When I reviewed this year’s earlier biblical epic, “Noah,” I didn’t condemn the film for taking artistic liberties or straying from the biblical account, but for denigrating the character of God.
Similarly, with the release of “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” I won’t bash the Ridley Scott film starring Christian Bale as Moses for tweaking the narrative to better tell the tale.
The Bible’s book of Exodus, for example, tells of an “angel” in the burning bush and of Moses talking with “God.” If “Exodus” the film, however, visualizes and simplifies that conversation by depicting God as a child, it amounts to little more than a storytelling shortcut.
And is it really anti-biblical to suggest God used crocodiles to turn the Nile into blood in the first plague on Egypt? No. In fact, it’s rather clever.
I simply see no value in Christians griping, whining and thoughtlessly condemning moviemakers just because they add some creativity to fill in the gaps of the Bible’s relatively brief, written narrative. I’d argue it’s even counter-productive for Christians to be so easily offended.
But if, on the other hand, “Exodus” makes the argument the God of Jacob never actually intervened in the life of His children, and the great tale of the Hebrews’ deliverance from Egypt was simply the confluence of coincidence and the rantings of a brain-damaged, insane man named Moses – if its primary storyline focuses on explaining away the supernatural and debunking at least two of the world’s major religions in the name of its own secular rationalism – well, then I’d be left no option but to be offended, to soundly condemn the film as a misguided and sophomoric attack on the Truth.
And unbelievably, that’s exactly what “Exodus: Gods and Kings” does.
To cut to the chase, spoilers be hanged, in “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Moses suffers a severe blow to the head, after which he starts “seeing” and hearing “God.” No one else, of course, can see or hear God, and this “God,” curiously enough, never seems to require Moses to do anything he doesn’t want to do anyway.
The movie then strips nearly all evidence of the supernatural away – the staff that turns to a snake, the pillars of smoke and fire – and provides purely natural explanations for almost all of the plagues and even the parting of the Red Sea.
In fact, for the entire film, the game seems to be to guess whether Moses is actually hearing God or whether Moses is, as Christian Bale infamously surmised prior to the film’s release, “schizophrenic,” relying upon completely natural circumstances to craft his own, insane narrative of God delivering his people.
Finally, after the Israelites have been delivered from Egypt and begin their trek toward Canaan, it occurs to Moses that ruling these people is going to be tough. They need some rules to follow. So he writes the Ten Commandments – with some help from the voices in his head.
I wish I was joking. I wish the film presented this storyline as a possibility, then used some great act of God to squash the whole idea and leave audiences marveling at the provision of God for the deliverance of His people, which is, of course, the whole point of the Exodus story.
But no, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is apparently the Karl Marx version of Moses’ story, where all the suffering may be real, but the religion part is just the “opium of the people.”
Now, I will confess that the film left one supernatural event intact: the plague of the death of the firstborn sons. There’s no natural explanation offered for how the lambs’ blood saved the Hebrew children, while all the Egyptian first-borns died. And the movie does introduce a clownish character who uses “scientific” explanations for all the plagues and is hanged for how preposterous they sound. A person could interpret these depictions as proof the filmmakers were also inviting the opposite conclusion – that Moses wasn’t crazy, and God really was acting on behalf of His people.
But I didn’t buy it, and I’m philosophically predisposed to think that way. Those 10 minutes of film felt contrived compared to the other two hours of setting up the idea that Moses may have just been loony tunes.
I have to ask myself: Would a person walking out of this be more likely to conclude that the Hebrews were delivered by a powerful, compassionate, yet fiercely protective god? Or that maybe the whole thing was just a mythical explanation for natural events, like thinking the sound of thunder was gods bowling in the heavens?
There’s little question the net effect is the latter – and that’s why I’m not just disappointed in “Exodus,” I’m outraged.
From an entertainment perspective, “Exodus” has some excellent battle scenes and sweeping images of ancient Egypt, followed by some boring parts, followed by some really gripping and intriguing depictions of the plagues. All in all, I found it more entertaining than “Noah.”
But when “Exodus: Gods and Kings” ends, clearly twisting the knife just a little farther, portraying Moses explaining to Joshua why somebody would have to think up some commandments … it becomes clear “Exodus” isn’t just as bad as “Noah,” it’s worse. Much, much worse.
- “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” rated PG-13, contains neither profanity nor obscenity (though one could argue the entire film is profanity).
- The film has little sexuality, but there are shirtless men, a few brief shots of scantily clad native women, a couple of kisses and implied sex on a couple’s wedding night. There is also a scene where a man makes a somewhat veiled homosexual pass at Moses, but it’s not even a minor storyline.
- The film definitely has some violence and gore, including an extended battle scene at the beginning, slaves being whipped, men being killed, fires, mudslides, hunting, a tidal wave and horse that dies of dehydration. The plagues are somewhat gruesome, particularly the boils and the first plague, where giant crocodiles go berserk, killing and slashing anything alive to turn the Nile to blood. Dead fish are littered everywhere, and there are also references to human corpses being burned. The movie also has several scenes where Hebrews are hanged and where children are killed.
- Obviously, the film has both religious and occult content, though it’s surprising how little. The latter is mercifully kept to a minimum, with brief scenes of prayers and ceremonies to the Egyptian gods, symbols and the like, but the elements are there merely to maintain the integrity of the story. There’s almost nothing of the Hebrew or native religions, and Moses is shown as a man with an anachronistic bent toward rationalism, scoffing at the religions around him and even telling the Hebrews their god “is wrong.” Pharaoh, similarly, derides worship of a god who is a “killer of children.” Outside of Moses’ pleading with God, there’s almost no depiction of worship of Jewish faith. The film does depict the killing of lambs at Passover.