‘Exodus: God and Kings’

The Film That Wrestled With God

After watching Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’, I quickly examined myself to make sure I was in one piece. I still had my two arms, my two legs, my eyesight and the environment around me was not in eternal flames. It seemed as if I made it out alive, in good health, and with my salvation still intact. Turns out those scathing tongues of hate and ridicule was wrong after all. Watching ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ didn’t condemn me to the fiery pit for all of eternity nor did it make me want to chuck my HCSB Study Bible out of the nearest window. I couldn’t help but be impressed by Ridley Scott’s attempt to retell the story of Moses on the silver screen. Now before you take out your vials of holy water and dust off the good ole’ bronze crucifix, please allow me to elaborate. Excuse me as I go and lock all my doors and windows.

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Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ retells the historical story of Moses from The Bible. It follows (most of) the events of Moses’ (played by Christian Bale) life as his “brother’s”/Ramses’ (played by Joel Edgerton) advisor to the leading of the Israelites out of Egypt from under the oppression of Pharaoh. This film dares to take on a story that has been taken on many times before and it doesn’t do bad job of doing it. The story is an already established so I won’t take much time out to talk about that. Whitewashing aside, it did a rather interesting job of walking along that establishing line. Ever since it’s announcement, I was never quite sure as to why Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver (especially Sigourney Weaver) was cast. Now after watching the movie, I still don’t know why they were cast. They all played their respective roles alright but there were a lot of times where it just felt like a puzzle piece trying to fit in a place that wasn’t cut out for it. So much so that outside of the main characters I was a bit lost at first as to who was who. I’m sure Scott had his respective reasons for choosing those actors but I’m not sure it did well to effectively communicate everything that the story of Moses has to offer. With that being said, story-wise ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ did surprisingly well in terms of establishing plot, characters and other elements to tell an effective story through film.

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Here’s where I will start to tread very lightly. One of the major concerns people have with ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ is Biblical legitimacy/accuracy to the Biblical text and how will everything play out in the movie. Will the movie portray what the Bible says? If so, how much? Is there a burning bush? What about the parting of the Red Sea? Will there be any references to God? How will He be portrayed? Will He be portrayed seriously or just mulled over? Will my bottle of blessed holy oil protect me during this movie? Do I have to repent after watching it? How will Satan use this movie to deceive the general masses? How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? My response to that concern and to those questions is: After watching ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ for the first time through I did not come across anything that should make you want to stay far away from this movie.

With that being said there are some things that are done differently in the film that may take some people by surprise. Like most retellings of historical events and stories, there were some artistic and creative liberties taken. One thing to keep in mind though is that the original cut of this movie was four hours long. Of course it had to be cut down in order to maintain it’s theatrical release. I was okay with just about all of them but I can understand why it would get under the feathers of some of you. One of the more major ones would be that the voice and presence of God as He interacted with Moses was portrayed as a little boy. While I think it could’ve been done a bit differently, this was actually a pretty creative choice. The character of God is a hard one to portray on screen. God does not have one distinct form or method of communication in the Bible; He spoke to people in many different ways and through many different means. In ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ this is represented by a young child who continually talked with Moses as the story goes on. This made for an effective way to show the audience that God and Moses did indeed have multiple conversations, as the Bible says. Another creative choice made was that the plagues were done in such a way that most of them were carried out a bit more logically so to speak. For example, the first plague upon the Egyptians was that the rivers were turned into blood and killed all of the life in them. After God communicates with Moses and tells him to watch the events that are going to happen to in Egypt, herds of crocodiles come out of the bushes and start to kill the people in the river along with each other. This caused blood to spill out into the river and eventually it spread to make the river literally full of blood and unusable. While the story says that God turned the water into blood, this method wasn’t far off. This would be the sort of thing that would happen if the story of Moses was passed down from generation to generation for people to people I think. That’s why I didn’t have too much of an issue with the methods Ridley Scott used. I would expand more but that is another blog post for another time.

