3 Stars – Challenging
For all of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the event of the Exodus is foundational in our understanding that God frees His people from bondage. In this primary example, the bondage is physical slavery as the Jews were enslaved for over 400 years in ancient Egypt. But the Exodus event is also an analogy depicting God’s freeing of all persons who are enslaved by any form of bondage in which choice has been taken and generational sorrow has begun. For those of us who have experienced God’s power to set us free, this event is especially important to us. Thus when a film is made on the Exodus, we come in part hoping that the story has been told respectfully and faithfully to the Scriptures as well as to see if there might be new insights we can gain about ourselves and God, slavery and freedom.
Known for his interest in but disdain for religion, Sir Ridley Scott (Hannibal, The Counselor, Kingdom of Heaven) directs this portrayal of the Exodus story based on the adaptation of the Biblical story by writers Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian. Although clearly a difficult story to bring to the big screen without inserting creative embellishment, those who know the Biblical version will be challenged not only with the decision to cast an angry boy as God (Isaac Andrews) but also to portray Moses as having no sense of his own identity as a Hebrew.
Focusing primarily on the relationship between Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) as “brothers” in the palace of the Pharaoh (John Turturro), we see the multilayered nature of the story. Imagining what it might have been like for Moses and the future pharaoh to be raised together only to become adversaries in the climactic struggle for freedom, their sibling struggle is mirrored in the spiritual realm as the gods of Egypt and the God of the Hebrews go head to head in the ten plagues. This struggle comes to its ultimate moment when Ramses’ son, considered a God of Egypt as is his father, is killed by the God of the Hebrews, while “passing over” the sons of the Hebrews. This difficult moment in the biblical event is powerfully and disturbingly presented just as it is in Scripture. A precursor of the cost salvation requires in the death of Jesus on the Cross, it is intended to be troubling.
Also presented in the tale is a dismissive explanation of the plagues themselves. Without reference to the Egyptian pantheon which each plague represents, the court expert (Ewen Bremner) explains how the blood of the Nile drove the frogs from the water to die and then hatch gnats that caused boils on humans and brought sickness on the domestic animals, thus dismissing the belief that the God of the Hebrews was doing this. But then the tale continues as does the biblical tale and events occur that cannot be explained away. This is further shown when the sea parts and the Hebrews are saved from the vengeful Ramses as his charioteers perish in the returning tidal wave of water.
In the final analysis the central message of the biblical event, that God frees His people from bondage by sending chosen leaders to help us, is a timeless truth that this version clearly presents. The film Exodus: Gods and Kings is therefore a worthy telling of this epic tale.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
- Most of us have experienced powers over which we have little control. Have you ever felt enslaved by anything or anyone? How have you experienced God’s power in setting you free?
- The portrayal of God as a boy with a British accent is a fascinating creative choice. If you were to portray the invisible God’s presence in Moses’ life, how would you do it?
- When Moses found Jethro (Kevork Malikyan) and his daughters at the foot of “God’s Mountain” it is clear that God is at work to prepare him for the mission of returning to Egypt as the redeemer of his people. As you look at your life, how have “coincidences” come together to prepare you for a significant task?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.