Friday, December 26, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

In 2014 we had not one, but two Bible epics hit theaters. I never did get around to seeing Noah. I was interested in seen an updated version of the Moses story in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) because the movie technology is such that elaborate, complex depictions of the ancient world can be shown to audiences in a way that couldn't have been done years ago. In the hands of director Ridley Scott, it has great potential. This movie does have the epic quality of old Bible epics back in the day, but it seemed to be lacking something to make a lasting effect on you.
Raised as brothers by Pharaoh Seti (John Tutrurro), Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) have a mutual respect and love for one another and have fought side by side defending their home country of Egypt. After Ramesses succeeds his father as Pharaoh, rumor of Moses being of Hebrew parents comes to Ramesses. Rather than give into the demands of Queen Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) to kill Moses, Ramesses exiles Moses from Egypt. Moses creates a new life in Midian where he meets Zipporah and eventually marries Zipporah (María Valverde). Years later Moses comes face to face with a burning bush and a boy called Malak (Issac Andrews), who tells Moses that he must free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Reluctantly, Moses returns to Egypt and uses his military skills to try to free his people. But when Ramesses refuses to comply, God sends deadly plagues to the people of Egypt. Moses tries to keep the Hebrews out of the crossfire, but the conflict escalates pitting the two brothers against each other.
Now, the story of Moses has been around since roughly 1300 BCE. Even if you aren't affiliated with a Muslim or Judeo-Christian religion, you've had plenty of time to have heard this story before and I'm not going to avoid spoilers in a story that is well over three thousand years old.
It truly should go without saying that when a movie based on religious texts is made, creative liberties are taken. Were creative liberties not taken, there would be nearly no character development, no meaningful dialogue other than the most basic and direct communications, and likely no defining theme drawing the story together coherently. In Exodus: Gods and Kings some characters aren't what I have been told they are. Ramesses not so much a stubborn and prideful ruler who thought himself superior to God, he was more of a spoiled privileged brat who lacked the competence and foresight to lead a country. Moses wasn't a mighty man of faith but a military general who may be somewhat off his rocker, we see him grow in faith but it's not really there when he starts out. I was disappointed that we didn't see the two characters butting heads more often. Moses didn't go talk to Ramesses between each plague saying, "Let my people go!" They were at odds with one another, but we didn't see enough of them opposing each other specifically to get a feel for what becomes their broken relationship as brothers.
The way that God was depicted was particularly interesting. It was a small kid whom only Moses could see after sustaining a head injury. I don't think this was supposed to literally be God, but rather a abstract messenger through which God communicated to Moses. The kid's name is "Malak" which is the Semitic word for "angel." God in the Old Testament is often depicted as a god of vengeance and punishment; taking that into consideration, I could see why this messenger speaking for God would be depicted as a willful, angry, and petulant child. This may be a deal breaker for some viewers of faith; Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike see this story as foundational and might find this portrayal of God to be incompatible with scripture and deeply held beliefs. I didn't find it offensive. I thought it was an odd way to depict deity, but it was unique and creative and still kind of fits with this interpretation of the story. Yet there is a scene when Malak and Moses are talking and the things the boy says, though powerful and exquisitely delivered by the child actor, made me think, "Yeah, that's not the same God from The Bible. We went overboard here, Ridley."
While I often hear the way some of the plagues were depicted was inaccurate, I thought it was fascinating. The first plague was water turning to blood. This was illustrated not by Moses striking the river with his staff causing the water to turn into blood, but rather having crocodiles in the Nile go on a killing spree, killing nearly anything that moved in the water, causing the water to turn red from all the blood. This caused the plague of frogs which were escaping from the bloody water, which in turn let the insects multiply unhindered by their natural predators. It goes on like this, and I thought it was neat. It removes the divine intervention which is what was supposed to have caused the plagues. Even the parting of the Red Sea seemed to be caused by some kind of tsunami sea withdrawal that coincided with the escaping Hebrews with impeccable timing. It's another discrepancy that I appreciated the creativity of, but didn't see as something that would challenge someone's faith outright.
This was visually an incredible movie to watch. Egypt was as elaborate and detailed as I had hoped; it was shown to be a vast country with many inhabitants of all walks of life. The costumes of the Egyptians as well as the Hebrew slaves looked fantastic. The plagues were really interesting to see and the meticulous details that went into them made me grateful I wasn't watching the swarming locusts in 3-D. The free-flowing visual splendor is so gorgeous to behold that you feel transported into these ancient days watching this movie.
Exodus: Gods and Kings isn't one of Ridley Scott's greatest movies. It has its ups and downs, but lacks something to give it enough oomph to make it a truly memorable movie. It will likely fade from our collective consciousness before too long, much like Ridley Scott's Robin Hood did. The visuals were simply incredible and really sold the historical setting. The plagues and such were also amazing. Given how many faith-based movies are content to tell their audiences what to think or feel, it's satisfying to see one whose images alone are enough to compel an awestruck belief. The story is spiritually watered down. It doesn't preach to the audience, it doesn't tell us how to interpret things, and it even removes some of the divine influence these events are said to have. However, all the characters and symbols are present; we are left to interpret the story as a faith building story about God's influence, or simply as a tale that we have passed down for thousands of years. Overall I liked Exodus: Gods and Kings. It may not settle so well with some viewers, but it didn't go as far out in left field as I understand Noah did. I say this is worth watching even if you are not religiously inclined. Even if you are religiously inclined, I still say watch it but take it with a grain of salt. Understand that this is not scripture, but a film director's take on a very old story.

Are there other Bible stories or ancient texts you think would make a good movie? Comment below and let me know!

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