How I look at this film has a lot to do with my expectations of it. The director of the film, the acclaimed Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Thelma and Louise, all of which he received Oscar nominations for) is an outspoken atheist. So I was certainly not expecting his portrayal of the Exodus story to be biblically accurate. On top of that, Christian Bale’s recent quote about Moses “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” didn’t give me much confidence about how Moses would be portrayed. And much like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah from earlier this year, those expectations were met. Given that, how are believers to look at this film? We could choose to stay away from it, or we could see the film and then critically engage with it, knowing that it is not going to be biblically accurate.
First, what I did find was in many ways a well-made and entertaining Hollywood film with a strong cast, including Christian Bale as Moses and the always outstanding Ben Kingsley as Nun. We also see some outstanding special effects, especially around the plagues and the Red Sea scene (more of a low tide than a parting) that only a big budget film ($140 million) can provide. The overall story of the Exodus is in the film, which I would describe as being loosely based on the biblical account. The primary storyline of the film is not necessarily the exodus, but the relationship between Moses, who the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) raised as his adopted son, and his own biological son Ramses (Joel Edgerton).
What you may hear about, and also what most concerned me about the film is how our sovereign God was portrayed, beginning with the burning bush scene. In what reminded me of how God is portrayed as a large African American woman in The Shack by William P. Young, God (he is credited as Malak, a Semitic word for angel), is portrayed as a preteen British boy, played by 11 year old Isaac Andrews. Is Malak a messenger, or is he God? He either is God or speaks directly for Him. When asked who he is he responds “I AM”. The character, and thus God, is portrayed as “a self-centered brat” (Gabe Hughes’ review), “a petulant, willful child” (Paul Asay’ review), or as “an impish British schoolboy” (Christy Lemire’s review). Moses and Malak are portrayed as having a contentious relationship throughout the film.
At two and a half hours, the film is much shorter than Cecile B. DeMille’s four hour The Ten Commandments from 1956. As such, the film focuses on the events in the story at the expense of character development. The costumes, jewelry, architecture, etc. that Scott uses in the film were quite good. Scott dedicates the film to his late brother and fellow filmmaker Tony, who committed suicide in 2012.