I think it is only fitting that my first blog post would be a review of the Ridley Scott directed movie Exodus: Gods and Kings after all, I have only been saying this should happen for over a decade now. I have wanted to see a return to the epic films that Hollywood used to make back in the days of The Ten Commandments, The Robe, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Ben-Hur. After seeing Gladiator for the first time back in 2000 (it was the first movie I ever saw multiple times in theaters) I knew that the time had come! And I knew I wanted Ridley Scott to lead the way! And I waited… and waited… and waited… I watched him do Blackhawk Down, I watched him do Kingdome of Heaven, I watched Robin Hood, I watched him hit everything else except what I wanted! I wanted to see grand stories of the Bible come to life in a way that I thought only Ridley Scott could do. So when I heard that he was going to be doing a movie called at the time, simply, Exodus, I was over the moon. I began to see a trend in movies going into development that the Bible was finally in! Movie studios where finally seeing the potential in these stories.
Then came Noah. I had very high hopes for Noah and to spite all the negativity surrounding the movie I still had high hopes. They were smashed as a sat and watched, not just a biblically inaccurate movie (which I was expecting) but a boring one at that. But all was not lost, Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors, there are only a hand full of Directors that I like enough to see any movie they put out and Ridley Scott is at the top of that very short list. I felt like there was enough time that they could learn from Noah.
Let me start by answering this very basic but important question. Did I like the film? I warn you that when it comes to Ridley Scott I seem to have a blind spot. Scott seems to be the only director that consistently does this to me. Many times I will see a Ridley Scott film and like it or even love it, then I realize I am in the minority. I really enjoyed Robin Hood, I enjoyed Kingdom of Heaven, Prometheus is one of my favorite sci-fi films, all these movies I enjoyed while most did not. With that warning, I answer, did I like Exodus: Gods and Kings? The Answer is yes! I did. I am aware that many critics did not. I heard there criticism and began to wonder if they were biased against it because of its topic, The Bible, but Christians began to share the same views as the critics. It became clear to me that I might have watched this movie with my Ridley Scott loving glasses on. So I put off writing this review until I could chew over the movie some more. After much thought, some aspects of the film I enjoyed even more after thinking about them and some I enjoyed less. Let me break them down for you.
Was this movie biblically faithful? You see, I understand that in order to put together a good movie, sometimes you need to take liberties. I am of the firm opinion that when it comes to Biblical adaptations that it should be easier than some people make it out to be. For example, Genesis gives us an outline of events to make a Noah film . What would I have enjoyed seeing? I wanted a movie that hits the points of the outline while creating a human story within those points. What did I get? I got a story that messed with the points of the outline, rearranged them, inserting a message the director wanted to get out that really seemed forced. To the point that if the role was reversed and this was a secular story that a Christian Director played with to tell a Christian message people would have accused him of being “preachy.” I felt like Aronofsky had a message he wanted to tell and he used a story he never intended to take seriously to further his message.
So, did Exodus hit the points of the “outline” in the Bible. Not even close! If you go into the film expecting a faithful or even semi-faithful telling of Exodus you will be very disappointed.
So now, the question then needs to become, was the story they told good? Since a director would say that they take liberties to tell a good story. Well, this is a more difficult question. Here is how I would answer it, the story was good, but poorly told. This is the aspect that I needed to take of my Ridley Scott glasses to see. If I judge the story of the movie removing from my mind the story from the Bible I would say that the story had some good ideas. Some ideas that I think could have worked well even within the outline already provided but it was told in a rushed and choppy way.
For example, the potential was there for a great epic romance between Moses and his wife Zipporah. Instead, they flirt at a watering well, cut scene, they are married. Even with my Ridley Scott loving glasses on in the theater I remember it was jarring.
One of the things I was most excited about seeing was the plagues. If anything in this story lends itself to the unique eye that Scott brings it is the plagues but, they felt rushed. It was such a short segment of the film, they did in fact look great but I wanted them more spread out. Peppered throughout the story. Instead you will most likely see on the blu-ray a chapter called “The Plagues.”
Would you like to see the show down between Moses and Pharaohs magicians? Too bad. It is not there. Moses staff? Nope. Burning bush? Well… yes… kind of, maybe… in a scene that is left up to the viewer to interpret the burning bush scene could have been a vision or it could have been physical.
