Good news! This movie isn’t nearly as aberrant from the source material as Noah was. But this still isn’t the scriptural adaption you’ve been waiting for. With Exodus: Gods and Kings director Ridley Scott sets out to retell the classic tale of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egyptian enslavement with the help of God, for our modern age viewing experience. Aside from the skeleton idea found in the scriptures, many creative liberties were taken, and not once did they enhance the film. As you might expect, it fails miserably. Spoilers for this film and the Book of Exodus to follow.
The scriptural account indicates that Moses’ was educated in all the knowledge of the Egyptians, as he was adopted into Pharaoh’s own household. Whether this included military strategy and the art of warfare, is never explained, but it could easily be conjectured. The film starts off with Moses fighting a battle against an army of Hittites. And this is a recurring theme throughout the film – his skills as a general. This is the only location I can forgive and go along with the creative team on this front however. All other locations are spurious and ultimately overshadowed by the more powerful scenes to come.
One thing that threw me off was how Moses was raised not knowing he was an Israelite. And the case can be made that he didn’t know he was an Israelite in his formative years from what’s written (or not written rather) in the account. It’s more likely he did know though, as his own mother raised him as his wet nurse, but the film, in choosing to skew the discovery of his birth to fit the dramatic turning point in the first act, chose to have his sister Miriam look after him instead. Very random. Again, this is something I didn’t have a huge issue with.
Up until this point in the film I was enjoying myself, I’d like to add. The sets and effects used to recreate the grandeur of Egypt were startlingly realistic. It truly felt like I was there in that period. Very believable. The makeup and costumes too felt painstakingly realized. Where this all lost me was the fact that everyone in the film had a different accent. Everyone. I didn’t even mind the fact that there were clearly white people mixed in with some of the more Arabic and Israeli looking actors. But really? You guys couldn’t nail down an accent? Sigourney Weaver was the worst on this front, sad to say. She stood out like a plague of frogs.
The murdering of two Egyptian guards for no apparent reason was an… interesting catalyst to Moses’ getting exiled. It’s what led the plot back around to him being an Israelite, and thus thrown out. His journey to Midian was done exceptionally well. I actually, truly loved the wedding scene between him and Jethro’s daughter Zipporah. I couldn’t believe how much that looked like how I’d imagined it in my head. And then it jumps forward 9 years instead of 40, but hey. Why get a second set of actors or put aging makeup on them? This is better!
The scene that I was most looking forward to would be Moses’ first encounter with God. The scene, as played out in the scriptural account states he heard a voice in the place where the bush was burning telling him to take off his shoes because he stood on Holy ground. And then the incredible line “I am that I am”, found at Ex. 3:14 meaning more literally “I will choose to become what I choose to become.” Clearly this scene should be one of the most epic moments in the movie. But uhh… No. As he went up Mount Horeb, a freak rock/mudslide knocked him unconscious. He wakes up, entirely engulfed in mud (except for a circle around his face conveniently), when he sees a bush burning. And then a kid of about 10 years old walks up to him, starts stacking rocks, and tells him he needs to go back to Egypt because “I think you know why.” “Who are you?” “I am.”
Where on earth did that come from? Why is there a physical representation of God in the first place, and why would he be a kid? No Divine Name given. No purpose as to what to do when he gets to Egypt. And he’s super cryptic! He even scares Moses half to death impersonating his son at one point. He shows up randomly throughout the movie, clearly not making himself understood to Moses at all, often times ignoring him for no good reason. I have no clue where Ridley Scott’s direction came from on this one. Completely ruined my expectation of anything going forward. To be fair, there is a throwaway line that suggests the godchild is actually a messenger, which follows most moments of divine presence in the scriptures, but there is no precedent of a messenger angel ever being childlike (except for in the apocrypha), but this plot is never exercised.
The scriptural account dictates that Moses was too nervous to speak to Pharaoh, because he was a bad public speaker. Thus God sent his brother Aaron to help him be his voice. Although Aaron is in the film, he’s not needed on this front, which honestly is understandable. It seems any adaptation of this story neglects that fact, for the sake of making Moses look like the hero on top at all times. But really, Moses didn’t even go to see Rameses publicly. He held him at knifepoint shouting demands in a stable. Moses. Seriously? And then he neglects to tell Pharaoh about the plagues on his people that are imminent. This is a key story element, because if Pharaoh were to humble himself and have faith that the God of the Hebrews would prevail in his efforts, he’d have let the Israelites go free. It’s his stubbornness that keeps the plagues coming. So the absence of any formal communication of his options is a huge misstep. (This also excludes the whole staff snake fight from ever occurring).
Actually, speaking of staffs, let’s get right into how they portrayed the ten plagues. I had no qualms with 2-8. They were excellent. Done so well it was actually quite freaky. But the first plague, in which Moses puts his staff in the Nile River changing the water into blood – the movie version of Moses gave his son the staff before he left for Egypt. So instead all the crocodiles start to frenzy and bleed each other out. Why had that needed to be changed? Can crocodiles even produce that much blood to paint the Nile red? Jumping ahead to the ninth plague, instead of just darkness covering over the Egyptian side of the city, it encompassed the entire land. And of course, the tenth plague, in which a single angel of death came down and killed the firstborn children of those houses that didn’t paint the blood of the lamb on the doorpost. A sign of faith. Moses didn’t give Rameses or the Egyptians this option! He told him to protect his child that night, but he didn’t explain how to do so – of course his first born was going to die!
Dare I need go any further into my many ramblings? The Red Sea didn’t part. It more simply just flowed off downstream. No pillar of fire. They saw the calf being built before the Ten Commandments were even carved. I can’t help but imagine that, had they just stuck with what was on the scriptural account they’d hit far less controversy, and have a more exciting story anyway. What a shame. If you want a far more powerful, visually stunning, exciting, and entertaining story, that sticks far closer to the source material, don’t bother looking any farther than Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. Or heck, you’ll have a more canonical and enjoyable trip watching the cartoon adaption, The Prince of Egypt. Exodus: Gods and Kings, on top of all the other nonsense, is still nothing more than a forgettable film, and the only “wow” moments you’ll get are due to the strange changes to the finer details. Ultimately, don’t waste your money.