Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Monday, January 05, 2015

New Exodus film: God has a taste for blood

 
 by Nat Winn
What if God is a better murderer than tyrants?
 On Christmas day my partner and I went to see the new Ridley Scott film Exodus: Gods and Kings. I am always a sucker for a huge historically (or in this case Biblically) based film. So in spite of the negative film reviews and the criticisms of casting all white leading characters for a movie taking place in ancient Egypt, and against my own better judgement, I went to see the film.
 To put it bluntly the film was not that good. The final cut of the movie was dwindled down to two and a half hours from an original four hour version. As a result the development of the characters and the story line itself are numbing and lifeless. Great actors appearances are wasted such as Sigourney Weaver as Ramses mother, Aaron Paul, and John Turturro as Ramses' father. The film thus becomes soley a spectacle of 3D and special effects. One historian called the movie, “the worst Ridley Scott movie ever made.” The huge cut in the time of the film can't give Scott a total pass however, as the 1999 animated story of Exodus, The Prince of Egypt was only an hour and a half and was much more nuanced and emotionally provoking than this longer “epic” version – and all the leading characters in that film were correctly portrayed as dark skinned.

 And to be sure Ridley Scott, the director of the Alien films and Gladiator among countless other films, can do much better. My favorite Scott film is Kingdom of Heaven, a film set during the Catholic Crusades of the Dark Ages that portrayed a progressive Muslim Saladin, who would recapture Jerusalem and allow the practice of all faiths under his rule. This film, which didn't do great at the box office, came out at the height of the US war with Iraq and was a conscious affront to Islamophobia and blind patriotism, and I still think it was awesome that Scott made it.
In Exodus, Scott does attempt to deliver a secular rendering of the story of the Israelite liberation from Egyptian slavery. For instance when Moses sees the burning bush and talks to god, he had just been knocked unconscious from a rock hitting his head in a storm. It is unclear if Moses actually spoke to god or if he was hallucinating from the head injury. Also, when the Red Sea parts for the Isrealites to cross and escape Pharaoh's army, it is portrayed as a naturally occurring coincidence rather than an obvious miracle of god. In one scene, Pharaoh's advisers try to scientifically account for the succession of plagues that have befallen Egypt.
 Another interesting twist in Scott's Exodus is the casting of a twelve year old British boy as the voice ( and image ) of god. This god (it is actually unclear if this is god or a messenger of god) is portrayed as vengeful, jealous, and angry, very much like an actual spoiled little boy. At times Moses is even bothered by the actions that god takes against the Egyptians. Scott seems to want the audience to feel conflicted about the story of the Exodus and even about blindly accepting the supposed acts of god as automatically acceptable or just.
 And this interpretation, although it is done half-heartedly and ambivalently is what the film left me thinking about – the Biblical message of the story of the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. Essentially the god of this story wants all humanity to be convinced that we should worship him by showing that it can be as heartless, cold-blooded, and genocidal as any Pharaoh. After all, this is the story of a god who would kill the first born son of every Egyptian citizen, just to show its greatness. What a morality tale! I wouldn't want to worship a god like that even if it was real. In fact, I would resist a god (or any leader) with such  morals.
 Anyways, unless you really dig special effects, or are a huge fan of epic films, wait for this film to come out on Netflix. Ridley Scott is capable of making some great films that sometimes convey a very progressive message, but unfortunately Exodus: Gods and Kings is not one of his better works.

1 comment:

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