by Mark Woodhouse
Rated M. Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul. Directed by Ridley Scott.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is another epic film of, er, biblical proportions…
Rameses (Edgerton + fake tan and eyeliner) and Moses (Bale) have grown up together. They’re close, but competitive. They turn against each other, and Moses leads a rebellion of Hebrew slaves. And, well, you know the rest.
At least, you know the basic plot. This film has made heaps of changes from the Biblical account in Exodus, but keeps the key plot points and characters. A lot of the detail is actually quite different. I wouldn’t mind this if it made for a better story, but it doesn’t. In fact, the plot is confused, lacks tension, and doesn’t even try to surprise. The natural climaxes in the plot barely register – the Hebrews were out of Egypt before I even noticed, and I felt nothing.
Rameses is, for me, the most interesting character. He rules, but Moses seems the more talented leader. He still values his relationship with Moses, but there’s an irreconcilable tension. It’s a genuine struggle for him throughout the film, and Edgerton does a good job.
The best part of the film is the stunning visual scenery. There are some fantastic wide shots of approaching armies and rugged scenery that took my breath away. The plagues are detailed, confronting, and relentless. They come one after the other in quick succession, and really give you a sense of the horror and devastation they caused.
But though it looks good, Exodus is set in a version of ancient Egypt designed by someone with no actual knowledge of ancient Egypt! You might get away with turning the (yet-to-be-built) Abu Simbel temple into a tomb, but you surely can’t get away with depicting the Hebrews building pyramids in the middle of a city! That’s primary school stuff.
The big controversy, though, has been the mainly-european cast in a film set in Africa. While an african may have given the film more authenticity, they all speak english with American accents anyway. You can’t have everything.
I was really disappointed with the film’s depiction of God. Before seeing the burning bush and meeting “I AM”, Moses falls and hits his head. His wife Zipporah (Maria Valverde) blames his vision on his head injury, and so the very existence of God is left ambiguous – is he the supreme being, or the result of a rock hitting Moses on the head?
God is presented in the form of an 11-year-old boy, and is childlike in appearance and character. He’s far from the loving, gracious and just God of the Bible, but is petty and vindictive, manipulative and noticeably absent in many parts of the film. All he wants is for the Egyptians to bow the knee. When he discloses to Moses what the tenth plague will be, Moses is outraged and wants no part of it – and it’s easy to share the outrage and feel compassion for the Egyptians as they weep for their firstborn sons. God, in this film, is not a nice God.
I’m so thankful the real God isn’t like that!
He is there. His name, his very identity is “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). That is, God exists, God is powerful, God is there with his people, listening to his people, loving his people. When God brings his people out of Egypt with an overwhelming display of his power and presence, he is proving once and for all that he is (Exodus 7:5). In the film, Moses at once point quips to God, “nice of you to show up”. In the Biblical account, God is ever-present.
In the film, Rameses is defiant – “I am a god!” But even the entire pantheon of Egyptian gods are no match for the one true God. Nothing they try can stop the onslaught of plagues, nothing they try can stop God bringing his people out of slavery. Because there is one God, who is a redeemer, who cares for his people, who shows his undeniable and irresistible power over creation, over idols, over false gods and human kings.
This film is another wonderful opportunity to start a conversation about the real God, not the childlike God portrayed here. Point people to the wonderful act of redemption and grace that is the Exodus. Point people to the wonderful act of redemption and grace that is the cross of Jesus.
Exodus: Gods and Kings feels like all the budget went on special effects, and none was saved for writing or researching the story. It feels like they’ve tried to not offend the religious or put off the non-religious, but in the process have got God horribly wrong. It does look pretty cool, though. Two stars.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is released today in Australia; Friday 12th December in the US; and Friday 26th December in the UK.