BUDA, Tex. (BNC) by Dewayne Bryant — If recent films are a good indicator, religious and Bible-themed movies tend to do well at the box office. Two recent examples are “God’s Not Dead” and “Noah.” Polls demonstrate that Americans view accuracy as an important consideration when watching these kinds of movies.
Unfortunately, the new film “Exodus: Gods and Kings” will no doubt become notorious for its inaccuracies in bringing the story of Moses and the exodus to the big screen.
I love both the Bible and ancient Egypt, so I was excited to see the movie when ads began appearing. That excitement died a quick and torturous death during the course of the movie as one inaccuracy after another began piling up.
More wrong than right
Whether depicting Moses as a battle-tested warrior reminiscent of Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” (another Ridley Scott film with a wealth of historical inaccuracies), or portraying God as a petulant and vindictive deity, one might argue that “Exodus: Gods and Kings” gets more wrong than right.
Critics’ reviews have not been kind. Lou Lemenick at the New York Post gave the film one star (out of four), calling it “an utterly clueless, relentlessly grim and rambling action epic guaranteed to displease devout Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, amuse atheists — and generally bore everyone.”
With a somewhat defensive review by Bret McCracken at ChristianityToday.com as one of the only exceptions, reviewers have almost universally seen Exodus as a beautiful train wreck – a visually stunning film with bad dialogue and cardboard cutout characters. Some have called it one of the year’s worst movies.
Bad performance, inaccurate characters
Christian Bale’s performance as Moses is often wooden, even though he is an immensely talented actor. Joel Edgerton’s talent is obvious as well, but his portrayal of Ramesses is often forced and shallow.
Performances aside, the script really fails to give moviegoers an accurate portrait of the characters. Moses demonstrates considerable arrogance (cf. Num. 12:3) and forcefully voices his objection to one of the plagues.
Far from the despotic, preening tyrant played so well by Yul Brynner in “The Ten Commandments,” Edgerton’s Ramesses is a brooding and cowardly leader. He inspires neither fear nor disdain. Both roles fail to capture much of the historical figures upon whom they are based.
Perhaps the most objectionable portrayal is that of God Himself. Ridley Scott’s God is not the loving, benevolent savior and protector of his people. In the film, He appears as an 11-year-old boy, with roughly the same level of maturity. He is vindictive and almost callous.
The great revelation of God’s name to Moses in Exodus 3 — one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible — receives very little screen time. It almost seems as if the scene with the burning bush was thrown in because it is so iconic rather than because of its biblical importance.
Accuracy sorely lacking
While the sets and cinematography are truly stunning, the film’s accuracy is sorely lacking. One scene shows a pyramid under construction, when the Egyptians had stopped building them at least three centuries before Moses was born.
Instead of killing an Egyptian for abusing one of the slaves (Ex 2:11-12), Moses kills a guard who mistakes him for one of the Hebrews. The first plague occurs when the crocodiles in the Nile go crazy and rip each other apart, befouling the river with gore. Near the end, Moses carves the Ten Commandments upon the stone tablets himself (cf. Ex. 31:18).
These and many other inaccuracies are substantial departures from both the biblical text and from ancient history and culture.
Many Christians will view “Exodus: Gods and Kings” as a disappointment. It is slow and plodding at times. The plagues receive far less screen time than what many might expect. While some of the biblical themes are there, they appear only in a muted form. The depictions of the primary characters, however, rank among the film’s greatest cinematic crimes.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is worth watching after it appears on cable. Otherwise, many moviegoers may feel cheated in having to spend their hard-earned money to watch a story that is far less grand and less inspiring than the one we see in the pages of Scripture.
Dewayne Bryant is an instructor at the Southwest School of Bible Studies in Austin, Tex. He and his family live in Buda, Tex. His complete review can be read at this link.