Director Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings seems more a Greek myth than an inspirational Bible story—definitely not a film targeted for the religious market. It follows the Biblical story too literally, without any religious embellishment, stentorian voices, swell of angelic choruses, rousing spiritual music or the like. It is played straight—down and dirty. The result is a story that garners more sympathy for the victims of God’s wrath than for the righteous cause that supposedly underlies it.
As the title suggests, this is a tale of gods and kings—a story of dueling royal brothers. Christian Bale stars as Moses, the adopted brother of Joel Edgerton’s Pharoah Ramses. Ramses is jealous of Moses’s popularity and intellectual and physical superiority. He winces in psychic pain at the very sight of Moses—the adopted son more fit to rule than he. The kind-hearted Moses tries to assure Ramses of his devotion but the Pharoah is too proud and sensitive to endure even kindness.
Strangely, as the movie progresses, our sympathies shift from Moses to Ramses, a wounded, tortured soul with a good heart. He only wants to be a good ruler and care for his loving wife and baby, but fate intervenes. He even still loves Moses as a brother despite his own jealousies. When Moses declares himself the son of Hebrew slaves, Ramses banishes him instead of executing him—and even sneaks him a sword for protection. Only when Moses openly declares himself a religious fanatic bent on revolution does Ramses finally issue his death warrant—for the safety and protection of the Egyptian people.
As with ancient Greek mythology, the cause of all this discord and familial violence is a meddling god. The Hebrew God in this movie is temperamental, vengeful and childish—emotionally and physically. He is neither likable nor actually good, which is probably not a great idea for a Biblical movie. Like the Greek gods, he is a flawed supreme being who plays games with human lives for his own satisfaction. He now seeks the Hebrews’ freedom so they can return to their homeland to offer him worship and sacrifices.
He also wants bloody vengeance for the 400 years his followers have suffered in slavery. So the plagues commence. When Moses sees the horrific suffering God wreaks on both Egyptians and Hebrews with his plagues, he questions the righteousness of God’s will and tries to abandon the jihad, but God tolerates no desertions.
Sadly, the brutal attacks cause our sympathy to transfer from Moses to Ramses when even babies and Ramses’ own innocent family suffer, giving the soulful Ramses the trials of Job. Moses, on the other hand, continues to do God’s bloodthirsty bidding even when he doesn’t agree with it, diminishing our sympathy for him.
The filmmakers not only hamstring the appeal of God and Moses but fail to create any sympathy for the Hebrew slaves themselves. With few exceptions, the slaves are portrayed as filthy, corrupt, duplicitous slum dwellers. Except for a handful of fanatical elders, they no longer even believe in God and practice their religion out of mindless ritual. In fact, both God and Moses openly question the Hebrews’ ability to survive as a civilized race without the strictest moral oversight.
Fortunately, a couple of blank stone tablets are lying around.
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