Thursday, December 25, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Is No Bible Movie

Went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings Tuesday. This much I can tell you. Ridley Scott is no Bible thumper. He has created an aspiritual movie. The Ten Commandments is in no danger of being supplanted as the ritual annual viewing. 

Now, I’m not against taking liberties with back stories missing in the Bible. It’s what Jews call midrash. A modern example would be The Red Tent. The story of the rape of Dinah by Shechem was sparse, just a few sentences in Genesis, but Anita Diamant wove a fascinating book, recently made into a Lifetime channel movie, around it.

Scott, however, seems to have chosen to ignore Bible specifics included in the Exodus story and replace them with his own narrative. Perhaps that’s why, unlike Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments, which sought to authenticate its treatment by citing sources for its interpretation, Exodus: Gods and Kings provides no source base.

Thus Scott presents no public confrontation between Moses and pharaoh, no “let my people go” moment, no exhortation from God. Whereas the Moses of the Bible wielded a staff as an instrument of god, Scott presents a more militant Moses armed with a sword worthy of Excalibur for its ability to imply military leadership.

Moses used that sword to wage (unsuccessful) guerrilla warfare against the food supply of the Egyptian people, hoping to have them pressure pharaoh into letting the Hebrews go.

Did you know that unlike the Bible’s account of Moses instructing his brother Aaron to strike the Nile with his shepherd’s staff to turn its water into blood, Scott resorted to crazed crocodiles attacking fishermen to bloody the waters?

To Scott, God is more of a dialogist inside Moses’ head than a spiritual figure. His appearance as a young boy is an interesting rendition but there is no depth of anger or empathy for what His people, the Hebrews, have endured for 400 years. He makes no effort to convey to pharaoh and the Egyptians that it is by His power and will the plagues are wrought. Rather, God’s plagues seem to be His weapons in a competition with Moses to win the release of the Hebrews through economic calamities.

Bible movies based on stories of the Old Testament have not been religious treatises. The Old Testament can be rather racy at times, an aspect Hollywood has chosen to exploit in movies such as Samson and Delilah and David and Bathsheba. DeMille’s Ten Commandments fabricated sexual tension—Nephretiri sparring with Moses and Ramses, and to a lesser extent the four-way of Lilia, Joshua, Baka and Dathan—to move the story line along. There’s no such tension in Scott’s Exodus. It’s more of an Arnold Schwarzenegger epic complete with iconoclastic sword. 

The Bible has the commandments written by God. Scott has Moses chiseling them while the youthful manifestation of God brings him liquid refreshment in a cup.

As for the parting of the sea, let’s just say Scott did not employ 21st century computer graphics to improve upon DeMille’s fantastical scene.

One thing I will compliment Scott on is his dating of the events. He uses Jewish, not Christian, terminology. The action is said to occur in 1300 BCE—Before the Common Era. Not BC, Before Christ.

Ridley Scott’s movie is no bible story. Perhaps that was evident in the timing of its release. After all, why would a movie about the exodus from Egypt and the institution of the Passover holiday (oops, there’s another thing Scott chose to ignore) be released at Christmas time rather than in the spring, when Passover is celebrated?

Bottom line: For all its flaws, I’m glad I saw the movie. Gilda’s glad she didn’t.

P.S.: One more thing—I get upset when proper grammar is not used. Scott has Ramses saying to Moses, “This has nothing to do with you and I.” 

The object of the preposition “with” should be “you and me,” not “ you and I.” 

P.P.S.: Just back from a Christmas night screening of The Imitation Game, the biopic of Alan Turing’s unlocking the mystery of the Nazi Enigma code machine. Wow, what a picture!