The story of Moses retold through the eyes of secular humanists, atheists and agnostics. Okay, it wasn’t as explicitly subversive as Noah, and I liked it somewhat, but it wasn’t a great movie, it was only a good movie. Is it offensive to the Christian worldview? Not entirely, but yes, though I suspect more Christians will enjoy this movie, even with its failings, than the horribly-done and anti-Biblical Noah movie.
For those familiar with the Biblical story, there are some moving moments of emotion such as every scene with Ben Kingsley as Nun, a patriarch of Israel. But also Moses’ final acceptance of his people. And of course, the plagues are quite spectacular.
The story opens with Moses as an adult and a general in the Egyptian army. The Bible doesn’t say what Moses was in the service of Egypt, so this is a logical choice for an action movie, and it will come into play later as a powerful display of man’s failure to achieve through his strength what only God himself can achieve in the Exodus.
We see Moses as beloved of the Emperor over his true son Commodus — Er, wait, was this Gladiator? Oh no, I mean Moses was beloved of the Pharoah over his true son Ramses. When Moses discovers who he is, and then Ramses discovers who he is, Moses is exiled.
Oh, all the details are trivial, let’s get to the plagues!
The point is, the story is about the rivalry between two men brought up almost as brothers and how their religious identities tear them apart. Pretty cool idea, but it didn’t engage me. I didn’t believe it. Joel Edgerton is much more believable than the terribly weak cuts they used of him in the trailer. But Christian Bale seems distant, even in his romance with his wife Zipporah. He is a great actor for cold, alienating or removed characters (like American Psycho) but Moses is a man of passionate extremes. This makes it hard to care much for the human drama of the story, especially his unromantic romance with Zipporah.
Could this be because Bale was trying to play his Moses as a “schizophrenic barbarian”? The Moses in this movie does struggle with faith in God, which is Biblically fair, and he becomes more ragged and crazy looking over time, but he never crosses that border into madness that is so typical of secular interpretations of prophets. So maybe that was just Bale’s own madness in his pursuit of some kind of method acting technique. A caveat here is that it’s a great technique to make a prophet appear to be mad to the populace, when he is actually right. That kind of irony is standard storytelling technique. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Scott actually does consider Moses a crazy leader, considering his portrayal of God as well.
The problem is that Bale’s Moses never really emotionally connects with anyone, not even God. But then, God isn’t very engaging either. And maybe this is where it starts to feel off. There is a lot of intimate and engaging relationship between Moses and Yahweh in the Bible, but in this story, Moses doesn’t talk much to God and he never seems to know if he is in fact talking to God, since he alone can see him.
And God appears as a temperamental ten year old child.
A word to all you Hollywood kiss-ass Christians who want to be accepted by the “cool” secular community: It is not merely “Fundamentalist Phariseeism” to critique the God of the movie. (One could even say defending Hollywood without discernment would be like Sadducees. Pharisees aren’t too fair, you see, but Sadducees are quite sad, you see). After all is said and done, God is everything. So, yes, we care how our God is portrayed.
Now we all know that you can’t put everything in the Bible in the movie and you have to make some changes for the sake of the movie story. But the problem with this god is not merely that it does not follow the relationship as depicted in the Bible, but for mere storytelling as well, it is an alienating unfulfilling relationship. Yes, Moses had his times of arguing with Yahweh in the Scriptures, but he also communed with him. In this movie, he does not. Even apart from the Biblical text, this simply isn’t a fulfilling relationship. It is cold and distant. But then again, I would expect that atheists, agnostics and secular humanist storytellers do not understand how to portray such communing relationship because they have no experience to go by. After all, they don’t even believe it exists.
The Depiction of God’s Presence
Okay, everyone knows how difficult it is to depict God’s presence in a film, and Ridley Scott has my sympathies. We all acknowledge that the Old Hollywood way of having a disembodied voice is visually less engaging. God did appear as the “Angel of Yahweh” in many instances in the Bible, so showing him as a human figure is Biblical and works (The name of the character in the credits is “Malak” which is the Hebrew word for Angel. The Angel of Yahweh in the Bible is “Malak Yahweh” in Hebrew). Scott has said he liked the idea of a child being innocent and pure. But in contrast, the child in his movie is quite precocious and temperamental, so I think he is not being entirely forthright with us. I think he is trying to sell us.
Again, the Bible definitely shows God getting angry, so I wouldn’t complain about that. And a child is certainly a creative choice that defies expectations, which is not inherently bad either. But watching this, you can’t help but see this impetuous child as being the incarnation of what secular humanists, agnostics and atheists like Scott and the others who wrote the movie think about the Biblical God: A tantrum throwing childish deity. This is even what many village atheists have accused the Biblical God of being in an attempt to ridicule or mock him. So I think Hollywood suck-up Christians who try to accept this incarnation as “thought-provoking,” “unique,” “conversation-starting” are just fooling themselves. The atheist and agnostic secular filmmakers are deconstructing the God of the Bible.
To read the rest of Brian Godawa’s review of Exodus: Gods and Kings go to Godawa.com