Now with that out of the way I just want to point out what I think ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ did very well. Ridley Scott did an absolutely phenomenal job of recreating the stage where which everything happens. From the first few opening scenes where we’re shown Egypt, I was very impressed. The film took each and every scene, location, sequence and detail very seriously. Even the plagues were brilliant. This is where I think the talents of Ridley Scott really shined. Another thing that I found surprisingly well done too was the dynamic between Ramses and his adopted brother Moses. This close brotherly bond is established very early on as Moses and Ramses are given two swords to represent their honor and protection for each other. As the film continues, Moses is found out to be Hebrew and by Pharaoh Ramses’ law can be killed. Ramses doesn’t want to believe that a man who he grew up with believing to be his brother was a traitor and a Hebrew. This causes Ramses to have an internal struggle in himself about what to do as Pharaoh. Despite his orders to have Moses killed, the brotherly love for him is still evident right until he is swept away by the Red Sea. At the end of the film “For my brother, Tony Scott” shows up on the screen and fades to black. Ridley Scott’s brother, Tony Scott, committed suicide in 2012. It’s obvious that he loved his brother and that carried over into this piece of art that Scott was crafting. Some may have a problem with that but I think it’s one of the most beautiful things when an artist can put something of themselves into their art for all to see.

Going briefly back to the subject of creative liberties, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ even handled itself well when the liberties started getting too far. For example, after Moses first meets with God he decides to leave his mother and child and rally up the Hebrews to build an army to defend themselves against the might of Pharaoh. I sat there going “What in the world is happening?” for about 15 minutes and then God shows up in the film and promptly tells Moses that he’s wasting time and not doing what He asked him to do. I couldn’t help but laugh. Whenever there was a time where the film seemed to veer off track, something came up right behind it and explained why. It was a clever and enjoyable element and made it obvious that despite what may seem different, the common thread throughout the film remained in tact. This really drove home the character of Moses too. This film showed that Moses wasn’t the perfect man we see in children’s Bibles but rather a man who constantly wrestled with God and in the end was humbled by the power and grace given to him by God.

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Now let me take a minute to talk about the bad. With great responsibility comes great risks. ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ was by no means a small feat to undertake. One of the biggest issues leading up to the film was the complaint of ‘whitewashing’. Basically this is when a character of a story has their race or ethnic context thrown away and is played by someone who is white. Hollywood has been guilty of this for a long time and it is so painfully evident in this film. The history and context that surrounds the story of Moses is one that needs some ethnic context to be told well. While the slaves and minor characters of other races are somewhat dark, everyone who has more than five minutes of screen time in this movie is of a lighter skin tone or white. This even starts to spill over into the dialogue sometimes where conversations that would’ve happened sound like they’ve been poorly translated into modern day dialogue. Even though Ridley Scott tried his best to respond to this, one can’t help but shake their head. This poured out into the film and resulted in some awkward acting, unclear establishment of characters and confusion in roles.

This isn’t really much of a complaint but one thing I noticed while watching this movie was that it was definitely a shorter version of something greater. As said earlier, the original cut for this movie was four hours long. Honestly I would’ve been perfectly fine if the theatrical release for this was that long because historical epics such as this need a lot of time to craft out well. I understand that there are certain restraints with theatrical requirements and so on and no one is to blame for this but I would wish that something like this took a bit more time and care establishing events. There were many times where the movie hopped from place to place to place to place and it took me a minute or two to catch up and understand what was going on.

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All in all, I was impressed by ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’. Ridley Scott took a bold move in taking on a biblical epic (particularly the almost-disaster that was ‘Noah’ earlier this year) and it worked out well in his favor. If it’s one thing this film will do is that it will spark conversation…and that’s a good thing. My hope is that it encourages people to talk to each other, communicate ideas, and ultimately find themselves searching The Scriptures for what the story really says. I’m curious as to what the next biblical contender will be on the big screen. Despite it’s faults, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ shows that it’s not as bad as it could’ve been and that there is indeed room for improvement. It wrestles with God, humility, history and the human condition. If you want to go see this movie I encourage you to do your homework first and do some research so that nothing much in the movie takes you by surprise. Not everyone will be okay with this movie but nonetheless it’s a step forward for the biblical epic genre that I personally welcome. Kudos to you Ridley Scott.

Originally published at witflix.blogspot.com.