Exodus: Gods and Bra Strap Pings is likely to annoy all those who hold the Biblical narrative sacred. But its failings go further than the Egyptian army drops off a precipice.
Ridley Scott has been rightly criticised for choosing a Caucasian to play a Hebrew raised in Egypt. He claimed he could think of no other than Christian Bale for the role – don’t all directors claim that of their casting choice? Scott also said he had to pick a big name for his typically costly film. It’s disgraceful that the only known actors’ faces are those of Hollywood, and that we have s little exposure to even other English speaking countries’ films, let alone all those countries of the world whose industry we hardly see, even in art house cinemas.
I also don’t see why Christian Bale’s Moses looks like a John the Baptist, all scraggy beard and hair shirt, when he’s been raised at the Egyptian court and doesn’t know he’s Hebrew. Get your kohl pencil and razor out, Bale! All the cast speak with an English accent and hardly any are non white, and no-one save the extras is the right ethnicity. It means there’s many westerners looking ridiculous with heavy brows and snaky hairstyles, but none convince, and most have slight roles.
In a world where CGI now makes anything possible, and where sci fi and fantasy are unfettered, Biblical stories are rationalised. See it as a myth if you must – but remember that three world religions revere this tale. Yet more concern is shown over being ‘faithful’ to Shakespeare, where no faith is required.
Moses here is a guerrilla war general with a rather strange relationship with a God he doesn’t initially recognise. The divine is a boy, despite Moses of the Bible being deprived of God’s face. The god-boy is churlish and has little majesty or wisdom about him. He doesn’t call or instruct Moses, there’s no transmuting snakes, no stretching out of hands (a phrase repeated in the Bible and clearly an important motif), no stumbling inadequacy at his calling, no real partnership with brother Aaron. On a theological and personal developmental note, I took comfort from the point that reticent Moses had been exactly trained for his role as leader of the exodus, and the miracle with his staff preformed at the burning bush was about showing what could be done with the expertise already acquired to make Moses exactly the right person, with his dual heritage and shepherding experience as well as his knowledge of and acceptance at the Egyptian court. This is taken out of Moses’ hero’s journey, making it floppy by film narrative standards too. This Moses doesn’t beat off a slave driver, but is sword happy at other times, using it as a near Excalibur in the most cinematic scene of his epic tale, which was the biggest disappointment of the film.
In my mind, the Red Sea Crossing is a powerful wind making Niagara falls type walls of water for hundreds of thousands of people to walk between on dry land, which crashes behind them to quash the Egyptian army pursuing them. Ridley Scott clearly never went to Sunday School – “God blew with his wind, puff puff puff puff” – for there’s nothing pneumatic or dramatic behind this non miracle. The Red Sea parting is more of a mass wade at low tide, and even the Egyptian drowning is due to more of a big wave no bigger than a hardy surfer would mount. It’s caused by a huge storm which proves that the filmakers can create extraordinary weather, but chose not to.
Moses’ romance with Zipporah – whose infamous zippiness with a flint knife is happily omitted – is not sufficient for us to care about her or their son. Miriam’s not a prophetess, there’s no tambourines and dancing or singing, and women have little role in the film.
It’s not that my faith requires a particular rendering of the story, though I respect that many others’ will, but that the subject was not really well done and that I didn’t care about anyone enough to be engaged. The only interesting controversies ask why the Hebrew God picks only one special people and would inflict such suffering as the plagues, the last especially – even the hanging happy demigod Rameses is shocked at that.
This film was otherwise spoiled by being shown in a tiny cinema screen, but that’s a moan for my other blog. Yet on an IMAX, it still wouldn’t have been the spectacle expected.