I’m not one to be preaching on the “read the book instead” soap box. I love movies. I prefer them to books. I like books, don’t get me wrong, I’d be a terrible writer if I didn’t like books, but I prefer movies. Mostly, I think, I have a hard time visualizing the details, so especially in a book that has intricate details written in, I struggle to picture what the author is talking about. I have the same problem whenever anyone tries to explain something visual to me. Hearing or reading it do not help. I for real need to see it.
This was one of the reasons I was really looking forward to Exodus: Gods and Kings. That, and because I want to see these Bible Stories turned Hollywood Blockbusters so that when those who know I’m a believer ask me what I thought, I have an opinion. Well boy, do I have one.
If you want to see it without my biased opinion as an influence, you should probably stop reading. I was going to try to avoid spoilers, but, as I write my thoughts out I have quickly realized that I can’t be honest with you without sharing details. SO — if you want to see it and don’t want to know why I think you shouldn’t bother, quit reading. If you want an honest opinion from a Christian who’s beginning to think that “to be able to talk with my friends who’ve seen it who want to question why it went down the way it did” isn’t a good enough reason, and that actually maybe I should avoid all Bible-Story movies like the plague (heh… plagues), keep reading.
So, here we go: If you’ve decided to stick with me, here are my thoughts.
As a Hollywood action movie, it was great. It was entertaining, it was visually stimulating, there was plenty of conflict, and there were daring action scenes where our hero had opportunities to make huge choices, and those choices impacted the outcome of the story.
Perfect set up, right? It also had a pretty solid cast…. though I struggled greatly with the believability of Christian Bale as Moses. I struggled the same way with the believability of Russell Crowe as Noah. They acted well, don’t get me wrong, but in this case… a Hebrew man living in Egypt just wouldn’t have looked like Christian Bale. Just…. no. I’ve been reading a lot lately about women and ethnic minorities and how they’re downplayed in Hollywood films…. and that this is precisely one of the ways it’s done. A movie that should likely have had someone of Egyptian descent play the main character just doesn’t because, well, Christian Bale sells. He is Batman, after all. I had a hard time getting past that one, I have to admit. And I wonder if I don’t need to be far more conscious of it, to the point of refusing to see a movie where a character who should clearly be represented BY a minority is played by a white man.
(As an add-on after I’ve read other reviews, I found this quote appalling, “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott says. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
When the downplaying of an entire ethnic group comes down to budget, my conscience has a hard time paying the man, and I regret having spent money on two tickets.)
I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be great when the Burning Bush wasn’t even really acknowledged, and a child appeared to Moses while he lay in a pile of mud assuming he was delusional. Turns out, the child is supposed to be Ridley Scott’s representation of God… Really? And the boy is British. God is a pre-adolescent British boy.
I knew it wasn’t going to be great when Moses left his staff with his son before returning to Pharaoh’s palace to work at freeing his people. I leaned over to the friend I went with and whispered “doesn’t he need that??” Turns out…. not if you’re Ridley Scott’s Moses. He didn’t use his staff at all…. because he left it with Gershom. He used the sword he was given by Pharaoh far more often. I guess that’s part of him playing him up as a soldier?
I think the biggest hang-up for me is how downplayed God was. This movie was the story of how Moses could save his people pretty much all on his own, with a little bit of input that he considered heeding from a kid that we assume is portraying maybe God…. maybe. Moses was a man who, the way I read the story in Exodus, was afraid of what God asked him to do… he was afraid he wasn’t a good enough public speaker and that no one would be convinced by him, so God provided Moses’ brother Aaron (who was hardly mentioned). Not so, here. Moses never once objected because he didn’t think anyone would listen to him. Instead, he burned down a bunch of Egyptian store houses (this is not what I remember!)
But… something that concerned me in all of this, is that I found myself caring more about the fate of Ramses than the fate of the Hebrew people… and that’s not at all where reading the account of Moses leaves me feeling. So I know that something’s not right when I’m left feeling sorry for Ramses. I know the point of view of Ramses isn’t one we’re often really afforded, but…. I don’t want to side with someone who was so absolutely resistant to a clear example of the will and power of God that he led many of his people to their own undoing and death through the ten plagues… which were knocked off in quick succession, after the messenger we presume is God tells Moses to “just watch for a bit.” Yeah… really? Just watch? I know that the God I serve is totally capable of having delivered His people from Ramses on His own, but if that was His plan, He’d never have gone to Moses. Leaving Moses on the sidelines for this was really frustrating.
And the Red Sea? Don’t get me started. Just don’t. How Moses got lost headed for the Red Sea to begin with is lost on me, because, well, God was there the entire time guiding the Hebrew people. Or at least He should have been. It’s akin to your GPS saying turn Left, then you turn Right and wonder how you got lost. But once again, God was absent in this. Moses got the people lost. Moses did it all on his own without God because apparently this isn’t a story of how God delivered His people through Moses. It’s a story of how Moses takes a suggestion from a pre-teen God-like figure and runs with it all on his own.
Oh… and the crocodiles in the Nile… I suppose that’s not a big detail, but… lots of crocodiles. Too many crocodiles. So many crocodiles….
Hear me: I know this was a Hollywood film. I know, I know… artistic license. Noah had Rock People, Exodus pretty much left God out. I get it. The real story probably wouldn’t sell very well… I get it. But just like all those movie-goers who read the book then end up livid because the movie ruined the book…. well, here I am.
Moses was supposed to be a man who overcame great struggle, great fear, and great adversity in the fight to have the Hebrew slaves living in Egypt freed and led into the Promised Land. This is not something the real Moses did on his own, and not something he did with God sitting on the sidelines. God revealed Himself VERY clearly to Moses, but this was very downplayed in the movie and it made me pretty upset.
As the Moses of the Bible fought to free his people, His reliance on the power of God was made very clear as well. Never was he told to just sit and watch. And each time something bad happened to Egypt, Moses returned to Ramses, and asked again and again for him to reconsider and to let his people go. Ramses’ heart was hardened so that God’s Glory could be displayed, but… we never see that in the movie.
I’m sure by now I’ve ruined the movie for you — but I ask respectfully that if you’re going to go see the movie despite everything I’ve said, you read Exodus first. I ask that you know the version of the story that God wanted His people to know.
I went for a conversation piece, and I got one. I haven’t wanted to blog a review of something so badly in a long time….
My fear though, is that you’ll go without heeding the warning of a Believer who grew up with this story, and you’ll take Hollywood’s version of God as who God is, and you’ll see Moses as the hero who did it all himself. While I understand Hollywood wanting to paint Christian Bale as a sweeping hero, this is just not the way I’ve ever read this story.
After I wrote my own review, I Googled some. I found two that I wanted to share with you. The first pretty much bang-on agrees with me, and the second provides some really clear fact-checking. It’s really evident in reading the second one just how ridiculously outrageous this film is.
And now I understand how all of you feel who read the books before you see the movies. You have my empathy from here on out. Well, from Noah on out, really, because… Rock People.