This past weekend I saw the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings. And I can sum up my reaction to it rather quickly with two words- very disappointing.
I can’t say that that sentiment was unexpected. After scanning several reviews before the movie was released, I was pretty certain the film would fail to meet my expectations, and it did. I wasn’t surprised at all by how far the film strayed from the Biblical storyline; I figured I’d take issue with the portrayal of Israel’s Exodus, and, unfortunately, I was correct.
It seems to be a recent trend for Hollywood to make Biblical movies that mock God and weaken the Bible. In fact, in another Biblical epic, the movie Noah was called by its director, Darren Aronofsky, “the least biblical, biblical film ever made.” And I can’t say that Exodus is far behind.
With that in mind, I’ve come to expect very little of modern Biblical movies made by Hollywood, and I watch them with low expectations. But nonetheless, I was still very disappointed.
To begin with, I was unimpressed with Christian Bale’s role as Moses. I thought he did a better job as a young Moses at the beginning of the movie, but as his character aged, his acting ability weakened with it. So, for me, he just didn’t pull it off.
To be honest, I was okay for about the first hour of this two hour and twenty minute film. Even though it lacked accuracy, there was nothing that really turned me off up to that point, so I was hoping that my worries were unfounded. Now that’s not to say that I was pleased with the direction the film was taking. By no means! To be sure, there was plenty of artistic license poured into it that I didn’t care for, but it wasn’t unbearable. At the very least it provided a colorful twist, but at worst it failed to provide an authentic rendition of this historical event.
What I want to see in any Biblical movie is something true to the story. Most Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and God’s revelation to man. So deviating from what’s written is problematic. Therefore, authenticity is what drives me in the arena of Biblical movies. I don’t want the facts distorted at all. I want to see the film bring a true story to life, and cause the audience to feel like we were there to witness the actual events as they unfolded. Artistic license is acceptable, but only as long as Scripture isn’t sacrificed. Filmmakers are free to express their imagination, but not at the expense of history. And that’s a major problem I had with the movie- the director, Ridley Scott, seemed to be on a quest to rewrite history.
Yes, I know all directors do that, but not when it comes to representing religious faith. You don’t create your own personal representation of what you think that religion should be like- unless you were purposely trying to undermine that religion.
In fairness, Scott would probably contend that he was only was trying to make it more marketable and more acceptable to more people. But I don’t find that justifiable. Doing so only offends the very people who do believe in God. But not only did he successfully create an alternate history, he also created an alternate god.
If you want to avoid any spoilers, this is a good place to stop.
As to some specifics that bothered me, it began when Moses climbed Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. The mountain was in his backyard (in the Bible it was on the far side of the wilderness), and he was trying to catch his sheep that were fleeing up the mountain in the rain. Suddenly there was a mudslide, and rocks tumbled down, crashing into Moses, and one smacked him in the head, knocking him out cold… Do I need to say any more to hint at what’s about to happen?
It seems obvious that Moses is dreaming (or possibly having a vision). His body is completely submerged in mud, except for his face, and when he opens his eyes, he sees a burning bush. And then there’s a child- what appears to be a ten-year-old boy. The boy calls Moses to fight for him, and introduces himself as “I Am”.
Needless to say, the audience is expected to decide for themselves if Moses is hallucinating, or if he was having an actual conversation with God. We’re also expected to believe that God is this belligerent child, whom no one else can see except Moses; so I presume that any of the other characters who see him having these “imaginary” conversations must think he’s gone mad.
In the Bible, God is described as “Heavenly Father,” so portraying God as a child misrepresents who God is. Further, according to the Bible, nobody who sees God face-to-face may live (Exodus 33:18-20). Instead of an almighty, Holy God, Ridley Scott has created a safe god who isn’t so offensive. This god obviously doesn’t instill a holy, reverent fear.
Nonetheless, Moses believes this god-child is calling him to amass an army to fight for Israel’s freedom, and soon after, he recruits some of his own people and trains them to fight. But that’s when he finds out that he’s really just along for the ride. The god-child tells Moses to sit back and “watch,” and that’s when the plagues begin. But these plagues can be described as cause-and-effect events- not necessarily miracles that occur at God’s command. Moses has no role in any of the plagues, and he never orders Pharaoh to let his people go, except before the final plague, which finally causes Pharaoh to relent and free the Israelites.
I also found the portrayal of the crossing of the Red Sea extremely problematic. One could mistake this supernatural event as a naturally occurring phenomenon: an asteroid crashed into the Red Sea, and it caused the waters to recede far enough for the Israelites to wade across as they tried to escape the charging chariots. And just when the Israelites reach the other side, a tsunami wave crashed upon the Pharaoh’s army, decimating it.
The last issue I’ll mention is the scene where the Ten Commandments are being written. In the Bible, it clearly says that the commandments were inscribed by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), and are the writing of God (Exodus 32:16). But, according to Ridley Scott, the commandments were inscribed by Moses, with the god-child dictating what to write. So once again we’re left to speculate whether or not Moses is hallucinating.
I’d love to have seen these events portrayed as supernatural miracles that happened at God’s command. It’s not like Hollywood doesn’t have the technology or budget to pull that off. Instead, we’re left with a less powerful god who’s constrained by nature. It’s obvious that Hollywood isn’t interested in representing God accurately, even though they’re quite interested in capitalizing on him at the box office by using atheist and agnostic directors with their own religious agenda.
Needless to say, I don’t recommend this movie. Truthfully, I’d be quite happy if it failed. But if you do decide to watch this film, I’d highly recommend reading the first fourteen chapters of Exodus beforehand, as well as Exodus 31 and 32. Then you’ll have a good idea just how far Hollywood strayed from the actual story.