Moses the hero

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Rated M

Mining the bible for stories has always been a fruitful exercise for filmmakers, although in more recent times the results haven’t been so encouraging for Christians.

With the core stories of our faith reimagined and reinvented to the extent that some are almost unrecognisable (look what happened to Noah!), it’s easy to be sceptical when a new Bible-inspired Hollywood blockbuster appears – especially when it’s riding on the coat-tails of one of the most important stories of all: the saving of God’s people from slavery and their departure from Egypt.

However, director Ridley Scott was so keen to get his film just right that only 40 minutes of the completed work (a little less than a third) was available to watch before Southern Cross went to press. So while it’s not possible to be sure how accurate the entire film is in its representation of the Exodus story, a number of things are abundantly clear.

First, Scott and his writers have created a visually stunning representation of Egypt at the height of its power. It is detailed and sumptuous, with outdoor scenes on a massive scale. Visual effects are pretty impressive, and the makers have really gone to town on sequences such as the plagues and the clash at the Red Sea.

From the scenes viewed it also seems to stay fairly solidly with the biblical story. Unlike the sparse tale of Noah there is – from a filmmaker’s perspective – an awful lot of dramatic material in the Bible about Moses’ upbringing, banishment, return and Israel’s exodus, so that no doubt helps.

We see Moses drawn from the river and brought up in Pharoah’s household, and his sister Miriam does help in this. His true heritage is eventually revealed, he does go into exile to the house of Jethro and marry his daughter, and there is certainly a burning bush, plagues and the salvation of the Israelites.

What isn’t entirely clear is how much of this is attributed to God and how much is simply the charismatic efforts of Moses or the vague fulfilment of a prophecy about one born to lead.

At one tantalising point Moses (a strong and poised performance from Christian Bale) explains
to young pharaoh Rameses (Joel Edgerton) that he has been told by God to rescue the Israelites. Unsurprisingly the response is, “Which God?” Sadly Moses does seem to be reasoning with Rameses using a pre-unionised workplace argument – asking Pharaoh to pay and treat the Israelites properly or let them go. Forget God, dude, this is social justice!

We all know what the answer to that will be: the boys who were brought up as brothers are now enemies and we know (more or less) how things pan out from there. I think there may be some surprises at the Red Sea, but all will be revealed once the completed film is in cinemas.

There is certainly an epic air about Exodus: Gods and Kings and the cast is packed with big names – although some, from what I saw, won’t have that much to do.

It’d be a miracle if the film didn’t ignore most of what makes the story crucial for a Christian audience, namely, the central role of God in all that happens. It’s not clear whether there will be a Passover or how it will be explained, and given that Ridley Scott has described Moses’ encounter with the Lord through the burning bush as “an experience” in the desert, we should be prepared for the Almighty to be more or less absent.

Yet I think Exodus: Gods and Kings will still have much to recommend it. It’s not seeking to reinvent the biblical tale – although don’t expect Christian Bale to raise his staff over the Red Sea like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments and exclaim, “Behold his mighty hand!”

It appears the makers are taking the story seriously, with strong performances and production values amid a big budget, big-deal epic. So that’s a bonus. We may not be happy with all that we see but if the rest of the film follows in the same vein as the pieces I saw it will essentially be a pivotal story of our Bible told well by actors whose names alone are drawcards for the public.

So get your non-Christian friends and family in there and watch it alongside them. A quick conversation can direct the focus away from Christian Bale the charismatic hero and back where it belongs.