4 Stars – INSPIRING
The 50th anniversary DVD of Cecil B. DeMille’s two films on “The Ten Commandments” is a collector’s item. Both films honor the foundational teachings of biblical faith and both present a clear presentation of the power of God and the universal nature of His law. With a sensitivity that makes the films fitting to international relations fifty years later, the film not only speaks of the universal implications of the Exodus as God’s salvation demonstrated in power, but it also honors the descendents of Abraham through Ishmael, the father of the Islamic nations.
The first version was filmed in 1923 as a silent film. Divided into two parts, DeMille first tells the story of God’s deliverance of the Israelite people from their bondage in Egypt and their receiving the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. The film then shows that the story we’ve seen is in fact a mother’s reading of the Bible to her two sons. They respond to the commandments in contrasting ways: one son obeys God’s law and one sets out to “break every commandment.” Demonstrating that our primary communication is non-verbal, this silent film weaves a compelling tale. It reveals the reality that God’s moral law is woven into the very structure of life, just as are the laws of nature. As the brothers obey or transgress the commandments of God, their lives reveal the consequences of both. In literal terms, the brother who chooses to break the commandments finds himself broken instead.
The 1956 version of the film is an Academy Award winning film. It is a grand epic of sweeping scenes and dramatic impact. Leaving out the second part of the film with its modern-day application, DeMille focuses this time on the person of Moses (Charleston Heston) and his journey of faith. Chosen by God to deliver His people from bondage, Moses himself is delivered from Pharaoh’s cruelty and raised as a privileged prince of Egypt. Although the Bible is silent about most of Moses’ life, DeMille begins the film with an on-stage explanation that the film is based on the traditions and research of Jewish and Christian scholars. This research is evident as the film weaves together the Jewish traditions with Christian interpretations. Although not strictly historical, as a work of religious art it masterfully weaves together language of the Seder on the actual night of the Passover as well as New Testament statements of explanation. The film is true to the biblical intent of the Exodus as it gives a new telling with cinematic license.
By current standards, both films are longer than normally shown in a theater, but for home viewing as well as educational settings, the works can easily be divided. Rated G, these two films in one package are a gift to us all.
- When the silent film suddenly shifts into modern life and applies this biblical account to our lives, DeMille obviously wants us to not just view the film but to also think about its meanings. Do you think this format works? Why or why not?
- The weaving of a love story into the second film, creates a tension within the tale that makes for a more romantic story. Do you think a relationship like this one was likely in Moses’ life? Why or why not?
- The ten plagues of Egypt were a direct attack on the ten gods of Egypt. What do you think God is doing today to directly attack the “gods of this world?”
- The “Exodus Event” is applicable for every human being who has become bound by the slavery of sin and God’s deliverance. Have you experienced this salvation? In what ways does your story compare or contrast with the Exodus story?