Exodus Gods and Kings – movie review

Exodus Gods and Kings opened last weekend in both D3 and regular wide screen. We were a little wary of seeing another Hollywood Biblical Epoch this year. The last Bible movie we saw was Noah which was so bad we gave it our lowest rating of 1 Star.

However, Exodus Gods and Kings turned out to be excellent. It is, of course, the story of Moses confronting the Pharaoh of Egypt and demanding that the Jews be set free. Much of the film is spent on the back story of the relationship between Moses and Ramesses II (The Pharaoh).  They grew up together almost as brothers with Ramesses destined to become Pharaoh and Moses becoming the head general of the Egyptian army.  The Hebrews are slaves and are treated cruelly as they build pyramids.

Exodus 5Quite by accident, Moses discovers that he is actually Jewish, which causes him to question his whole existence, and the treatment of the Hebrew slaves.

Interestingly, although this version has been used in a number of movie and T.V. versions of Moses, this is not really what it says in The Bible. In fact, The Bible is rather vague on exactly how Moses grew up. The Bible does say that Ramesses II sister had adopted Moses as a baby.  So it is possible that Moses and Ramesses II grew up as brothers. It just never actually says that. The Bible does say that Ramesses II sister was completely aware from the beginning that Moses was Jewish. It never says when or if she ever told Moses. So again the film version is one possible interpretation of the story.

In the film, Ramesses II banishes Moses when Ramesses II finds out Moses is a Hebrew. In The Bible, Moses flees Egypt after killing an Egyptian for mistreating some Hebrew slaves.

Still, despite the differences between The Bible and the film, the movie is still very good. The director (Ridley Scott) has made all the characters much more complex and believable than  in prior film  versions.

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Joel Edgerton plays Ramesses II and is perfect in the role. Ramses II is incredulous when Moses tells him to free the slaves because “God” has commanded it. How could any Pharaoh possibly take this seriously? The Pharaohs truly believed themselves to be gods. What right did a mortal like Moses have to be threatening the god Pharaoh, even if they did grow up as brothers?

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Christian Bale also portrays Moses differently than we have seen Moses before. He is nothing like the swaggering Charlton Heston version of Moses.  The Moses in this film is humble and very unsure of himself. He does not feel capable of being the leader of the Jews and does not want to take on the responsibility.

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When Moses is in exile from Egypt he is taken in by a simple sheep herding community and marries the beautiful Zipporah. She is played by Maria Valverde who brings true emotion to her role. When Moses has a vision and says he must leave to free the slaves of Egypt, Zipporah is angry and does not understand. “What kind of God asks a man to leave his family?” she asks.

This brings up one of the factors that makes this movie different than so many previous Bible films. This film shows God as the true “Old Testament God”. Biblical scholars have often noted how the New Testament God is all about love and kindness and mercy, where the Old Testament God is a vengeful killer who doles out horrible punishments to those who disobey.

When Pharaoh refuses to free the Hebrews; God unleashes the Plagues on Egypt. Rivers turn to blood.  Frogs, gnats and locusts invade and people get horrible boils on there skin. In this film, Moses is very upset with God about this. After all, the Jews are still in Egypt and are being hurt by the plagues just as much as the Egyptians. Many viewers (and readers of the Bible) have also noted that it seems very unfair that the average Egyptian should have to suffer for the Pharaoh’s actions.  It is not like an ordinary Egyptian could tell the Pharaoh what to do. Why doesn’t God just use His power to transport the Jews out of Egypt without killing thousands of innocents?

One of the strengths of the film is that it does not shy away from such questions. It is Passover that finally convinces the Pharaoh to free the Hebrews. Death comes to the first born male in every household that does not have lamb’s blood on its door. Only the Jewish families have been warned ahead of time, so all the Egyptian first born males  die while the Jewish men and boys are safe.

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Ramesses II baby is among those who die on Passover.  When Ramesses II then finally  frees the Jews he asks the question which many Biblical scholars have asked for centuries, “What kind of God kills children?”

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The Pharaoh’s wife is played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. Her character is not concerned with the larger struggles between Moses and Pharaoh. All she wants is to keep her baby safe.

No matter what your religious beliefs, you will find this an excellent film.

We give this movie Four Stars ****

 

 

 

 

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