Exodus: Gods and Kings

Ridley Scott, What were you thinking?

Ridley Scott directing one of the most important stories at the heart of two world religions. What could go wrong?
Walking into the cinema…
You cannot comment on a film if you do not see it.’ A stance I am willing to stand by and the reason for seeing this film. The combination of Ridley Scott, Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and God can only bring forth one word. Skepticism. After the difficulties of Noah, this film does not seem to have much hope.

Overall rating: 1.75 stars
Cinematic value: 2.5 stars Family value: 1 star

(Spoiler alert: If you are unfamiliar with the tale of Moses, this review will have spoilers)

Exodus: Gods and Kings is based on one of the most important stories in the Jewish and Christian traditions. The film begins with Moses (Christian Bale) as an adult. He has been raised as a prince of Egypt, a brother to the future pharaoh, Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and he is a general of the Egyptian army. He has been blessed with leadership qualities and has the respect of the Egyptian nation and his uncle, Seti, the current Pharaoh (John Turturro). After proving himself on the battlefield and a series of events, he is confronted with his actual familial history and the prophecy of his role in the salvation of the Hebrew nation. Due to the death of an Egyptian guard, Moses is exiled from his home country and eventually comes to Midian. He marries and takes on the role of husband, father and shepherd in his adoptive homeland. While chasing stray sheep on Mount Horeb, he is confronted by God who comes to him in the form of a child. He is charged with freeing the Hebrew nation from 400 years of Egyptian slavery. He is chosen because of his leadership qualities and abilities as a general. Leaving behind his family, he goes back to Egypt and confronts Ramses. Moses threatens the Pharaoh with the message from God to free the Hebrews. The Pharaoh’s pride does not allow the slaves to be freed. Moses speaks to the people and trains them for battle. Moses is confronted with the eventual torture of the Hebrew slaves and he wrestles with his ongoing discussions with God. Eventually, due to the lack of response from Ramses, the plagues begin. The powerful nation of Egypt is destroyed through the decimation of it’s water and food sources. Flies, frogs, locusts, boils and darkness plague the nation. When the final plague is to come, Moses goes to his adopted brother and pleads for mercy for his people and the nation of Egypt. Pharaoh does not listen and the horror of the plague occurs falls on the Egyptian people, while the Hebrews are spared the impact of the plagues. The Pharaoh relents and the slaves are set free. They journey out of Egypt, which then sets up the conclusive battle at the Red Sea. This might be a slight revision of the story that many will know from tradition or Sunday school and church stories. Even with the reliance on good special effects for the retelling of the Biblical narrative, there was not much that could have pulled this film out from under this poorly written screenplay. Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien) has revised the the story to bring it to the big screen and the question has to be, why? There is always room for artistic license to fill in the gaps of the biblical narrative, but to rewrite the core of the story is inexplicable. The Bible provides a wealth of content for the writers and director, but the artistic license taken was unnecessary. The number of scriptural challenges in this film were innumerable: God depicted as a child, the role of Miriam and Aaron, the management of the plagues and Moses’ belief in God. There are enough scriptural problems for theologians to tear apart the film for days and there will be a multitude of articles written. Analysing the theological content is not the main point of this review, but some have to be addressed. The notion of Moses as a warrior has a masculine appeal, but even this nuance does not fit in the end. The depiction of God as a spoilt and vindictive child showed the lack of understanding of the story and of God. One of the biggest questions would be, where was Moses’ staff? The staff that God had equipped him with for the sake of delivering the message and leading the people. The staff was not the means of salvation, but it has come to symbolise the message and how God would assist Moses in the delivery of the message and lead his people to the promised land. This detail was missing in the film and epitomised the lack of effort by the screen writers for the finer details in telling the story. Rewriting essential elements of a tale that is so familiar to many around the world will cause an opposition to the believability of this film. Interestingly, the drama is provided for this Biblical narrative, but Scott’s trying to minimise God’s role in the story takes out the heart of the story and shows Scott’s lack of care to the source material. Exodus: Gods and Kings will be inevitably compared to Noah and to a lesser degree to Son of God. To have three biblical epics portrayed within a calendar year is unprecedented and the comparisons are hard to avoid. The Bible is rich in content and provides Hollywood with a multitude of options to pull from these great tales. The challenge is taking artistic liberties with these stories. The directors will not make everyone happy and the critics will inevitably rail against the storyteller. The biggest disappointment with Exodus: Gods and Kings is not the merely the poor usage of the original narrative, but with Ridley Scott. He is a film legend and has directed some of the greatest films in history. His ability to direct is without question, but this film failed beyond Aronofsky’s Noah, because of the poor use of original content. Noah is a relatively short narrative in the Bible and warrants creative content to fill the time for a feature film. On the other hand, the book of Exodus is full of rich content. With the resources that are available to him, Ridley had the opportunity to put forward an epic film and to redefine the later part of his career, but he did not achieve this with Exodus. If only he had just told the story and added his artistry to fill in the gaps. It could have been great, but this film fell short. The telling of this Moses account is slow and frustrating. For Ridley Scott fans, this film will not put faith back into the work of this master filmmaker. For the fans of God’s story, you will be frustrated by the misrepresentation of the story, but instead of railing against it, reread the account and be ready to clarify what really happened in Egypt with all that go to see this film.

Leaving the cinema…

Walking out of the theatre shaking my head. I stand by the stance that you cannot comment on a film, if you have not seen it. People will go to see this film, because of Ridley Scott and there are not too many other options this season. If you go see it, take the time before or afterwards after to read the actual account (Link provided). If you want to see a better representation of the Exodus story watch the animated, musical adaptation, The Prince of Egypt. But in the end,the old saying ‘The Book is much better then the film’ applies to both films. Read the Book.

Reel Dialogue:
What is the bigger question to consider from this film?

What is the real story of Moses and the Exodus? Read the book of Exodus in the Bible

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews

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