When God is portrayed as a petulant child, you know you’re in trouble
Oh well, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected too much more out of Scott. After all, it’s not like his body of work has been overly kind to Christianity in the past. 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Robin Hood (2010), they’ve all pretty much carried the impression that the world would be a better place without its largest religion. And now, Exodus: Gods and Kings tells us why that’s so. Because, if this movie is to be believed, the whole Judeo-Christian tradition was founded by wigged-out terrorists serving a petulant, childish God who might not even exist in the first place.
Okay, so I can’t be 100 percent positive that was the underlying message Scott had in mind when he made Exodus: Gods and Kings, but it was definitely the impression I was left with as the credits began to roll. It would also go a long ways towards explaining some of the choices he made over the course of the film.
To begin with, the movie starts with Moses (Christian Bale) already a grown man in Egypt, which is problematic for reasons we’ll get to in a bit. From there, the film wastes no time in establishing that Moses is the favorite son of his adoptive father, Seti (John Turturro), a fact that doesn’t sit very well with Seti’s natural born son, Ramses (Joel Edgerton). In fact, when the two go into battle side by side with matching swords (a gift from their father), Ramses thinks long and hard about putting a spear in Moses’ back.
Oh, about that battle. It’s pretty impressive, being epic in scope and brutal in its depiction. It’s also the only one in the movie. I try not to review trailers here, but I feel like I have to warn those who saw the commercials for Exodus: Gods and Kings and were led to expect that it was going to be Scott’s next Gladiator. If you’re among those folks, let’s just say you’re going to be disappointed. The singular battle exists in the movie for three express purposes. It helps further the love/hate relationship between the two brothers, it establishes Moses as a warrior (which is is important for reasons we’ll get to in a bit) and… well, I suppose if you’re going to make a $140 million movie and charge people 3-D ticket prices to see it, you have to at least give them one big battle for their money.
Anyway, once that battle scene passes, the film moves into more familiar territory, at least on the surface. It isn’t long before Seti dies, Ramses becomes pharaoh and the truth of Moses’ birth is revealed. This revelation forces Moses into a situation where he murders an Egyptian guard, garnering an instant death-sentence. Still unable to kill his brother, however, Ramses exiles Moses to the desert.
If you paid attention in your religious ed class, or at least watched The Ten Commandments on one of its annual Passover/Easter airings, you can pretty much tick off the checklist from this point onwards. Moses makes his way to Midian and starts a family, is called by God (sort of, but we’ll get to that in a bit) to return to Egypt and free the enslaved Hebrew people, witnesses God unleash ten plagues on the country for Ramses’ refusal to cooperate, and finally leads the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea with pharaoh in hot pursuit. In other words, it covers the basics of the Biblical narrative.
And if that were all there were to Exodus: Gods and Kings it would be fine. A little dry and somber perhaps, as the film abandons
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