December 26, 2014 1 Comment
On an official visit to Pithom to meet with Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn), Moses (Christian Bale) — adopted son of Seti I (a miscast John Turturro) and brother to Prince Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) — encounters a slave (Ben Kingsley) who reveals his true lineage: Moses himself was born a Hebrew slave. Following the Pharaoh’s death, the now King Ramesses confronts Moses about the rumour and banishes him to the desert. Nine years later, while living in exile with his wife and son in Midian, Moses is contacted by Malak (Isaac Andrews), a boy claiming to represent God. Following the encounter, Moses leaves Midian and returns to Egypt where he plans to use his military experience to train an army of slaves. When Ramesses refuses to grant his people’s freedom, Moses and Malak unleash an attack not just on Memphis but the entire country.
We all know not to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to cinema we aren’t always as open-minded. The movie poster is an art form in itself, and it’s often the case that forgettable films are preceded by similarly uninspiring posters — whether it’s the infamous rom-com lean, the latest Brit-flick with a white background or whatever happens to be plastered to the nation’s buses. This year there has arguably not been a worse poster than that for Ridley Scott’s latest film, Exodus: Gods and Kings. Featuring its two leads rendered in an incongruous combination of grey-scale and gold, poorly photo-shopped onto a backdrop of cloudy skies and a black and white pyramid, it’s the sort of nightmarish image usually reserved for only the worst kind of straight-to-DVD rubbish.
It should come as a surprise then, that not only is Exodus: Gods and Kings competently coloured, composed and photographed, but it’s actually rather good. Scott may have fallen into disrepute following the one-two of Prometheus and The Councelor, but there’s no denying that he isn’t an esteemed director with more than a few classics to his name. Exodus may not reach the heights of Alien or Blade Runner (or even Gladiator), but it shows enough storytelling prowess and proves sufficiently intelligent to be considered seriously: not least for the strong performances given by Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton and an unrecognisable-in-all-but-lisp Ben Mendelsohn, the impressively implemented 3D special effects and the innovative and interesting approach taken by the director in adapting such a well-known story. Why does the river run red? Why, that would be the crocodile-eating crocodiles, of course.
If Darren Aronofsky’s Noah recast Genesis as a treatise on environmentalism then Scott’s film uses Exodus to discuss terrorism. He invites his audience to side with Moses, a freedom fighter who orders an attack not on Ramesses but on the latter’s people: those who serve his palace. When this proves ineffective, Moses turns to God for help. Innocent people are then subjected to a series of increasingly devastating plagues: first their water supply is tainted, then their crops fail and their livestock are culled, and finally their children are killed by a mysterious affliction. Many have criticised Scott’s decision to anachronistically cast Caucasian actors in Middle Eastern roles, but if his intention is to draw parallels between Western (predominantly white) excess and Egyptian godliness, or Jewish justice and Muslim jihad, then it serves him well. How are these attacks any different from those perpetrated by modern day terrorists? We may not have to worry about the wrath of God (‘theirs’ or ‘ours’); nowadays people don’t have to turn to the heavens for comparable weapons of mass destruction.
Then again, this is little more than interpretation and inference (on the part of someone with only a limited understanding of the Bible story itself); Scott might have had other intentions for his film, but the fact that Exodus: Gods and Kings is provoking such questions stands it in better stead than most. After all, Moses is an important character in a number of faiths, and whatever Scott’s intentions it is nigh impossible to comment on one iteration without commenting on others. Even as an atheist it is difficult to ignore the political, philosophical or moral implications of Scott’s film. This isn’t a parable; it’s a premonition.