“Exodus: Gods and Kings”
A Different Look or Ridley Scott Takes on the Hebrew Bible
Movies and the bible are really good friends. We have had thousands of cinematic epics based on the good book and here Ridley Scott tries his luck with the story of the exodus from Egypt. Compared to the other epics from the holy writings, this one has really special, special effects. Quite basically it is the story of Moses (Christian Bale) as he deals with Ramses, the pharaoh and the release of 600,000 slaves and their journey out of the land of Egypt and into their own land.
What this film does is to recall those Technicolor biblical epics of the 1950s and early 60s. They were somewhat bland and solemn films in which the audience could see their movie idols dressed in sandals and robes. The casting here is very interesting—mostly American, British and Australian actors in Middle Eastern and African roles and they have caused some concerns as well as raise a few eyebrows. Yet this is how it was in early Hollywood.
I have often wondered how the Egyptians had time to put on all the eyeliner that they wear when they had to spend so much time oppressing the Hebrew slaves. Christian Bale as Moses is an interesting choice. He was raised in the Egyptian palace as the brother to the man who was responsible for hating the Israelites and I cannot help but wonder here that if he had really known who Moses was would it not have all been a great deal different.
Director Scott is confused and he made mistakes all the way through the film. But there is also some good things here as well. The story is a good one—as it should be when we consider that it is 3000 years old. The special effects are amazing as are some of the battles scenes. However, what is missing is the human aspect of the story. When we read it in the Torah, we see the psychologically complexities of the characters and the situations. In the movie we get a tad bit of romance and a bit of domestic life but just not enough. There are some fascinating sections in the film but there is another major exception. The book of Exodus in the Bible is made up of two entwined stories—-one of liberation and one of self-assertion. The Israelites find a political identity and begin organizing as a people. Then there is the love story between the people and their god. He too is in the process of formation and at times he is compassionate and other times he is stern and strict.
Ridley Scott has God come to Moses when he is a young boy and he urges Moses to move toward becoming an extremist. Moses wants to help free his people, but he also feels a residual kinship with Ramses, a bond that must be severed completely. His military insurgency is not enough. The film is a study of power, loyalty and rebellion.
We quickly realize that Scott is shooting for a goal of credibility in some cases and forgetting it in others. The movie works best when it is about Moses and his desire to discipline God.
The story of Moses and his spiritual battle with Pharaoh is nonetheless most associated in the collective imagination with Charlton Heston and I doubt that that will ever change. Scott has an inventive take on Moses. As embodied by a boisterously fierce Christian Bale, the man who went up the mountain came back down ready to kick some people be it that of Egyptians, doubting Hebrews, or even the movie’s peculiar representation of God Himself. Most of all, however, Scott zeroes this story in on the brotherhood of Moses and Ramses, and what it means to lose it. This knowing agony informs the movie well enough to overcome its own internal plagues. (of which there are many). The real strength of the movie comes from a very modern perspective on Moses. It is odd to see Moses spend over an hour of the movie as essentially an atheist, doubting the Egyptian gods well before he continues doubting the Hebrew one—until he runs into a burning bush. Fitting the actor and director’s own sensibilities, this Moses is exhaustedly human, as well as very cynical of all spirituality until he becomes a growling, fiery, and even maniacal messenger for it. Unfortunately Bale and Moses are not the same person.
Sometimes it is fun to watch a remake of an established film just to look at the differences. Take this movie like that and you will be fine.