I have to admit, as soon as I saw that Ridley Scott was directing an Exodus movie I was thrilled. I know Scott is not Christian. But with the care he treated Robin Hood and his visionary creation of Blade Runner, I knew that if anyone were to create a moving Exodus story it would be Scott. Exodus: Gods and Kings definitely did not disappoint.
The story stars Moses (Christian Bale) as a cunning and brave adopted son of Seti. Moses fights Seti’s wars and solves Seti’s problems. Seti even considers Moses his true heir to the throne. But events go south soon after Seti dies and Ramses ascends to the throne. After Moses takes a trip to Goshen, a kleptocratic overseer learns that Moses is the son of a Hebrew. The overseer turns this information over to Ramses and Ramses banishes Moses.
While banished, Moses meets his wife Zipporah and begins living as a goat herder. When a few of his livestock head onto God’s holy mountain, Moses follows. He is subsequently hit on the head with a rock and begins seeing visions of God in the form of a little child. Before this time, Moses was an atheist, but now he returns to Egypt under the direction of Yahweh. He attempts guerilla warfare until ultimately allowing God’s miracles to destroy Ramses.
The film takes a few liberties. Moses is bold and courageous (this is actually a step up from the History channel Bible miniseries where Moses is depicted as a psychotically happy guy). Contrary to popular depiction, the Exodus narrative depicts Moses as reluctant and afraid (he was, after all, an eighty year old man at the time). Moses uses all sorts of petty excuses to try to avoid service to God. God gets angry at Moses and eventually is forced to recruit Moses’ brother (Aaron) to do the heavy lifting. Aaron is almost entirely absent from the film.
One criticism is that the film cannot seem to make up its mind if God is real or not. Moses only sees visions after a head blow (visions only he can see). And for a while all the miracles have real world explanations. But then the movie shifts to the angel of death, which has a none other than divine cause. For this, Scott adds a cutting remark against Christians “What kind of a god does this? What kind of a fanatic follows such a god?” The quote is placed fittingly after a heart-wrenching scene. This should help Christians re-evaluate their superficial understanding of the vengeance of Yahweh as depicted in the Bible. The plagues of Egypt killed real people and destroyed real families. This can sometimes be glossed over in the text.
For those who believe the Bible depicts an abstract God outside the bounds of space and time, this movie will do a lot of good to solidify a Biblical portrait of God. God is depicted as vengeful, powerful, and passionate. God is depicted as willing to compromise, but intent on harm. Moses is even shown to be less willing than God to resort to violence (consistent with the Biblical narrative). The scenes go as far as to show some of the tension between God and Moses. At one point Moses asks God what He has been doing for 400 years. Moses is accusing God (a common theme in the Psalms), which God does not answer except with “Tu quoque”.
Towards the end, the movie hints at the Exodus 32 narrative where Moses convinces God not to destroy Israel. But sadly, the movie skips what would be an interesting twist in the narrative where God plans on killing the people He had just saved.
The character actions and motivations are believable. Ramses is shown as arrogant and strong willed. Ramses lets Israel go in a fit of passion after his son dies, but quickly changes his mind due to his pride. Moses is practical, and attempts to use his practicality to win God’s campaign. The people react to the plagues with riots and pillage, as would be expected. Even Moses’ wife and son are shown hurting as Moses leaves on a quixotic quest of which they are skeptical. One missed opportunity was the Exodus’ narrative of the elders of Israel opposing Moses while in Egypt. There is little hint of Israel’s reluctance for freedom. Israel’s rejection could have easily shown what odds Moses faced, even from his own people. Instead, Israel is shown as steadfast and unified.
Most other complaints are petty: the number of Israelites freed, the number of consultations with Pharaoh, the reason for the Nile turning to blood, the way in which the Egyptian soldiers were killed by Moses. The film is faithful to the narrative and spirit of the Exodus account. I would recommend it to all Christian families. If your children are allowed to watch The Passion of the Christ, they should be old enough to see Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Now the real question remains: how do we get Ridley Scott to direct a fitting Noah film?
A good list of complaints can be found on the insidemovies site.