Exodus: Gods and Kings **(*)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, John Turturro
Moses is raised in the Egyptian Court where he grows up to become a general. He discovers that he is a Jew who belongs to a people that have been enslaved for 400 years and live awaiting liberation. He survives his exile in the desert and starts a family of his own. God calls to Moses asking him to liberate the Jewish people, using his skills as a general to fulfill his mission. When faced with Pharaoh Ramses’ stubbornness, God sends the plagues to force the Egyptians to surrender. Yet when the Egyptians decide to follow the Jews to the Red Sea, the most sensational prodigy occurs.
It is no surprise that after Noah (Noah, by Darren Aronofsky), the tale of Moses— the heroic biblical protagonist of an action-filled story packed with plot twists and more extraordinary special effects than ever before—hit the big screen.
Although the film is not bereft of interesting insight and Ridley Scott develops his film impressively in terms of production, it is a shame that, when faced with such a fascinating and complex character, he has not done better with regard to content.
This lack is not due to Hollywood’s choice of using Western interpreters for Middle Eastern roles. Rather, it is due to the confusion and inconsistencies that mark a narrative that drags on for two and a half hours, only to become most boring where it should be most spectacular.
Atheist Ridley Scott presents us with a Moses who is skeptical towards matters of faith. On the other hand, this Moses is entirely certain about his opinions on everything else, to the point that he can be a bit of a rascal with his “brother” Ramses (played by Joel Edgerton, who tries to give a tragic greatness to his character but does not find much to go on.) The dynamic reminds us, to some extent, of the beginning of Gladiator and therefore leads us to forget what is specific to the Moses story.
We meet a Moses for whom the discovery of being Jewish causes him to lose everything and not find his faith. In fact, we encounter him nine years later, arguing with his wife, Zippora, over his son’s right to choose what he wants to believe “on his own”. Thus, our protagonist is agnostic until God himself appears to him through a voice in the burning bush, and later on, in the form of a child who commands him to act. This is certainly one of the brainwaves of the film (even though it occurs after Moses receives a nice smack on the head, which leaves us with an even greater sense of disbelief).
Aside from the bright idea mentioned above, God often ends up behaving like a capricious child who cannot wait to see Moses fail in his first attempt to control Ramses through a series of guerilla-like attacks, so that he may triumph with his powerful hand and free his people through the plagues.
While the relationship between God and Moses (though it was often conflictive) would have been worthy of more depth, what is most striking is the absence of a relationship between the protagonist and his people. In the film, Moses’ people are reduced to an anonymous and uniform mass. Yet, aside from his dramatic and passionate relationship with God, it is precisely in the relationship between Moses and his people that we find the most powerful core message of the biblical narrative.
Moreover, what makes the film unsuccessful is the lack of theological depth and the poor development of its characters. What dominates is an invasive discourse on fundamentalism that attempts to make the subject matter relevant to our times, but ends up making the story unhistorical.
The liberties taken with respect to the biblical text are far from making the story more engaging. They run the risk of making the story more schematic and limited to action scenes that, although certainly well-crafted, are not strong enough to attract us like old B movies about Roman history did.
Viewer discretion is advised: scenes of violence.