If you were an atheist who wanted to ride the Bible movie craze and did not really care about the material or the beliefs of a few billion people, you’d make Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie.
If you were an atheist who wanted to ride the Bible movie craze and thought it necessary to be respectful of the beliefs of a few billion people, you’d make Ridley Scott’s Exodus.
The movie is not without its faults. But I enjoyed it and came away a bit disappointed from a faith perspective, but entertained and not insulted as a movie goer. To understand why requires some mild spoilers.
If you were an atheist, or at least not a person of faith, and wanted to do a movie about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, your movie would look a lot like Ridley Scott’s movie. In other words, you could not avoid God, but you’d minimize him and play up natural phenomena as explanations for the plagues as best you could.
And that’s where the movie is interesting.
In Noah, the lead character is a psychopath and the deity is a delusion and dream. In Exodus, the lead character is a psychopath too and God comes in the form of a boy first seen in a delusion following a rock slide on a mountain.
But they cannot stop there. God could be a delusion for Noah, but he cannot for Moses because of the ongoing interaction. He is minimized, but is not the bit player as in Noah. God appears throughout the movie as a boy. The effect is to make Him seem both juvenile and prone to tantrum. At least that is how it starts.
But God’s hand is always present in the movie. God may not always be seen, and he may be an abstraction, but he is there. The Passover is, for instance, given short shrift, but it is clearly the work of a Deity and that is not minimized. When Pharaoh confronts Moses while carrying his dead child, he yells that only fanatics could worship a god who kills kids. You get the sense that both actors — Joel Edgerton as Pharaoh and Christian Bale as Moses — really believed that.
But then Moses says no Hebrew children died. And the God who’d been being built up as some tantrum prone, vengeful child suddenly looks like a real god worth worshipping.
I have to tell you that I was starting to check out of the movie. It disappointed me from a faith perspective and seemed to really get stuff wrong. But there was a moment that changed my mind. Moses laying on the beach is the scene.
I finally realized that what I liked least about the movie was its twist on an old tale. This is not a movie about breaking Pharaoh. This is a movie about breaking Moses. The Prince of Egypt who believes in no god must be broken to the point he must rely on the one true God. That moment on the beach when Moses finally realizes God is really real and really knows what he is doing sealed the deal for me.
I could buy in, then, to the unbelievers who made the movie using natural forces to part the red sea because I, like Moses, had by then bought into it being God using those natural forces.
The movie certainly left me with a sense of disappointment. God was so much more in the real life version than He is in this movie. Moses’s family too played a bigger role in reality than in the movie. Some of the miracles were miracles that could not be explained by natural forces, but Ridley Scott tried to squeeze them into that —- a person of shallow or no faith trying to make sense of it all. And I have to respect that because he tried very hard to not disrespect my faith.
Stepping back from the religious aspect, I think John Turturro as Seti was terribly cast. He, the great Seti, seemed always on the verge of a Monty Python skit breaking out. Sigourney Weaver was completely underused. It was flat out disappointing in how little she was used.
Joel Edgerton as Pharaoh upstaged and out shined Christian Bale as Moses. Edgerton was really good. Really good. Bale was alright, but he just never seemed to buy into his role. I was okay with the kid playing God, but I think God would have had more gravitas and presence than that kid did. It was plausible that Moses would follow God’s orders, but implausible that the kid God would really be taken seriously.
The movie had issues. It had issues relating to how it treated the subject as a faith subject and it had issues as a movie in general. It will not go down as memorable take of the Exodus tale. It will not go down as a memorable movie.
But it is not going to insult you as a believer and as a movie it will still mostly entertain you. I enjoyed it for what it was — an industry of atheists trying to profit from the Bible, but doing so by treating my faith honestly and trying to make sense of it, even the parts that make little sense but still define it.