Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
How should the Church respond to “Exodus: Gods and Kings”?
Miracles, including list of biblical miracles
Is it logical to believe that the biblical miracles really happened? Answer
“Miracles are not possible,” some claim. Is this true? Answer
Zipporah, wife of Moses
Miriam, sister of Moses
Aaron, brother of Moses
Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Answer
|Featuring:||Christian Bale … Moses
Joel Edgerton … Rhamses
Aaron Paul … Joshua
Sigourney Weaver … Tuya
Ben Kingsley … Nun
Ben Mendelsohn … Robin Van Der Zee
Indira Varma … Miriam
John Turturro … Seti
|Director:||Ridley Scott— “Kingdom of Heaven” (2005), “American Gangster” (2007), “Body of Lies” (2008), “Prometheus” (2012)|
Scott Free Productions
Scott Free Productions
The story of the Exodus is one of the greatest stories ever told. Even without knowledge of the rich traditions and historical events surrounding the Exodus, the events of that time shaped the future of the world, and not just the Jews or the west, but every corner of the planet. I am therefore somewhat dumbfounded how Hollywood has repeatedly managed to mess up the story and alter it to their own liking. This is not to say that there have been no good movies about the Exodus, but not a single one to date does the historical or Biblical events justice. Now it is Ridley Scott’s turn to try to do justice to the story, but Ridley Scott is an agnostic. Would he do justice to Exodus?
Owing to the nature of Biblical epics, I feel it is necessary to divide my review into three sections. The first will deal with the movie itself. From a strictly cinematic viewpoint, how does the film stand up. Is it entertaining? Does Christian Bale make a believable Moses? Will the film stand the test of time. The second section of this review will deal with its Biblical accuracy, or lack thereof. What does the film change? Is it accurate? Does it show due respect to Moses and the historical events of the Exodus? Finally, I will address objectionable content.
Ridley Scott is a talented director, of that few can doubt. His second film was the surprising hit film “Alien.” He followed it up with “Blade Runner,” which earned due credit on video, even if it was neglected at the box office. He is best known to younger viewers as the director of the absurdly unhistorical and exploitive movie “Gladiator.” It is natural to expect that “Exodus” would have the same polished look and feel, but to an extent that is the problem. At times, Moses sounds like Maximus from “Gladiator,” shouting and screaming with a sword in hand. There is even a scene where Pharaoh Seti regrets that Rhamses would succeed him instead of Moses (just like in “Gladiator”). We feel, at times, as if we are watching a retread of “Gladiator” or “Kingdom of Heaven.” Moses even leads the Jews in military revolt before God intervenes and issues the Ten Plagues upon Egypt.
It is fair to start with the movie’s strengths. It tries, with moderate success, to emphasize the brotherhood of Pharaoh and Moses. The Moses character of feels that the Egyptians are his family, and not the Jews. His character is meant to change slowly over the course of the film. In the beginning, Moses is a skeptic who refuses to even acknowledge his kinship with the Jews. Eventually, through the course of events, he becomes the leader of the Jews, but as well intentioned as the script may have been, Moses’s transformation is never quite believable, nor convincing. Aside from this, the film falls flat, emphasizing special effects rather than characterization.
In fairness to Scott, the film is more respectful than the movie “Noah,” but then it would be hard to be that blasphemous and bad, and this is hardly the standard which we should accept. The biggest problem with “Exodus” is its alterations to the Biblical story. I will address most of these below, but it is notable that the film appears to make many of the miracles appear as natural phenomenon triggered by God. Even the parting of the Red Sea is portrayed, not as a parting, but as a dried up sea bed. It is a hurricane of sorts that brings water in from afar.
Is it logical to believe that the biblical miracles really happened? Answer
Now it is clear that these are still intended as miracles, but throughout the film even the priest of Egypt tried to dismiss the miracles as natural phenomenon. In fact, the priests acknowledge that the plagues are miracles, but try desperately to claim that the gods of Egypt are stronger. The Pharaoh is not an agnostic but a worshiper of false gods whom he believes will eventually overpower the Israelite’s “one true God.” This is only hinted at in the film when Pharaoh arrogantly declares “I am a god! I am a god!”
Another problem is that while seeming to downplay the miraculous nature of the plagues, it is no irony that the movie is filled with completely unrealistic scenes which actually made me chuckle. Three scenes come to mind. First was my shock at finding that the Chinese apparently did not invent gun powder, for Moses leads a revolt against Pharaoh and triggers massive explosions: yes, explosions. Even in historical epics from antiquity, Hollywood still has to blow things up! Second, in a scene seemingly lifted from “Gladiator,” Moses stabs a chariot with his spear, causing it to fly into the air (Isaac Newton would shudder).
Finally, when the Red Sea drowns all of Egypt’s army, Moses and Pharaoh are staring each other down in the middle of the Sea when the water hits. Apparently both are strong swimmers, for they both survive (no one else does), ending up on opposite sides of the sea.
Finally, it must be noted that “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is exceedingly depressing in tone. Nowhere do we see singing Jews celebrating their freedom as in the song of Miriam. If “The Prince of Egypt” was the happy Exodus movie (and best) then “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is clearly the darkest and most depressing. This too seems to be a trademark of a Ridley Scott film, but it is also a sad commentary on agnosticism, for I cannot think of an agnostic filmmaker who really makes happy films. This irony should not go unnoticed. Ultimately, it is only God who can give us true happiness.
