By: Kevin Jordan
Let it go; it’s a movie.
I was raised catholic, spent the first four years of my education attending catholic school, and attended Sunday school through my junior high years. What that means is, during all that time, I learned next to nothing about the Old Testament of the Bible. Oh sure, they told us about Moses, floating down the river, the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, leading the Israelites out of Egypt (and they purposely used the term Israelites instead of Hebrews for political reasons), Passover, and the ten commandments. What they conveniently left out were the details that made the story more than just an anecdote to recite during the first reading at mass. This goes for other stories like Job, Jonah, David and Goliath, Sodom and Gomorrah, and dozens of other stories that weren’t even hinted at. Essentially, we got the Cliff’s Notes versions because the full versions make God out to be something of a vengeful, murderous dick. I completely understand the motivation behind not telling children (whom they are trying to indoctrinate), but if they didn’t want the stories to be known, they probably shouldn’t be pretending to teach the Old Testament in the first place.
(As you might have guessed, I’m not a practicing Catholic anymore, but not for reasons as petty as the church being bad story tellers. I’m not a practicing Catholic because I simply don’t get anything out of practicing the religion and there are far too many hypocrisies for me to ignore. But I digress.)
Before I get into the movie itself, there’s one more thing that needs to be made clear – this movie is a work of fiction. If you are going into this movie looking to find inconsistencies in the story as compared to what’s in the Bible, you should just stay home. Also, stop reading this review. Not only has the story of Moses and the Exodus been rewritten, modified, and edited dozens of times over the centuries (like everything else in the Bible and every other religious tome); the Exodus probably never happened in the first place. Archaeologists have spent more than a century looking for evidence of the event and have found nothing. Considering that the Bible says the Exodus was 600,000 people – not including women and children or their livestock (which puts the true number around two million) – you’d think there’d be something – bones, trash, a dreidel – left behind. Plus, the entire population of Egypt at the time was only 3 million+; the loss of more than half their population would have destroyed the empire overnight. My point is that you shouldn’t get worked up over a work of fiction about a (most probable) work of fiction (and there are already lots of people who are). Besides, if you’re going to be pissed about this movie, story inaccuracies aren’t going to be the thing that boils your blood.
The movie begins much like Gladiator – with a battle scene. Moses (Christian Bale) and his brother (well, Moses was adopted, so adopted brother), Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are generals in the Egyptian army and leading them into a battle with the Hittittes. Ramses is also the son of the Pharoah Seti (John Turturro), making Moses a prince of Egypt. Just before the battle, Seti’s seer gives a prophecy about the battle that one leader will be saved and that the savior will become a leader. Okay – so the prophecy is a little more than blunt foreshadowing, but whatever. They fight, they win, Moses saves Ramses’ life, and the religious people in the audience are already uncomfortable because Moses just killed a whole bunch of people.
Some time passes and Moses goes to the city of Pithum (which, over the course of the movie, somehow migrates closer to Memphis to the point where it’s a suburb) to investigate suspected thievery on the part of the governor. While there, Moses meets an elder named Nun (Ben Kingsley) who tells Moses about his true ancestry – that he’s actually a Hebrew saved by his sister when the Egyptians slaughtered all the first-born Hebrew children because of a prophecy (always a prophecy). The story gets to Ramses (who is now Pharoah) and Ramses confronts Moses about it. For me, this was the weakest part of the story because no evidence is provided, the story came from the corrupt governor, and Moses only admits to it to stop Ramses from cutting off his sister’s arm (whose true identity isn’t even known to Moses and Ramses). In addition, Bithia (a relative of the Pharoah), has a little Hebrew band that belonged to Moses that easily could have been the evidence and brought logic to the scene, but I guess threatening to mutilate people is good enough.
Anyway, Moses is exiled and the movie slogs through for a while. During this time, it sets up later parts of the movie, as well as what Moses ends up sacrificing for God, but it’s a pretty dull part of the film. When it gets interesting is when you see God for the first time – as an angry child. No doubt the religious folks in the audience experienced a collective jaw drop at this image. It’s also a very apt characterization of the Old Testament God and makes a lot of sense. Maybe God’s not just a vengeful dick, but a petulant child. It would explain how quick God is to smite people and whole towns.
The rest of the film is the rest of the Cliff’s Notes with some very good special effects. No, not the 3-D (again, completely useless), but the imagery itself. Obviously, the parting of the Red Sea is awesome, but the ten plagues are something to behold. Between the frogs, the flies, the maggots, the locusts, and the boils, you can feel your own skin crawling as if they are on you as well.
But aside from all that, the Passover is the thing that hits hardest in this film. Again, it’s a story that kind of gets glossed over in church. They really try not to emphasize that God killed thousands of children. In fact, Ramses will specifically confront Moses with that after it happens. He says “How can you worship a God who murders children?” and Moses responds with “No Hebrew child died.” Can you really blame Ramses for wanting to kill the Hebrews after that?
By the time the movie was over, the historian in me was very pleased, even though I know perfectly well the movie was fiction. For me, it was getting a chance to see a true interpretation of the Exodus, sans religious censorship. From a film standpoint, I’d say the movie was a little better than decent. For all of the epic-ness that director Ridley Scott was going for, he forgot to make the movie compelling. It just doesn’t emotionally draw the audience in the way a movie like Gladiator does. It’s almost clinical in its storytelling, an example being the plagues. Sure, they look fantastic, but they come and go a little too quickly, barely showing their effects. Also, Moses is always outside of the plight of the Hebrew slaves, so you never really feel sympathetic towards him. Had the movie spent more time on the characters themselves and the plight of the slaves, it would have been, well, more compelling and drawn the audience further into the story. But it sure beats Sunday school.
Rating: Ask for a couple of dollars back and some of that time you spent in mass.