SO WHY DID YOU LIKE IT?
After all these things, you might ask me why I still say I enjoyed the movie. Well, I will try to convey to you way:
- First, I honestly tell you it is because there is something about a Ridley Scott film that resonates with me like no other director can. I can’t put my finger on it. I know part of it is that his movies are just so beautiful that I wish all movies would look as fantastic as his. Exodus certainly would be proof of that.
- The Second reason, there was nothing that seemed anti-religion.
- The Third, the story was taken seriously. There was no attempt to make it seem like a myth. It was not set in a fantasy world, it was set in our world.
Now that I write those out it seem like a shorter list than what was originally in my head but let me expand on my second point. You see, as a Pastor viewing the film, I very much felt like I was sitting next to Ridley Scott as he honestly tried to wrestle with scripture. He tried to figure out why people believe, maybe what would help him believe. It seemed he approached the story by asking himself “If this is indeed real, how might it have looked?” I felt like Ridley Scott was sitting there wanting to have a biblical conversation about the story and he wanted to have that conversation with me. I wanted to say “Ok, Ridley, let’s go get some coffee and talk this over.”
I felt quite the opposite from how I felt when I left Noah. When I left Noah I felt preached at. I felt like Darran Aronofsky would have rolled his eyes at me and said “You don’t actually want me to take this story seriously, do you?” I felt like he took Noah and said “Well, since this story is so outdates and no one could possibly believe it, I will tell a fantasy story and insert my environmental views in it while also showing you images of how things really went down as the fanciful main character tells his myth.” Aronofsky’s approach was much less honest, respectful and shall I even say, conversational. When I say conversational, I mean that felt like we wouldn’t have been able to have a conversation because it would have become a shouting match as he rolls his eyes at me and scoffs at everything I say.
But back to Exodus. If felt that it was told by an atheist, not an anti-theist. Let me explain why I felt this way. Some people have mentioned that they hated the fact that the conversations with God (or the boy playing God who was not really suppose to be God but rather a messenger named Malak, which is Hebrew for Angle or Messenger) seemed like hallucinations. Well, sometimes in life, as Christians we can have times that we are confident God is speaking to us, then people will begin to talk us out of it and we begin to doubt ourselves. I personally really related to this and did not view this as Scott making a statement that God was a hallucination. The proof of this is that things happened when the “hallucination” acted. The plagues began when Malak nodded, Moses had inside knowledge of coming events. Hallucinations can’t make things happen and they certainly can’t predict the future.
Also, one line in the movie really hit me had. I loved it so much it might have helped improve my view of the movie simply by being in the movie. Moses was given the warning that the plague of death was coming. He was given instructions on how to keep people from falling victim by sacrificing a lamb and putting the blood around your doors. The Israelites had the question of “How can we believe you?” Moses answers “If I am wrong pity the lamb, but if I am right, the lamb bless us forever!” It was in my opinion the greatest part of the movie.
Glenn Beck mentioned that when Moses got to the Red Sea he becomes frustrated and throws his sword into the water in anger. Though I like to hear Glenn Beck’s take on things, sometimes I agree, sometimes I do not, this is one time I think Beck completely misunderstood the situation. Moses does not throw his sword in frustration at God, the sword was the last thing he was holding onto from his Egyptian life. Moses throws that away. Symbolically showing that Moses was embracing his Hebrew self and leaving his Egyptian self behind. It was this relinquishing that begins the, albeit very slow, parting of the sea. In life we often say we are giving God everything but we seem to like to try to find a way to hold on to our old life to but when we finally let go of that last part God will do great things in our lives.
Did I like the film? Yes. Will everyone like the film? No. Is that ok? Yes. The movie hit me in a certain way that it might not hit other people, that is fine, it is the wonderful thing about movies but with that in mind, I would ask that you leave room for those who do like it. They can like it and still love Jesus. To like this film is not to disrespect the Bible. I would have preferred they went a different direction. If I was sitting next to Ridley Scott while making the film there would have been many times I would have voiced my dislike of aspects of his film but I was not there. This movie was made, I liked some things, I didn’t like others. Everyone needs to find something to do with that. For me, I am going to look at the good things in it. I will use the movie to bring up conversations about “that lamb that bless us forever.” Just like I would have done if I found any enjoyment in the Noah movie. Which I did not.
Grace and Peace to all of you from God our Father!