There are a plethora of alterations and mistakes in the film; some of which have been alluded to already. Some are alterations made for cinematic reasons. Some are errors in exegesis and bad archeology. Others are deliberate theological alterations which reflect the director’s agnosticism. I will reserve the more troubling ones for last.
The first and most glaring error is apparent in the trailers, and, unfortunately, is one found in every movie about the Exodus ever made. It is of concern because Bible critics take advantage of the mistake to claim that the Bible is a historical myth. I refer to the fact that Rhamses was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus. 1 Kings 6:1 (among others) places the Exodus almost 150 years before Rhamses. This is important because the archaeological evidence supports an Exodus in the 15th century before Christ, but offers no support for an Exodus under Rhamses.
Pharaoh’s of the Bible
Atheists and others emphasize the lack of evidence for Rhamses, and take advantage of the fact that most people have been trained to think of Rhamses as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Moreover, the actual events surrounding the Exodus would make for a fascinating subplot were it not for the fact that these films must rewrite part of the Bible to make the story fit with Rhamses. Consider, for example, the fact that the Pharaoh who sought Moses’ life died before the Exodus. The Pharaoh of the Exodus was not his step-brother, but his step-nephew.
A long list of errors and alterations could ensue, including the fact that the film portrays only nine years between Moses’ exile and his return. Moses is shown killing the guard in self defense (Exodus 2:11-12). Moses is around 40 years old when he leads the Exodus (Exodus 7:7). Moses is thought to be a true Egyptian by all in the Egyptian court, and a host of others.
Some have also objected to the portrayal of Egyptians and Jews by white Europeans, but this is only partially true. First, Egyptian art depicts Egyptians as red, Nubians as brown, and Semites (like Jews) as yellow. Second, Sir Ben Kingsley is actually half Indian. Likewise, many of the lesser characters are Indian, near easterners, and Jews. Still, it is fair to criticize the reality of Rhamses being portrayed by a Welsh actor. Nevertheless, far more important alterations follow.
One serious alteration is that of Moses himself. He is portrayed as an agnostic before his encounter with God on Sinai. Although Moses argued with God in the Bible, the movie clearly portrays Moses’s wrestling with God on a more cynical level. At one point in the film, Moses shouts at God “if you meant to humble me, it will not work!” This in contrast to the declaration that “Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the Earth” (Numbers 12:2). He also tends to shout rather than stutter as Jewish tradition recounts (cf. Exodus 4:10). Most intriguing is that he only meets Pharaoh twice face to face before the death of the first-born children. In the first encounter, Moses pulls a sword on Rhamses and threatens him. He does not say “Let my people go,” but speaks of his own authority as a rebel leader. He spends much of the movie hiding from Pharaoh, and he even tries to lead a military revolt before God intervenes.
Arguably, the strangest alteration to the Bible, made clearly to appeal to fans of Scott’s action films, is the depiction of Moses leading a war of attrition against Egypt. The Jews are taught to fight and attack several military and supply sites. This revolt is clearly out of place in the film and completely un-Biblical. From the beginning, God told Moses what to do and say, but this leads to another change: God. In the film, God is portrayed as a little boy. He first appears standing in front of the burning bush and appears at recurring points in the film. Moses is seen arguing with a child.
Finally, I have already alluded to the fact that the miracles are made to look more like natural phenomenon unleashed by God, but the irony is that such “natural” events are far more unrealistic than a supernatural event. Consider the plague of blood. In the movie, a series of crocodiles attack and eat so many people and animals that the water of the Nile becomes filled with the blood of their victims! Would it not have been better (and more realistic) to simply portray it as it is recounted in the Bible?
Obviously, most objectionable are the alterations to the Bible itself, but as those have been addressed, the question is what should parents be leary of their children seeing? Well, the good news is that there is no foul language, since the Egyptians do not speak modern English slang (although Moses does issue at least one modern idiomatic remark). Likewise, there is no sex in the film, although there are a number of scantily clad Egyptian women. The real problem, in terms of content, is obviously violence.
It is not surprising that the story of the Exodus is violent, but the violence is graphic at times. Moses is engaged in several fights and battles which involve blood and even some gore, but the most graphic scenes involve the director’s envisioning of the plague of blood as described above. Crocodiles are seen eating people in graphic scenes.
In days past “Exodus: Gods and Kings” might have garnered an R-rating, but it is not much worse than any number of PG-13 films on the market today. Its real offensive content lies in its alterations to the Bible.
The revival of Biblical epics began with “The Passion of the Christ,” but that revival has more often than not felt like one led by Jim Baker rather than Billy Graham. The most recent debacle was “Noah” written and directed by an atheist which portrayed Noah as a sociopath plotting to kill his own children. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is not a blasphemous film, but neither is it particularly God honoring either. The Moses of the movie is reflective of its agnostic director. He is a skeptic who looks too much like Maximus and too little like the great Prophet of the Bible. Likewise, Rhamses appears more like a petulant child than one of the greatest Pharaohs who restored Egypt to greatness a hundred and fifty years after Egypt’s humiliation under Moses (oh, wait… I was thinking of the real historical story of the Exodus! Sorry.).
Overall, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” falls short of most of the plethora of previous renditions. If you want to see a movie about Moses, I would recommend “The Prince of Egypt” or even the inaccurate but respectful “The Ten Commandments” by Cecil B. DeMille. I would also recommend the 1995 TV miniseries “Moses” with Sir Ben Kingsley. None of those films get the historical facts straight (they all subscribe to the un-Biblical myth that Rhamses was the Pharaoh of the Exodus), but they are more respectful, make fewer alterations, and are more entertaining.
Violence: Heavy to extreme / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Mild
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.