Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Exodus: Gods and Kings

I snapped up a cheapo DVD of this movie at Walmart and watched it earlier this week. I'll say the good thing about it right up front: it has great production values. But the main thing I want to say about it is that is an offensively bad account of the story of Moses and the Hebrew people's exodus from Egypt. Unfaithful to the source material at every level of magnification, from macro to micro, it gets absolutely everything about the story completely wrong and is most egregiously wrong wherever God is involved.

It actually presents miraculous events reported in the Bible – the burning bush, the 10 plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh's army – while at the same time seemingly struggling to undercut their miraculousness. It depicts the whole series of plagues (except for the last one) as affecting the Israelites as well as the Egyptians; without the intervening negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh; and with both Moses and Pharaoh passing judgment on God for his meanness. It depicts Moses as having to act most of the time on his own, without God speaking to him, telling him what to do or helping him. It depicts God as a mostly absent being who only occasionally pops in and pretty much abandons His prophet. That God is depicted (in his appearances to Moses) as a little boy is a novelty but I'll accept it as a case of creative casting-against-type; that there is always room for the ambiguous suggestion that He's only a hallucination brought on by a blow to Moses' head is less forgivable. And instead of a bashful, slow-of-speech Moses whom God recruits in order to show his strength in human weakness, we get a warrior stud Moses to whom God says, "I want a general." What?

All that is besides other historical liberties or lack of representation, such as the failure to depict the Passover feast, the idea that Miriam spent all those years passing as an Egyptian rather than a Hebrew slave, the idea that Moses was exiled for turning out to be a Hebrew rather than fleeing from justice when he killed a muleteer, the time the movie invests in shaming Moses for leaving his family (temporarily) to deliver his people from bondage, the suggestion that the Red Sea crossing was made possible by some kind of natural phenomenon, the depiction of Moses as a freethinker who encouraged his son's skepticism and his wife's adherence to whatever faith she brought to their marriage, God's rather democratic attitude in allowing Moses to make up his own mind whether the 10 Commandments were a good law to hand down to his people ... I could go on ad nauseam, but then I'm afraid I would have to barf.

The movie is directed by Ridley Scott, he of Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner and the original Alien. It takes advantage of the acting talents of Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as a young Pharaoh (with whom Moses was raised as something like a brother), John Turturro as an older Pharaoh (who tells Moses he wishes he could inherit the throne instead of Ramesses), Ben Kingsley as Nun, Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad as Joshua, Tara Fitzgerald of Game of Thrones as Miriam, Ben Mendelsohn of Ready Player One and Darkest Hour as the corrupt viceroy of Pithom, Sigourney Weaver as the Queen Mum (ha) and a beautiful Spanish actress named Maria Valverde, who happens to be the wife of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, as Zipporah, the wife of Moses.

No Three Scenes that Made It For Me this time. The good news is that I watched it all the way through and was less disappointed overall than I meant to be. But good filmmaking doesn't always make a good film and this is a case in point. How could Ridley Scott et al. have done better? Respect for the source material (which stands on the authority of Moses himself) would be a great place to start.

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