Monday, December 15, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Movie Notes

What follows is a bit of play-by-play highlight reel (as it were) as I recall from viewing the new Exodus movie from Ridley Scott (who happens to be an atheist). It is from memory and a few note I scratched, so don’t get upset if I mixed something up. That was an unorthodox spoiler alert if you missed it. If you haven’t read the account in a while, stop right now and read Exodus 1–20, the approximate time the film covers.

Wrong Timeframe
The movie opens with the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt under Ramses, with the younger Ramses and Moses in the court together as generals/princes. Both appear to be in their thirties. (1300 BCE and the reference to 400 years of slavery appears on the screen, but this places it about 200 years later than the biblical record with the Exodus in 1491 BC. This is why many claim there is “no evidence for Hebrew slaves in Egypt” at this time—they are looking in the wrong period.)

There is a big battle with the Hittites with gratuitous imagery. Moses and Ramses Jr. fulfill a prophecy previously pronounced by a priestess, though both of them make it very clear that they are rationalists and don’t believe in their father/uncle’s reliance on a goose liver to determine the outcome of a battle.

Moses Goes to Pithon
where the Hebrews are enslaved under taskmasters and learns of his identity, though he denies it. He kills two Egyptian guards in a fit of rage at this revelation.
This brings him back to Memphis where the older Ramses dies and the younger takes over. Once on the throne, he finds out Moses killed the guards and that he is a Hebrew, so Moses gets exiled.
Moses murders some more people on the way to Midian (in what we later learn was self-defense from these assassins).

As he arrives in Midian, he defends the ladies at the well and marries one. They have a son, but the wedding night scene was clean (phew!). (Incidentally, there were a few shots with underclothed men and women in the background.)

Moses mocks God at several points (he is presented as a rationalist up to this point) for His silly rules. He chases some sheep up the forbidden mountain where a storm causes a landslide and he is buried in the mud with only his face exposed, but only after Moses takes a knock on the head and goes unconscious.

Enter the God Caricature
A bush near him ignites and godboy appears. Yes, I said godboy. The theophany is a boy of about age 10 with a British accent (there was a strange blend of accents throughout the film) who talks to Moses in unclear terms while Moses is still buried in the mudslide.

His wife nurses his broken leg and bumped head, thinking he is delusional (the whole burning bush encounter may have been while he was unconscious). Godboy appears to him again and tells him “I need a general.” This leads Moses to conclude that he is supposed to go back and free the Hebrews as a general.

He heads back to Egypt after nine years, leaving his wife and son behind. This sparks comments like, “What kind of god would ask you to leave your family?”

Becoming a Terrorist
When he gets to Pithon, he starts the Moshe Terrorist Training Camp and develops a plan to overthrow Ramses by subverting his social structure and turning his people against him. He leads a series of terrorist attacks and they are having an effect…

Moses confronts Ramses alone at night and asks him to consider giving the Hebrews slaves equal rights and equal pay (not kidding there, fuh realz). Ramses refuses and Moses goes back to the jihadi camp where, eluding the many Egyptian guards, they train with bows/sword/horses and have their own underground foundry for making weapons. (Really? This was a bit ridiculous. Is the same thing going on at Guantanamo Bay?)

Then godboy appears again and asks Moses if it is going well. Moses is prepared to stick to his plan, but godboy is not that patient. He gets angry and screams about getting revenge on these pharaohs and bringing them to their knees. Godboy tells Moses to stop fighting and says. “For now, you can watch.” This initiates godboys plan to expedite the release of the Hebrews and carries the theme of “God’s plans are better than man’s plans.” (Removed from its blasphemous context, this could be seen as an expression of a Christian trying to do things in their own strength and not relying on God and His power and timing.) As Aaron, who never speaks, watches from a distance, Moses appears to be talking to a rock which is replaced by godboy when the scene changes to the tight shots of the conversation. (I suppose this was Scott’s metaphor for divine interaction, and it was used in several places.)

Naturally Supernatural Plagues
The plagues are initiated by crocodiles attacking men in boats and their blood staining the water. While this is a natural explanation, the extent of the bloody river cannot be explained by this event alone and it lasts for an extended period, even moving inland to the rice fields and irrigation canals.
All the fish die and the frogs come and then the flies (they skipped the lice). The boils follow and bring the doubling of the workload for the Hebrews and the removal of straw (biblically out of place). Ramses hangs a family every day to get them to present Moses so he can be killed, but the people protect him and Moses is clearly conflicted over this loss of life at his continuance of life. Again, the terrorist/idealist/freedom-fighter motif plays out here as a modern cultural commentary smuggled into the biblical account. (Can you say “anachronism”?)

After all the cattle die, Moses gets mad at godboy and asks why so many Egyptians have to die and claims to be more moral than godboy. After the locust come, the people try to raid pharaoh’s grain storage and he kills them. Moses again questions godboy who says he wants to see the pharaoh beg for mercy and take his revenge (this presents a capricious and petty view of God). Moses lets godboy know that he “wants no part of this” seeking of revenge and killing of the Egyptians, to which godboy reminds Moses of all of the suffering and death of the Hebrews for 400 years. (This could easily be seen as a tribal my-god-can-beat-up-your-god interaction as the Egyptian priestess is beseeching her gods for relief.)

