Saturday, December 13, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Nat'l Catholic Register (S.D. Graydamus) reflection , interview w. director / stars of film

The first thing to say about Exodus: Gods and Kings [2014] (directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian) is that it is an intelligent, thought-provoking, discussion-provoking film.  It is not simply a retelling of the story of Moses of the Book of Exodus.   What good would that do, after both having received the Canonical text in the Bible, and even perhaps a "canonical" presentation of it in Cecil B. DeMille's presentation of it in The Ten Commandments [1956]?

Instead, the current film, is a kind of Midrash or Reflection, as it tries to "get into the heads" of the Exodus story's main characters -- Moses (played by Christian Bale), Ramses (played by Joel Edgerton) who was according to the second chapter of Exodus for the first 40 years of Moses' life "like a brother to him", and yes, even God, or at least a messenger of God or Moses' visualization of God, credited in the film as Malek (played by Isaac Andrews).  [Note that Malek translates from Hebrew to English as "Angel" or "Messenger"].

For instance, the film explores the question of what would have it been like / WHAT COULD HAVE IT BEEN LIKE for Moses who grew-up AS AN EGYPTIAN to encounter the THE HEBREW GOD at the Burning Bush?   The film-makers' portrayal of God here is fascinating:  They portray Moses "seeing" the Hebrew God as a VERY POWERFUL (indeed DIVINELY POWERFUL) ... CHILD. 

Now why would Moses "see" / "experience" the Hebrew God "as a child"?  Well, Moses would have grown-up in the Royal Court of the most powerful, most sophisticated country of that time.  Egypt had an elaborate and complex / ELABORATED Pantheon of its own, perhaps even TOO ELABORATED for his liking (Near the beginning of the film, we see him more or less "roll his eyes" as a very solemn-looking Egyptian Priestess goes through the very solemn-looking motions of performing an oracle for the Pharoah's court).

As someone educated in Egypt's court, the Hebrew God VERY WELL COULD HAVE BEEN EXPERIENCED by Moses, as somewhat "childish" / "primitive", indeed at times PETULANT and YET, PERHAPS, ...  ALSO _FRESH_.

The Divine Name that the Hebrew God gives for Himself, "I am what I am," when Moses asks Him for it at the " Burning Bush" (Exodus 3) , IS kinda ALL OF THESE THINGS: "childish", "petulant" and FRESH ... God tells Moses (and US, the readers) that HE (God) can be WHOEVER / WHATEVER HE WISHES TO BE.  Indeed, isn't that a pretty good fundamental definition of a God?  A GOD [TM] would be someone WHO CAN DO WHATEVER ONE WANTS.

And yes, someone truly "Godlike" (able to do whatever he/she likes) WOULD RUN THE RISK being experienced (at least initially) as "kinda childish," "kinda despotic", "kinda petulant" UNTIL ... one got to know him better.  ;-)

And yet, such a partly "childish" God would be ALMOST THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF A LARGE IMPOSING STONE STATUE REPRESENTING ONE OR ANOTHER EGYPTIAN "GOD" about whom very long and (seeking to be) manipulative incantations would have been written (and often dryly recited...) which could have been the experience of someone like Moses who had grown-up in a "sophisticated court" like Pharoah's.

The Hebrew God may have seemed "childish", at times even "petulant" but ALSO SOMEHOW FAR MORE ALIVE than the "stone Gods" of Egypt.

So ... having made his "initial acquaintance" with "the God of his forebears" ... Moses then struggles with his Call.  Why him?

Good question, why?  By this point in the story, Moses was NO LONGER OF PHAROAH'S COURT but LIVING AS A SHEPHERD IN FAR OFF EXILE.  In the film, the "boy" representing "God" tells Moses: "I don't need a (lowly) shepherd.  I need a General."

Again, why?  The film has Moses coming back to Egypt initially to try to train some sort of a Hebrew resistance army.  But, if this seems apocryphal (and it certainly is), the film then makes clear that NO this was NOT the reason why "God needed a General."  AS IN THE BOOK OF EXODUS, SO TOO IN THE MOVIE, NEITHER MOSES NOR THE HEBREWS DO ANY REAL FIGHTING.  IT'S GOD WHO DOES THE FIGHTING FOR THEM THROUGH THE VARIOUS PLAGUES ... and yes, while SOME OF THE PLAGUES WOULD SEEM TO INITIALLY BE ATTRIBUTABLE TO "NATURAL CAUSES" (and plausibly would have even experienced by the Egyptians at the time as such ...) AS THEIR INTENSITY INCREASED, IT BECAME INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO "EXPLAIN THEM AWAY" IN THAT WAY ... (As such, the film actually does _powerfully affirm_ God's action in the tale).  [So why did God "need a General" if not for fighting?   MILD SPOILER ALERT: The film makers remind us that a General does more than just fight.  A General is, above all, a logistician, one who can organize and _lead_ a great deal of people].

So this IS an INTERESTING TAKE ON THE EXODUS STORY one that is CERTAINLY NOT "Literalistic" but tries to play, indeed _wrestle_ with the points / implications of the Exodus story:

Would God [TM] "not care" what happened to all those Egyptians killed by the Plagues sent down on them?  Well the "childish" but quite self-righteous God portrayed in the film gives a quite "certain" answer to this question: "Did the Egyptians 'care' about what they have been doing to their Hebrew slaves over the last 400 years?"

I'm fascinated by this kind of newly audacious inquiry into / wrestling with the Scriptures and I'm VERY HAPPY that a director like Ridley Scott did TAKE THE RISK of making a film such as this.  Martin Scorsese was certainly "burned" for making The Last Temptation of Christ [1988] and the result has been to scare-away serious directors from making Biblically themed movies for almost a generation.

I'm very happy to see that since Terrance Malick's Tree of Life [2011] the drought may have finally come to an end.

Good job Ridley Scott!  Good job!

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