This is not the Charlton Heston movie you may remember… In fact, if you are a regular reader and remember my recent “Exodus Abridged” series, you will have a clearer idea of what this movie is about than most walking into that theater. It is not romantic, and at times it is not pleasant; this movie, while handling the story of Exodus, does not shy away from the human cost of God’s freeing of the Hebrew slaves.
You may recall that in the story of Exodus, God’s plagues are not targeted; He would plague the Hebrew people as easily and often as He would plague the Egyptians. The curse of the blood was said to make the whole of Egypt smell of rot, and that happened. The mountains of dead frogs and plague of gnats and flies are portrayed in suitably horrifying ways, the plague of disease has a massive cost, and Ridley Scott does not shy away from showing the suffering of the Egyptian people as a result, and the curse of the firstborn, for which the passover feast is celebrated is–difficult to watch, for anyone with a strong sense of empathy. It is often said no parent should have to watch their child pass before them, but here we watch an entire nation mourn.
It is from this point of view that it is difficult to really question Pharaoh’s decision to follow the Israelites and attempt to kill them; his was a nation in mourning, a soul crushing sadness, a grief that would affect even the most hardened soul.
Theological criticism has been levied towards the fact that a question is raised by the movie as to whether Moses hallucinated his conversations with God, though no question as to the intervention of God is left open. I think this should certainly count for something. I… Could it be said to be called enjoyment? In any case, the method by which the Nile is turned to blood is what I would expect to see of an all powerful God who wanted to strike the fear of God into a nation. I won’t spoil the method, as that is the joy of watching the movie. You know the plot, I should think, so my description should hardly come as a spoiler.
While Christian Bale may have said Moses was a terrorist, Moses is portrayed mostly as a moral man, a good man. When the first of the plagues strikes, it is Moses that criticises God; “Why do you send the plagues on Egypt and on Israel together? Your own people suffer!” This becomes something of a theme in the latter half of the movie, as God tells Moses “I like you, for you are willing to disagree with me.” This thought comes directly from the Bible, and I am glad that Ridley had the cajones to include it; many Christians that I know and are friends with certainly did not know that people routinely talked back to God in the Old Testament, and I am afraid they will consider this a Hollywood choice rather than something that comes from the Bible.
Ultimately, this is a movie about three things; humans doing human things, suffering, and the power of God. What it says about the personality of God is left up to the watcher, as in the Bible it is left for the reader to decide. In my personal opinion, this movie says the same thing about God that the Bible does, and I certainly don’t think it is a romantic message in any case.
For whatever reason, much has been said by those around me as to the presence (rather, the lack of presence) of the Staff of God. The staff from the Bible that Moses used to win battles, cast miracles, and turn into a snake. There is no snake scene in this; the first plague is that of the bloody Nile. All of the subsequent plagues are in full display, too, and if you are squeamish you may not like some of the following. Mountains of dead frogs, as I mentioned, as well as gnats, flies, diseased cattle, plagued people, locusts, even the curse of darkness is displayed momentarily, and the plague of great hail is seen to crush Egyptians and any Hebrews unlucky enough to be outside when it begins (and in this tale, there was no advance warning as was given in the original book of Exodus).
Moses does not approach Pharaoh between the plagues. He approaches Ramses once, and basically says God is going to wreck his day until he releases the Hebrew slaves, and the message is left at that. Once God starts with the plagues, Moses asked “What do you want me to do?”
God replies succinctly: “Watch.”
There are no brakes on the plague train.
In the end, we see Moses crafting the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant. If you are of the Biblical mind, you know where the ending leads… If you are there to watch a Hollywood movie, there are lots of unresolved plot threads, though you are left with a somewhat positive outlook. You don’t know that Moses was about to have several of his own people killed by the Levites, for example. There is also no mention of the subsequent 40 year desert journey.
As far as the movie goes, I very much enjoyed it. While a more human take on the whole tale than many would want, it truly captures the tale in a powerful and emotional way.
If you are open minded about your own religion, I definitely recommend it. If you want a modern retelling of The Ten Commandments, you are probably in the wrong theater.
If you are looking for a more objective review of the movie, I wrote another review over at Guardians of Geek. Take a read, or just browse the site if you are into nerdier fare!