch.
The movie begins with a very brief version of the Creation and Cain's murder of Abel, then goes on to set the scene by stating that the descendants of Cain has overrun the world and despoiled it with an "industrial" civilization. Meanwhile, only the direct line of Seth, Adam's third son, has maintained reverence for the Creator (as God is referred to throughout the movie) and his works. The small tribe maintains a nomadic existence, seeking to live lightly on the land. Meanwhile, where ever the Cainites spread, desolation follows in accordance with both the Creator's curse on Cain ("When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth." (Genesis 4:11-4:12)) and their own destructive ways. Young Noah's father, Lamech, is killed by a marauding band of Cainites, leaving the boy to become the patriarch of his clan.
Flash forward years, to when the adult Noah (Russell Crowe) has a wife, Naamah (Jennifer Connelly), and three young sons, Shem, Ham, and Japeth. He is troubled by what he believes are visions sent by the Creator, and decides to seek out his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). On the way, they come across the site of a Cainite massacre, and rescue a wounded girl child, Ila. Fleeing from the Cainite brigands, they run into territory held by the few remaining "Watchers".
The Watchers are writer/director Aronofsky's largest "whole cloth" addition to the Noah story. Derived from the "giants in the earth", in this story they are rebellious angels who came to Earth after Adam's fall, taking pity on him and intending to lend him aid. The Creator punished them by imprisoning the spirits of light in rocky earthen carcasses. The Watchers found the Cainites ungrateful and hostile, and withdrew into the wilderness after many were destroyed. One of them recognizes a spark of goodness in Noah, and persuades the others that they should help Noah and his family instead of killing them.
Noah meets with the hermitical Methuselah, who gives him a drink that clarifies his visions. He lends further aid by giving Noah a seed "that came from the Garden"-potentially useful, since Noah needs to build the Ark, and, so far, we haven't seen a single tree in the barrens they inhabit. Noah plants the seed and beds down for the night.
In the morning, they are threatened again by the Cainites, who are driven off this time by the menace of the Watchers, and the miracle of a mature forest coming into being within minutes.
Flash forward again a number of years, when the Ark is nearing completion. (Kudos to Aranofsky for this, showing that the massive structure takes Noah years to build, even with the Watchers to do heavy lifting--.) Noah knows that time is getting short, however, because an enormous flock of birds come to roost and sleep in the rafters of the Ark. (Another inspired touch: all the beasts hibernate during the voyage of the Ark, so Noah doesn't have to feed them or clean up after them--.)
Unfortunately, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), king of the Cainites, has also seen the birds pass over, and is wise enough to know this has meaning. He and a warband follow the flock to the Ark, and try to take possession of it, but are cowed by the Watchers and put to rout by the appearance of all the land animals coming to board the Ark.
Tubal-Cain retreats only into the outskirts of the forest, where he sets up a camp and calls other bands to him. The encampment speedily degenerates into a hell-hole of debauchery and ruthless criminality. This doesn't prevent Ham (Logan Lerman), envious of Shem's burgeoning relationship with Ila, from going there incognito in hopes of finding a girl of his own. He does, but just as he and Na'el (Madison Davenport) are trying to sneak away, the rain starts to fall. Tubal-Cain understands what this means, and orders the attack. Ham and Na'el are one jump ahead of the horde when Na'el is caught in a trap set by Tubal-Cain. Noah arrives in time to rescue Ham, but leaves the girl to be trampled by the Cainites.
Battle ensues at the Ark site, where the Watchers sacrifice themselves so that the Ark can be closed. A flash flood overwhelms the combatants, and Tubal-Cain alone manages to cling onto the Ark and, rat-like, pry a way inside, hiding in the dark reaches.
The Ark begins its journey with Noah's family grimly huddled around their fireplace, trying to ignore the screams and cries from outside. It is at this point that we really see Noah beginning to decompensate, as he starts to be convinced that his mission is to shepherd the blameless birds and beasts into the world to come, and then to allow humankind to die out. Therefore, he's not pleased when given the news that Ila (Emma Watson) is miraculously pregnant with the child of Shem (Douglas Booth). Noah declares that if the child is a son, he will allow it to live to be "the last man," but if the child is a daughter who could mother more humans, he will kill her. (Rather short-sighted on all their parts, since it assumes that Shem and Ila couldn't have further children--.)
Meanwhile, Ham has discovered the recovering Tubal-Cain, and fallen into his thrall as he inflames Ham's resentments of his father.
How these tensions are all worked out at the major, and generally satisfying, crisis of the movie.
It winds down to the expected conclusion, glossing over Noah's curse on the descendants of Ham, although the episode of his drunkenness (shown as the effects of post-traumatic stress and depression at having "failed" in his mission) is shown. (Anyway, one would think that having gotten bamboozled into helping Tubal-Cain would be more worthy of a cursing than making fun of Noah naked--.)
Overall, I was impressed with the movie and the efforts made to both iron out the major implausibilities, while adding to the humanity of the characters in a most terrible situation. The script is not in the least "preachy", and, if anything, could be taken as an environmentalist tract, since the despoliation of the Creation under the rubric of "dominion" is repeatedly stated as the Cainites besetting sin.
The relationship of God with Man does come into play, as Tubal-Cain and Noah both address the Creator in nearly identical terms: "Why won't you speak to me?": Tubal-Cain as he's planning to assault the Ark, and Noah on the drifting Ark, agonizing over the fate of humanity. Neither one of them then realizes that God has deliberately left the choice of action, for good or ill, in their hands.
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