Exodus: Gods and Kings

Exodus: Gods and Kings ★★★

Film #3000 Logged & Rated on Letterboxd.com

Anyone who ever attended a Bible class at Sunday School knows the story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt to the promised land. I didn't expect any real surprises in director Ridley Scott's film based upon the Book of Exodus, but I was certainly interested to see how he interpreted the story on film.

Ever the revisionist, Scott chose to ignore the the hiding of baby Moses in the bullrushes. He starts his tale somewhere around Exodus 2:10. Moses (Christian Bale) is fully grown and heading off to fight the Hittites with Prince Ramses (Joel Edgerton), with whom he was raised by the Pharaoh's daughter like an adopted cousin. Starting here allows a battle sequence to be introduced early, and we certainly know how the director likes his blockbuster action scenes.

Scott also uses a Hebrew elder named Nun (Ben Kingsley) to reveal the truth of Moses's birth and cause him to flee from Memphis to exile in the land of Midian. Of course, be sure toss in an ambush along the way to keep things lively.

The meeting of Moses at the well with his future bride Zipporah (María Valverde) is portrayed pretty much exactly as written in Exodus 2:15~21. But surprisingly it takes about 50 minutes to get to this point, indicative of the amount of "background" that had to be invented.

Much like the Bible skipping ahead to Chapter 3, the story leaps forward nine years to Moses taking the flock of his father-in-law Jethro (Kevork Malikyan) to Horeb, the "forbidden" mountain of God. Here, the scriptwriters got creative, having Moses caught in a storm and a mudslide that breaks his leg and knocks him unconscious. When he comes to, he see the famous "burning bush" and receives his marching orders from I AM to "bring the children of Israel out of Egypt" a la Exodus 3:10.

Needless to say, it's not exactly as the Old Testament relates it. Of particular note, the "signs" are missing here, leaving open the possibility that it was all just a dream or a delirious hallucination.

The pace quickens after Moses returns to Egypt and is refused by Ramses. The Biblical plagues swiftly come to pass. However, it's not Moses inflicting them on God's behalf. In fact, his plan was to arm the slaves and incite a revolt. But I AM tells him that's too slow, so just hang back and "watch" as the waters are contaminated by blood, fish die, crops fail, frogs invade, animals fall ill, locusts attack... all of the calamities described in Chapters 7~10... leading to the terrible final solution of Chapters 11~12.

"No Hebrew child died last night." ~ Moses

In the last 40 minutes, there's the exodus. As we know, Ramses chases the Hebrews with his army all the way to the Red Sea, intent on slaying every one of them. But then the miraculous happens and the waters part to allow the refugees to escape ... not exactly the way Charlton Heston got it done as Moses in "The Ten Commandments" (1956), but in a way that fits Scott's "realistic" interpretation. Unfortunately, that only takes the story up to about Chapter 15, so in the final ten minutes Scott glosses over the remaining 25 chapters, leaving me (and I'm sure a lot of other folks) feeling sort of cheated. And I've seen no mention of an intended sequel.

Also cast in this film with no significant impact are John Turturro as Seti, Sigourney Weaver as Tuya, Aaron Paul as Joshua and Andrew Tarbet as Aaron, among others. It doesn't surprise me that this pretty much fizzled at the U.S. box office, although it still managed to earn a reasonable profit on worldwide gross business. I had considered going to see this on the big screen, but now I'm really glad I didn't.

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