Exodus: Gods and Kings: A Jewish Perspective

A Movie Review

Still of María Valverde in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Exodus: Gods and Kings: A Jewish Perspective

About the Author

Stephen Wise

Stephen Wise

Rabbi Wise has focused much of his rabbinate in striving passionately to connect Jews of all ages to their Judaism. Whether its through prayer services, learning or social action, each presents a gateway to stronger Jewish identity. Rabbi Wise has worked recently developing programming for young adults in their 20-30's, starting ongoing successful groups in NYC and Florida, reigniting their connections to Judaism. Rabbi Wise is the spiritual leader for Oakville's Jewish community, and his congregation is Shaarei Beth-El on Morrison Road.

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The story of the Exodus is one of the greatest stories ever told. Even without knowledge of the rich traditions and historical events surrounding the Exodus, the events of that time shaped the future of the world, and not just the Jews or the west, but every corner of the planet.

Of course anytime it gets made into a movie there are bound to be issues because the story in our Torah is meant to be uplifting, to show God’s might and power, to bring us closer as a people, to remind us that we were once slaves and never take freedom for granted. Making a movie is meant to make money. So they don’t worry as much about the details as long as it looks good.

The Exodus with Charlton Heston was pretty amazing. They tried their best to get close to the biblical account though there is an hour of the movie that takes once sentence in the bible. The Prince of Egypt was meant for children and was animated, though I found it entertaining and seemed to want to try to stay close to the text.

But all the movies need a hook, and the best is the story of the two brothers Moses and Ramses, fighting for the throne of Egypt. Add a female in the mix and you have a great plot. And in the current iteration of the story by the agnostic Ridley Scott and featuring Batman Christian Bale, how does it measure up? Would he do justice to the story?

Lets look at the film from three perspectives.

1. Is the movie entertaining. Are the actors believable in their roles. Will it stand the test of time
2. Is the film true to the bible, what do they change and why. Does it still respect Moses and the history of our people, is there any objectionable content.

Cinematic review

Ridley Scott is a talented director, “Alien”, “Blade Runner“, “Gladiator“. Exodus has a little bit of the supernatural, certainly there is a lot of running and fighting. No aliens though. Moses seems to have come from the gladiator mode with a lot of yelling with a sword. In fact Scott veers from the text and has a whole battle scene with Moses leading a military revolt before God intervenes and issues the 10 plagues. Its certainly exciting.

It is fair to start with the movie’s strengths. It tries, with moderate success, to emphasize the brotherhood of Pharaoh and Moses. At first Moses feels that the Egyptians are his family, and not the Jews. His character is meant to change slowly over the course of the film. In the beginning, Moses is a skeptic who refuses to even acknowledge his kinship with the Jews. Eventually, through the course of events, he becomes the leader of the Jews, but as well intentioned as the script may have been, Moses’s transformation is never quite believable. Remember in the bible he does not go through this, he just wakes up one morning and sees an Egyptian hurting a jewish slave and steps in to help. So there is room to drash this part and the film tries. There are great special effects that are mesmerizing, there are some great fight scenes and it’s a rollicking ride, I actually enjoyed watching it.

2. Now how does it compare to the bible, is it objectionable?

According to David Criswell of Christian movie reviews, It seems that the movie wants to suggest that the miracles from God are more natural phenomenon, with a little divine trigger. (btw there were many many Christian reviews Christianity Today, Christian film database, answeringenesis, Rocking Gods House, way more than Jewish ones. Some Arab countries even banned the movie).

The Egyptian priests of course continuously deny god’s miracles because they want to show their gods have more power, but to no avail. But I can’t shake the fact the film wants the moviegoer to lean towards the side of natural phenomenon over divine miracle. Ironically, there are some scenes so completely unrealistic, its almost laughable – they are miraculous. Moses is able to trigger explosions, thousands of years before gun powder was invented. When the waters of the Red Sea close and drown the entire army, both Moses and Pharaoh are standing staring at each other, impervious to water and end of dry on opposite sides.

Another part that I felt was missing was any sense of joy and celebration. The bible recounts the song of the sea when the jews made it across, Miriam leading with tibrel in hand. The movie Prince of Egypt had lots of singing, But this movie is so dark and depressing.

The character of Moses is problematic. In the film only 9 years go by between exile to the desert and return to Egypt. In the bible its 40 years. Next Moses of the bible is humble, even when he is told by god to go set the people free he says he’s not the right person, to send someone else. In the movie Moses is portrayed as not even believing in god until the burning bush moment. He yells at God “if you meant to humble me, it will not work!” he shouts a lot, but never with any speech impediment that the bible mentions. Moses only faces pharaoh twice in the movie and doesn’t ever say “let my people go”.

The main problem I think for us as Jews is that its an action movie and the Jews are attacking the Egyptians like the , attacking military and supply sites, leading war of attrition. Jews are taught to fight – but in the Bible, we learn that God will take action for us. We are taught to have faith. The movie wants the jewish people to be more active. That takes away the spiritual dimension and takes away Gods might and power.

I was also put off by God portrayed as a little boy fighting with Moses. The Charlton Heston’s Exodus had God as a man’s voice powered from the heavens, something perhaps many can relate to. The Prince of Egypt movie was neat as they asked a biblical scholar, Everitt Fox, to describe God’s voice. Then they used the voice of Moses, like an inner voice. Now it appears that God is the inner child and that is somewhat disturbing. This does not honour god. And clearly that is not the point of this film. The film wants to glorify the fight, with great special effects, and achieves that goal. The film will not go down as a great one, most reviewers gave it the thumbs down, and rated around 30% on the Rotten Tomatoes website which creates a score based on hundreds of reviews. But being a film with biblical content, there will always be an audience, and I enjoyed watching it. I liked seeing how they would handle the text. I enjoyed seeing where they tried something new, and it’s always fun watching plagues and miracles come to life.

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