EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, and Sigourney Weaver, with John Turturro, Aaron Paul, and Ben Kingsley. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 150 min.
This is an epic movie about the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt led by Moses (Christian Bale) in defiance of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses II (Joel Edgerton). It is an interpretation of the exodus of the Hebrews as related in the Old Testament Book of Exodus.
It is the second film of the the same lead-name. The first was the 1960 version of the liberation of the state of Israel, directed by Otto Preminger, based on the novel, "Exodus" by Leon Uris.
With any film based on the Bible there is inevitably going to be controversy around the issues of historical and biblical accuracy. Like the depiction of Moses in movies before (as in "Noah", 2014), this one raises some questions. Whatever was the complexity of Moses, Bale's interpretation of him is bound to cause a little conflict. The film shows, as the Bible depicts, that God permitted Moses' resolve to waver, and then for him to regain it to lead his people to the Land of Canaan. In this movie, Moses expresses his leadership with war-like precision.
One point of controversy is about the racial identity of the people the movie portrays. Most of the main characters in the film are white. The privileged class are portrayed by white actors, and the slaves and lower class Egyptians are generally played by black actors. Ramses' mother, Queen Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) is a case in point. Queen Tuya looks not right for the character she is supposed to play.
Less controversial, but within the legitimate realm of scholarly discourse, the film places heavy emphasis on natural physical events that accompany the miracles that are being portrayed. The parting of the Red Sea, for instance, is depicted as the pull-back of water associated with a huge tsunami. Recognition of the relevance of physical phenomena never denies the status of a possible miracle, but when the water comes back in this film it does so in spectacular Hollywood style, trapping and drowning Ramses and his army in an awe-inspiring way.
Laying the vexed question of a biblical film's accuracy aside, the movie is well produced and well directed. Ridley Scott, the Director, has an excellent appreciation of the impact of scenes that create compelling visual effects on a grand scale. The scenes of sweeping battles and heavily populated Egyptian cities are spectacular, and they occur together with realistic depictions of the onslaught of plagues that show animals and insects swarming over the landscape, following Ramses's refusal to liberate Moses' people. In this film, Ridley Scott and his cinematographer have produced grand visual spectacle, and the middle of the film is totally preoccupied with swarming toads, flies, locusts, and huge man-eating crocodiles - all creating grim havoc.
The heroism of Moses and his complete commitment to liberate his people is never an issue. The film depicts a determined Moses, but interestingly shows God appearing to Moses as an argumentative, belligerent, cheeky young boy. It is a depiction of God as a God of wrath, rather than a God of peace.The effect is paradoxical, but visually arresting. Scott is marvellously talented in depicting grand events that shock with their realism, and he has done this very well in past movies such as the "Alien" (1979), and "Gladiator" (2000).
It is only brave Directors who would have the courage to make the claim that their biblically-based movies are historically accurate, and it is relevant to recognise that Ridley Scott makes no such claim, and the movie is not likely to offend. For vision and spectacle, but not for biblical accuracy, or profound insights that add meaningfully to the legend of Moses, this is a film well worth viewing in the context of its obvious intention. It aims to be well produced spectacle cinema, and it achieves its goal.
Because of the fact that the film's impact resides so heavily in its special effects, the film is best viewed on a large screen, and in 3D.
Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Twentieth Century Fox
Released December 4th., 2014