The Passover
Moses then goes to warn Ramses to protect his son (we don’t know how he knows this is coming) and tells all of the Hebrews to sacrifice a lamb and mark the doorposts. However, Moses says “If I am right, the lamb’s blood will protect you forever, if not, pity the lambs” [paraphrased]. Here Moses is not depicted as receiving clear instructions, a common theme in the movie, and slaps the biblical text in its face.

The death of the firstborn is shown in a clearly supernatural way and it was the most compelling sequence of the film. Although Scott has directly said he wanted to show a rational view of the supernatural elements of the “story,” he utterly fails at this point and the power of God over life and death is evident as He (godboy couldn’t pull this one off) snuffs out the lives of the Egyptian firstborn—including Ramses’ son.

Ramses confronts Moses and the Hebrews, armed to fight him, with his dead son in his arms and asks, [roughly] “If this is what your god does, kills little children, what kind of fanatics could worship such a god?” Moses replies with “No Hebrew died.” This is a valid question presented in the film, and one we need to be able to answer as Christians.

A Profaned Prophet
Moses tells them to go, so the Hebrews all head out for Canaan, the land of promise from their fathers. They do not pillage the Egyptians (I wonder how they made the golden calf depicted later?), and head for a place in the Red Sea where Moses had crossed on foot earlier. Ramses rallies the army in pursuit and Moses turns the people to the mountain pass, not the safe crossing he knows of. As they reach the top, Moses does not know the way and asks godboy for guidance and receives none. Moses lies to Joshua who had asked, “What does God tell you?” directing the masses in a direction Moses thinks is right, but he knows is toward the sea. Rather than a prophet receiving instructions from God, Moses is shown as a leader making decisions based on a hunch without letting his people see him waver.

When they get there, there is no clear passage and Moses is discouraged and unsure. He sees a falling star streak across the sky and disappear across the sea’s horizon as he falls asleep. He throws his sword into the sea in anger and disappointment at godboy’s lack of directing him.

In the morning, the Egyptian chariots thunder down the mountain road as the Hebrews awaken to the sea flowing rapidly away, exposing the sword and Moses calls them all to follow him across the sea…wading through the water. The water continually recedes as they move across, but nothing like the dry ground and wall of water to the left and right we see in Exodus 14:21. As the Egyptians close in, Moses rallies his warriors on horseback to confront their army. A storm in the distances brews as the wall of water returns, smashing the Egyptian army as the Hebrew soldiers and people make it across safely. Moses and Ramses meet in the middle and both are swept by the wall into the sea…but they both make it out alive and on their respective sides of the gulf. No, that’s not in the Bible either, but sounds a lot like this animated version of the story I once saw. (Apparently, this receding water and the returning tsunami was caused by an earthquake that accompanied the demise of some of the Egyptian’s, but I totally missed this point while watching the film and it seemed pretty supernatural to me. There is another of Scott’s rationalizations of God’s power over His creation which Moses just “thought” was God’s hand.)

Moses leads them to Midian and gathers his wife and son and then they all head toward Canaan. Interestingly, Moses is shown in a wagon with a box, presumably the bones of Joseph. There is a scene where Moses is on the mountain with godboy and you can see the “golden calf” thing going down in the background. They go into a cave where godboy makes Moses some tea as Moses is carving the Ten Commandments. Once Moses dies, these laws will guide the people.

The End.


Overall, the film is unbiblical, though not necessarily anti-biblical in the sense that Noah was. It was a blasphemous presentation of God’s Word. It was a blasphemous representation of Moses (who surely had his flaws). It is a blasphemous presentation of the thrice-holy God of the Bible. Other than that, it was great.

While godboy has some of the attributes of God (e.g., he tells Moses he heard Ramses threats even though Ramses made these in a room by himself; omniscience), it is a twisted and blasphemous representation that removes any notion of holiness, awe, and majesty.

If I could set aside the blasphemy and pretend that it wasn’t a part of the Bible and God’s redemptive plan for all of humanity—ultimately bringing the Son of God in the loins of the tribe of Judah out of Egypt—I would see this overarching theme: To follow God by faith is a messy situation in which we don’t always have perfectly clear direction and must move forward by faith, setting aside our own plans to allow god to work things out in His timing. If that is what Ridley Scott set out to do, he didn’t do a terrible job, but he did not do a God-honoring job. But that is what I would expect from someone who is not abiding in Christ.

Ridley Scott demonstrates his utterly lack of respect for the Word of God, treating it as a myth from history he can reshape to his own liking. There were several plot holes and absurdities that made it a generally mediocre movie. Ridley Scott will have to answer to the movie critics for those things, but he will have to answer to God for his dismissal of His Word. I pray that he will see the connection between the man God used to bring the Hebrews out of slavery and the Man God used to free His people from their slavery to sin—Jesus Christ (John 1:14–18; Romans 6).

In a nutshell: Exodus was less antibiblical than Noah, but not any better at presenting truth.

(I plan to expound a bit on themes from the film that can be used to lead into a gospel-directed conversation, but I trust you can get there without my help.)

No comments:

Post a Comment