Ridley Scott hasn’t exactly been enjoying a twilight towards the end of his career, with his recent films Prometheus and The Counsellor being roundly slated, and Exodus: Gods and Kings isn’t exactly doing much to change anyone’s opinion.
It’s the latest biblical epic, and in a sense it is just that. Its sweeping panoramic views of ancient Egypt are impressive, as are all the special effects. There are battles and plagues of gargantuan proportions and it’s easy to be swept away by how massive and awe-inspiring this whole thing is.
But the film is riddled with faults. The story is a little patchy at times, and wanders a little from the biblical account of Moses and Rameses, and the message of the film is one imposed by Scott himself, and it’s very much a modern view on religion: “That’s your faith, and while I don’t believe that, I respect that everyone’s view is valid”.
While a message of inclusivity and tolerance is admirable, it does raise a paradox. If everyone’s religion is right, then everyone’s religion is wrong.
It’s easy to see how Exodus can be controversial. As someone familiar with the biblical account, it is interesting to see how the plagues (for the most part) are explained away as coincidences or as having some scientific logic. The parting of the Red Sea is not so much a parting as a freak tsunami which may or may not have had something to do with the strange meteor that fell the previous night. This will irritate some, but it could be seen as beneficial to the overall film, in that it makes the tale more believable for the sceptical public.
“…IT’S EASY TO BE SWEPT AWAY BY HOW MASSIVE AND AWE-INSPIRING THIS WHOLE THING IS.”
Christian Bale as Moses was a good pick, and he puts in an impeccable performance as a reluctant servant of God, wary, and tested by his faith daily. His counterpart, Joel Edgerton, as Rameses, is equally believable as a young man thrust onto the throne and faced with trial and adversity. And Scott, for all he has changed the film, directs well, getting the best out of his actors, and also the crew, with wonderful cinematography which brings ancient Egypt to life on a grand scale.
On the other hand, casting God as a petulant child hell-bent on exacting His revenge on a nation that has enslaved His people for 400 years is way off the mark, and verges on blasphemy.
The God of the Bible who speaks to Moses speaks as a voice through a burning bush, which is never consumed by its flames. He doesn’t appear in physical form for Moses to see, and for others to not see.
Exodus portrays Moses as a warrior too.
He kills a lot of people; some in self-defense, and others without any real provocation. He also never negotiates with Rameses either. He holds the pharaoh at sword point and demands that the hebrews are released.
He is no prophet in this film and performs no miracles through God, which will be a sore point for many who watch this.
And that’s the problem. While the core story remains the same, Scott has taken the source material and twisted it here and there, bending it into shape.
As Christians, we can take a sharp reminder from this to not change the bible to meet our own expectations of it, but rather to take the Word as it is and see what God is telling us.
Either way, the film can be enjoyed to a degree, whatever your views on the bible. At its best, it is the story of a warrior turned reluctant leader, who struggles to come to terms with a faith he once derided and had no time for, yet now knows to be true. At its worst, it is the tale of a guy with a revenge plan, who tries his hand at both trade unionist work, and then guerrilla warfare.
Exodus will polarise critics for years to come, I imagine, but it is the kind of film where there is both plenty to enjoy, and plenty to hate.
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