Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

exodus-gods-and-kings-poster-christian-bale-joel-edgertonAfter I finished the latest Bible movie offered up to the masses by a Hollywood great, I tweeted “Saw the new Exodus movie: the book was better, as was the Charlton Heston version.” Let me explain.

I need to start with a confession, I don’t make a habit of watching Christian movies. I have a bunch of reasons but they all boil down to one: their general lack of quality.  You can hear it in the types of compliments people give them.  They say “This was one of the best Christian movies I have seen.” (Not “One of the best movies I have seen.”) When pressed for a comment on the quality of the big elements of plot, acting, etc. I am often met with something like “The acting was pretty good, but the message of the movie makes up for any bad acting.”

That’s why I was planning on skipping out of “Exodus: Gods and Kings” until I heard that the director of “Gladiator” (Ridley Scott) was dipping his toe into the waters of the Nile. I was more than a little intrigued.  I wasn’t sure how Christian Bale was going to do in the shadow of Charlton Heston, but I was ready to find out.

I never expected a word-for-word depiction of the book of Exodus, and I was even looking forward to seeing what the imaginations of Hollywood added to the story that might help connect audiences with the Biblical narrative.

The movie started great, Moses as a general, a killer fight scene, and even coming face to face with his roots were far more than I had hoped. Though the burning bush was pushed close to the edge of losing its power by making it seem to be more of a physiological response to trauma (trying to avoid spoilers here) I was still on board.

When Moses returns to Egypt there is a brilliant portion of added material that I had to go back home and make sure I hadn’t forgotten as it made so much sense to the Moses character and how I might go about fulfilling God’s call if I were in that situation.

And then, the movie ground to a halt.

Don’t get me wrong, there are the plagues and the dividing of the Red Sea and even a pretty nice rendition of the scientific theory of how the plagues actually might have been driven by some of the weirder sides of nature, but the motivation, the driving force, the gas in the plot engine is completely missing.

Why?

The Biblical story is incredibly compelling with God directing and empowering Moses to act as a mouthpiece and physical expression of God’s deliverer.  There is a clear pushing forward from one moment to the next because of Pharoah’s hard heart and Moses’ faithfulness, but all of that is completely gone.

You get the sense that God just wants to show Moses how powerful God is.  It feels like Moses is merely sitting back and watching all of this happen.  There is no storming into the court proceedings with the “Let my people go!”  There is no showdown between Mosses signs and Pharaoh’s court magicians.  There is just Moses sneaking around and sitting on a rock.

As I trudged through what should have been the most compelling part I got the impression that God was some petulant child enamored with his own power who took things too far.  Meanwhile, Moses and Pharaoh kind of moped around watching it all happen and acted irritated about it.

We can tend to come close to deifying some of the Bible’s biggest heroes when their stories are thoroughly human.  If there is one fault with the Heston version, it is that.  Sometimes that seminal performance bordered on super-human–whereas with Bale, I never lost the connection.

No one is going to accuse Christian Bale of taking the seat of Moses away from Charlton Heston, but he (along with his writer) does something that the former performer did not: he makes Moses human.   As I watched I always could imagine that I might act the same way in that situation, and for that I am grateful to the movie.

Should you see it?  Well, “The Hobbit” is basically out now and “Interstellar” is probably the best sci-fi movie made in this decade. However, there is something about seeing the plagues with less flannel-graph and more 2014 special effects glory, and that just won’t be the same on the TV at home (but it may on the projector at church).

Jeremy Steele, UMR Columnist

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry and the Next Generation pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL and a regular columnist for The United Methodist Reporter. You can find more of his writing and a list of all the places he contributes at his website: JeremyWords.com

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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George Nixon Shuler
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Saw it today. Not bad for an action movie. Pretty humorous in places. The cat portraying Rameses was a great overactor not unlike Sylvester Stallone or the late Charleton Heston. Notorious NDT would love the sequences with the plagues and the evidentiary assessments of the same by the out-of-his-league soothsayer. As for the representation of deity, definitely superior to that in Mel Gibson’s S&M snuff movie.

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