Exodus Gods and Kings is a biblically-inspired epic based on The Book of Exodus. The film is directed by Ridley Scott.
The movie takes place in 1300 BCE (Before Current Era, instead of the more biblically-based Before Christ), in the 400th year of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt. Despite their oppression, the introduction insists that the Hebrews have not abandoned their God and God had not forgotten them.
Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) gather in Pharaoh Seti’s (John Turturro) palace in preparation of an attack on the Hittite army. A seer declares a prophecy of a leader emerging following the battle, which is met with skepticism from Moses. Seti gifts swords to Ramesses and Moses as a symbol of their fraternity. Following the battle, Moses offers to visit Pithom in Ramesses’s place and interrogate the Hebrew elders. Along the way, he comes across a defiant slave by the name of Joshua (Aaron Paul) who claims to feel no pain under Egyptian whips. Among the Hebrew elders is Nun (Ben Kingsley), who privately tells Moses of his past and lineage. Moses is ultimately confronted by Ramesses and his mother Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) and exiled. Moses finds a village outside of Canaan and lives peacefully with Zipporah (Maria Valverde), whom he eventually marries and has a child. Many years later, Moses climbs a mountain to gather some sheep when he gets hurt in a rockslide. He witnesses a burning bush and a young boy tells him of his destiny to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt.
With the characters being based on the famous Bible story, there’s a lot to draw from and there are a lot of spaces where character development can come up. While the characters are for the most part distinct, the development seems arbitrary to appease a secular or skeptical audience. Right away Moses is skeptical for the sake of being skeptical, despite being raised in an environment where seers and prayers to gods are commonplace. It’s brought up later in the film and seems just as unnecessary. Ramesses seems very confusing, wanting the power of the Pharaoh but having no interest in the responsibility. Then when the movie returns to Egypt, he’s accepting every part of the role of Pharaoh without any personal conflict.
Something that’s been brought up on social networks and news media is the idea of race in the movie. It stands to reason that the entire movie taking place in Egypt would have people of very similar skin color. While the extras range from tan to dark skin, a majority of the main cast are played by Caucasian actors (except Ben Kingsley, who’s Indian). At times, you can’t tell because everyone is covered in sand or in a dark atmosphere. The official reason, given by director Ridley Scott, was in regard to attracting an audience with recognizable actors.
Finally, there’s a problem with the female characters in this movie. There’s less than half a dozen women with significant roles in the movie, and collectively only have like 20 lines of dialogue. Miriam, Moses’s biological sister, has two scenes in the movie that wouldn’t have been lost on the audience if they were cut out completely. Queen Tuya is seen but barely heard, having Ramesses relaying messages on her behalf for most of the scenes involving her. With an actor like Sigourney Weaver, it’s almost insulting to have her lines spoken by someone else. These female characters have importance, but were set aside to focus on the relationship between Moses and Ramesses.
“I’m too busy fighting aliens to take command of this scene.”
For the sake of audience convenience, the entire movie is in English and not Egyptian or Hebrew. I don’t have a problem with that. In a few instances, Hebrew is seen in written form. However, for the sake of authenticity, accents are used for the setting. It seems that the accent is predominantly English, with occasional slips into a more Middle-Eastern accent. The accent didn’t bother me so much as the inconsistency. If an actor makes a choice, the least they could do is stick with it. The only one who seemed to stick to their accent choice was Christian Bale, and many of those time he was shouting too loud to pick up on anything.
“Swear to me!”
Oh hey, it’s a Bible story. So all of the elements of belief in God, faith, and doubt are all present. On a human level, the relationship between Moses and Ramesses has the most importance at the start of the movie and deconstructs upon Moses’s return. There doesn’t seem to be any allegory because it’s all much more blatant, like the previous Bible epic Noah, from earlier this year. They are still enjoyable, but the problems that stem from the biblical elements is trying to put them into a more realistic spin on the miraculous events of the Exodus story. In an attempt to reach out to the faithful as well as the secular, it instead alienates both.
There’s no licensed music tied to this movie. The entirety of the movie soundtrack is scored by Alberto Iglesias. The music features something to the effect of Gregorian chants and sweeping orchestral pieces. It’s most apparent in the battle scenes and the flight from Egypt, but almost unnoticeable in the small dialogue scenes.
I had a lot of high hopes with this movie, considering the multitude of plagues that I know would happen in the back half of the plot. With such a big budget, the effects were enjoyable, but not overwhelming. A majority of the effects were wide shots, ruining any suspension of disbelief. The close shots of some of the plagues (frogs, in particular) seemed the most realistic as well as the practical effects of hail.
Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton were the pulls for the movie, having the most screen time and spoken lines. Ben Kingsley acts as a catalyzing force as the Hebrew elder telling Moses of his destiny. Aaron Paul, coming off his huge success in Breaking Bad, plays the role of Joshua, an important role in the context of the Exodus book but much less so in the movie. Sigourney Weaver, perhaps most famous for a different Ridley Scott film (you know which one, don’t play that game), has a role so small she may as well have not been in the movie, which is a shame. The man on the far left of the photo is Ben Mendelsohn, a minor player in films as A Place Beyond the Pines and The Dark Knight Rises. He plays the viceroy tending to matters of the Hebrew slaves.
In an interesting attempt to attract the faithful and skeptical, the film rationalizes some of the miracles found in the original story. To me, it felt as though the rationalization denies the faithful of the majesty God is capable of, and the fact that some things are left without explanation gives the audience (or perhaps just myself) a lingering thought of why some of the plagues needed to be rationalized in the first place.
In it’s attempt to reach a wider audience, it pulls the necessary elements to maintain the attention of one or the other.
I’ve already said my piece about the movie in the previous segments, so I’ll make this part brief. It was a well-intentioned and expensive attempt to revitalize the story of Moses. But honestly, you’d get a much more concise story in the animated movie The Prince of Egypt made by Dreamworks almost 20 years ago.
Much like previous adaptations of the story of Moses, most of the exchanges between Moses and Ramesses were cut out. Each plague was brought about when the latter refused to let the Hebrews leave Egypt. It cuts out a lot of unnecessary scenes in the context of a movie, since most people remember the story of the plagues coming one after the other after a single denial anyway. A majority of the movie takes several licences with what happened in between major events of the story as well as developing Moses in a different manner than the biblical story.
SPOILER WARNING, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
*Moses is presented as a military general with a natural ability to lead people.
*God manifests as a young boy in Moses’s vision instead of a disembodied voice in the presence of a burning bush, though the bush is still present on their first meeting.
*Many of the first plagues are rationalized, such as the river being tainted by an overflow of blood caused by a crocodile attack.
*Aaron, biological brother of Moses, is nowhere to be seen in the film. In the original, Aaron serves as a successor after Moses dies.
*Moses trains dozens of Hebrews how to handle weapons before God unleashes his plagues.
*Moses is portrayed as skeptical of not only God, but the Egyptian religion he grew up with.
*…And I’m sure there are more that I can’t remember.
Much like Noah before it, the movie’s artistic license makes the story much more interesting at the cost of it being “inauthentic” to its source.