Leans away from the biblical narrative
|Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations|
|Family Viewing Suitability|
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With its skeptical take on faith, religion and God’s always sovereign and sometimes supernatural hand in history, 20th Century Fox’s highly anticipated release of EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS on December 12th in theaters nationwide will likely disappoint faith audiences. The film will trouble those who take the biblical story about Moses and the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrews from 400 years of slavery in Egypt seriously.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner) and starring Christian Bale (The Fighter, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) as Moses, Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) as Ramses, and Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Schindler’s List) as Nun, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS offers high-octane stars and impressive computer generated imagery, but ultimately misses the mark with its dull and plodding pacing and a highly revisionist portrayal of God. In this portrayal, God is largely unnecessary and leaves you wondering if he is perhaps a figment of Moses’ imagination.
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance
The historical account described in great detail in the Book of Exodus, is foundational to both Judaism and Christianity. For Jews, their cries to God forged during centuries of slavery in Egypt provide the context for Israel’s formation as a people and God’s miraculous and sovereign showdown with Egypt’s false and impotent gods. The Book of Exodus culminates in the harrowing events of the Passover and exodus through the Red Sea on dry ground with the Egyptian army in hot pursuit. For Christians, this narrative points to Jesus (who hears the cries of humans made in the image of God yet who are trapped in the bondage of sin and false gods) who ultimately redeems as the Passover Lamb and delivers them through the turbulent seas of life to the Promised Land.
While some of these core themes come through faintly in EXODUS: GOD AND KINGS, the story significantly departs from the biblical focus on God’s sovereignty and instead centers on the non-biblical brotherly relationship between Moses and Pharaoh’s son, Ramses—around which the drama unfolds. Here, all sorts of liberties are taken with the biblical text to propel the story and the supernatural events surrounding the plagues and parting of the Red Sea are largely portrayed as coincidental or are given naturalistic explanations. This is not the Bible’s spiritual battle between the all-glorious sovereign God and Pharaoh with his impotent gods, but between two very intense men, Moses and Ramses.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships
Few of the relationships portrayed in EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS follow the biblical narrative. Most significantly, God is portrayed not as the holy, fear- and awe-inspiring, all-consuming, shekinah-glory Yahweh of the Bible but rather as an unreliable, non-sovereign, petulant eleven-year-old boy with whom Moses approaches with casualness, irreverence, callousness, parity and free will.
Beyond this, Moses’ older sister Miriam is shown to have also been raised in the household of Pharaoh and when Moses is exiled (not flees) from Egypt, she remains in the palace and does not reappear in the story. Brother Aaron, who plays a key role in the biblical text, is an afterthought—never appearing alongside Moses before Pharaoh to articulate the words of God as taught in the Bible.
Given that artistic license has been taken to create the central relationship of the film—between Moses and Ramses—very little in the story reflects the biblical account of Moses’ God-directed interactions with Pharaoh. Instead, the film depicts Moses’ return from Midian to lead what essentially is a guerilla war against the Egyptians by the increasingly rebellious and empowered Hebrews—an insurrection that no one but director Scott has previously envisioned.
On a positive note, Moses’ happy relationships in Midian with his wife Zipporah, son Gershom, and father-in-law Jethro are relatively consistent with Scripture—with Jethro depicted as a good and hospitable man and Moses’ love for Zipporah and Gershom faithful and enduring.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations
For a movie that takes great liberties with the biblical text, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS manages to get a few details correct. From an economic point of view, the Egyptians are concerned about the explosive growth of the Hebrew population as a source for manual labor and legitimately fear that they could rise up and become uncontrollable. Their increasingly harsh treatment of the Hebrews—including larger brick quotas without straw provided—is recorded similarly in Scripture.
The successive ordering of the plagues is largely consistent with biblical teaching, although the key conversations between Moses and Aaron communicating God’s clearly directed words to Pharaoh are completely omitted. And the astonishing wealth of Egypt as the world’s greatest superpower—with grand, monumental building projects and a high level of civilization, is accurately depicted.
In other key areas, however, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS misses the mark. Rather than spending 40 years in Midian before returning to Egypt to confront Pharaoh at age 80, Moses returns after only nine years—and only shows signs of aging at the end of the film as the Israelites are in the desert, where God’s continual presence is not shown. There is no cloud by day, or pillar of fire by night, or any indication of manna, or the gold, silver and other riches that the Bible teaches were freely given to them by the Egyptians on their departure from Egypt. It leaves those who know the biblical account wondering how the Israelites will ultimately build God’s tabernacle. The film’s depiction of a rag-tag herd of refugees—totally absent the riches they took from Egypt, leaving them with nothing to fulfill their destiny of building the tabernacle and all its instruments of worship.
Significantly, the burning bush scene when Moses first encounters God as a child is set in the context of Moses’ journey up the mountain in a rain storm, which triggers a landslide that sweeps Moses downward and results in his being hit on the head by rocks. He is left submerged in mud except for his face—suggesting that perhaps Moses’ ongoing conversations with God are injury-induced hallucinations or the fantastical imaginings of a schizophrenic. And when Moses is on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, it is Moses and not the “finger of God” writing them—without any hint of the blinding glory of God’s presence. In fact God’s portrayal is never that of a sovereign God of magnificent and overwhelming glory. To the contrary, he is depicted as a somewhat dirty young boy who chats with Moses while serving tea.
Finally, the parting of the Red Sea is depicted to be the result of a meteor that strikes Earth and causes a massive outflow of water, allowing the Hebrews to pass through, not on dry ground as Scripture teaches, but through waters of varying levels—sometimes up to chest deep. The sea’s parting surprises Moses as if it’s a coincidence despite the fact that the biblical text clearly teaches that God instructed Moses to part the sea by raising His staff. Similarly throughout the movie, there is little clear connection between God, Moses, and the miracles and plagues.
In straining to find a plausible natural explanation for the miracle, Ridley Scott whips up a series of waterspouts to force the waters back upon the pursuing Egyptians—swallowing up not only their army, but also Moses and Ramses. And it's at this point that Scott ironically allows for the truly miraculous to occur: Both Moses and Ramses survive being overtaken by the Red Sea and pop up on opposite shores.
Family Viewing Suitability
With an MPAA rating of PG-13, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is suitable for teens and up. The brutal conditions of slavery are depicted realistically with Hebrew men shown shirtless and being whipped and flogged. As Ramses becomes increasingly concerned about a coordinated Hebrew uprising, he orders the public hanging of whole families on a daily basis.
On the plus side, there is no sex or profanity and the recitation of marriage vows between Moses and Zipporah—along with the loving, respectful manner in which they proceed toward consummation—offers a rare, emotionally stirring moment in the film.
At 150 minutes in length, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is an overly long, somewhat slow-paced, but nevertheless entertaining, cinematically sweeping epic that’s best seen in 3-D. However, Faith Driven Consumers looking for a feel-good, big-budget, action-oriented film that tracks closely with a biblical theme will be disappointed in EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. Although the outlines of the biblical narrative in the Book of Exodus are present, the film’s literally hundreds of departures from Scripture may be too many to make up for the high production levels, academy-award winning cast and impressive special effects. The movie makes a reasonable effort to reflect the “what happens” and “how it happens” of the biblical account. Unfortunately, it completely eviscerates the “why it happens”—the true meaning of the story and its purpose for humankind.