Thinking Out Loud

December 18, 2014

Exodus: Don’t Wait for the Video

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Movie-Poster-Wallpaper-960x540

Because I have worked in and around the Christian retail industry for too long, I know that the surge of Christian-themed movies at the box office these past few months always has a ripple effect in the Christian bookstores. Current top sellers in such stores — and their online equivalents — include God’s Not Dead and Mom’s Night Out, both of which had theatrical runs first.

I don’t think you’re going to see the same happen with Exodus: Gods and Kings. For the most part, Christian retailers act as gatekeepers for what their constituency reads or listens to or watches, and the Christian media have not entirely received this movie well, though as you’ll see at the bottom of this piece, there are exceptions.

At The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter writes:

Moses is a central figure in three of the most populous world religions. He’s mentioned more times in the Qur’an than anyone else, and more times in the New Testament than any other Old Testament character. In Judaism he’s not only the central figure, he quite literally wrote the book on the religion. He has, in other words, a lot of name recognition.

…So why does [director Ridley] Scott go out of his way to ruin the story of Moses? The reason can’t be chalked up to “artistic license,” because that would imply some sort of artistry behind the decision. The changes Scott makes, though, are not only art-less, they’re nonsensical and spoil anything of value in his film.

At viewer-rating site, Faith Based Films, one viewer writes:

There is no cloud by day, or pillar of fire by night, or any indication of manna, or the gold, silver and other riches that the Bible teaches were freely given to them by the Egyptians on their departure from Egypt.  It leaves those who know the biblical account wondering how the Israelites will ultimately build God’s tabernacle.  The film’s depiction of a rag-tag herd of refugees—totally absent the riches they took from Egypt, leaving them with nothing to fulfill their destiny of building the tabernacle and all its instruments of worship.

Significantly, the burning bush scene when Moses first encounters God as a child is set in the context of Moses’ journey up the mountain in a rain storm, which triggers a landslide that sweeps Moses downward and results in his being hit on the head by rocks.  He is left submerged in mud except for his face—suggesting that perhaps Moses’ ongoing conversations with God are injury-induced hallucinations or the fantastical imaginings of a schizophrenic. And when Moses is on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, it is Moses and not the “finger of God” writing them—without any hint of the blinding glory of God’s presence. In fact God’s portrayal is never that of a sovereign God of magnificent and overwhelming glory.  To the contrary, he is depicted as a somewhat dirty young boy who chats with Moses while serving tea.

Speaking of that website, Christian Newswire notes:

Scott’s portrayal of God makes him almost unnecessary in the film to the point that Exodus wouldn’t have suffered much if He had not been in it. Ultimately, the movie misses the central point of the story,” said Chris Stone, Certified Brand Strategist and Founder of Faith Driven Consumer.

The issue is the casting at this article at CNN:

We’ve known since the moment the full cast was announced: nearly every major role in the movie is played by a white actor.

What makes it worse for many observers is that, on the flip side, virtually every black actor in the movie is playing a part called “Egyptian thief” or “assassin” or “royal servant” or “Egyptian lower class civilian.”

…The deeper problem is one of conflating whiteness with heroism and power. Is it so hard to imagine our biblical heroes as being nonwhite? Is it beyond belief that one of the greatest empires in world history had authentically dark skin, rather than being white folks just wearing a ton of makeup?

Finally, in the spirit of the biblical ‘Love Chapter,’ Christianity Today finds some good things to say about it:

The costumes, jewelry, makeup, architecture, embellishments and textures in every shot of Exodus feel as authentic as something you’d see under glass in the British Museum. There are few filmmakers who do world-building better than Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, Prometheus), and on this score Exodus may be his crowning achievement.

Plot deviations and minutiae aside, key themes of the Exodus story are there. Moses is rightly portrayed as a reluctant and rough-around-the-edges leader, though ultimately faithful to his calling. God’s favor upon and covenant faithfulness to the Hebrews is evident, especially in contrast to the ineffectual polytheism of the Egyptians. The presence of God with his people is clear (“God is with us!” shouts Moses on the banks of the Red Sea), even as the “wrestle” between Yahweh and the often-unfaithful Israelites also comes through. “Israel,” after all, literally means “struggle with God.”

Will LifeWay, Family Christian, Parable and Mardel stock the movie when the time comes? That remains to be seen. The film is PG-13 for violence, so some stores may think twice on that basis. But concerns about the film’s accuracy will probably rule the day. 

For a complete look at the differences between the Bible and the screenplay for Exodus, check out this article.  Note: Contains many spoilers; be sure to read all four pages.

 

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