Sunday, December 14, 2014

And the word on "Exodus" is ...


Courtesy of Guy Noir again: Josh Craddock, "What Exodus: Gods and Kings Gets Right" (NRO, December 13, 2014).

Very interesting. And then, here's "Fed Up's" comment:
"A director must avoid mere rehash of previous tellings...That's a difficult task when some 3.8 billion people believe the source matter is sacred revelation from God himself."

"It’s worth seeing Exodus in theaters solely for the experience of watching the ten plagues unfold on a big screen in 3D."

"...pointing out the difficulty of representing God in film and wondering what plausible alternatives might be."

Appreciate the review and this Christian plans to see it. I expect some deviations because it is, after all, a product of Hollywood who hasn't made an honest picture in 30 years.


The statements above is why I make mine. It is not a difficult task to portray God in this instance because the Bible does so quite specifically. It's not really open to interpretation at all. He manifests Himself in a burning bush to Moses. Period. What's so vague, ambiguous or hard about that? Taking Craddock's three points in order, if 3.8 billion believe the Bible and Scott could render most of the movie accordingly than why couldn't he render one of the most important points according to very specific descriptions? If he could show the plagues literally why not a burning bush?

Because he did as Aronofsky did much worse in Noah and chose the central moment to make an arrogant and silly, humanist point. To supplant God as described very distinctly in the source with a contemporaneous human, rebellious version. Not very different from what Pharaoh did as it happens.

This is why Hollywood is suspect. They simply cannot make an honest, forthright picture anymore. They have to impose their views and messages. At least Scott seems to have learned his lesson from Kingdom of Heaven about going too far in rewriting the tale.

Still, I'll see it because I love modern effects and because reports, like this one, indicate Scott didn't stray very far. Not so for Noah. Noah was so perverted and distorted that about the only resemblance to the biblical story was the movie showed a guy building a big boat.
Then here is the verdict of Nick Olszyk, in "An "Exodus" Plagued by Extravagant Mediocrity" (CWR, December 13, 2014), an overall a sharp review:
There are several film and television adaptations of the story of the Exodus and subsequent events—most notably, of course, Cecil B. DeMille's classic 1956 epic, The Ten Commandments—so director Ridley Scott had to do something distinct with Exodus: Gods and Kings. Unfortunately, aside from one interesting (but not positive) development, most of the film’s 150 minutes consists of a rehashing of old approaches and a reworking of ideas that covered many times already.

Granted, these do come with some pretty awesome special effects, although the parting of the Red Sea is still better in DeMille’s version, despite being produced almost sixty years ago, with obvious technical limitations. In short, Exodus isn’t a bad movie, just one that’s better enjoyed on DVD, with doughnuts, while writing a high school religion paper comparing the biblical account to the cinematic re-telling.

The first half is almost verbatim a combination of The Ten Commandments and Dreamworks' animated 1999 feature, The Prince of Egypt. Like Commandments, Scott paints an epic world of towering statues, brilliant costumes, and exotic accents. Like Prince, Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) were raised together “as close as brothers,” then gradually grow apart when a closely guarded secret is discovered.

Many good actors have played Moses, including Charlton Heston, Val Kilmer, and Mel Brooks. Bale’s prophet is a pragmatic general who puts his faith in knowledge and skill rather than the Egyptian religion. He would rather speak to the Hebrew elders than kill them, not because they are equal but because it will halt sedition. Edgerton’s Ramses knows the responsibility that will pass to him, and he wants to lead well, but he is often blinded by his own arrogance. It’s bad enough being an only child; being constantly told that he is a god does not make things easier.

In typical fashion, Moses is exiled, falls in love with Zipporah, and becomes a shepherd. Never a believer, he suddenly meets God in a strange encounter that almost completely ignores the biblical narrative. When Moses returns to Egypt, he first organizes a Hebrew army that engages in guerilla warfare before God takes over and tells him to “sit back and watch.”

The ten plagues begin with a swarm of crocodiles attacking a fleet of ordinary Egyptians. This feeding frenzy—which is very graphic for a PG-13 film—causes the Nile to turn red, which in turn drives frogs onto the land, which then dry and decompose, bringing swarms of gnats. The implication is that although God is the impetus, these calamities are perfectly reasonable from a scientific standpoint.

It is in the depiction of the suffering people that Exodus finds its most powerful theme. Watching poor farmers starve and a woman suffocated by flies creates an intense empathy for the Egyptians. The worst plague brings the Angel of Death, who steals the breath of children in the night, leaving them lifeless. Ramses is not spared this divine wrath as he finds his adorable infant son lifeless in his crib. Wailing uncontrollably, he tries to wake his only child, shaking him like a ragdoll. “Is this your God,” he asks Moses, cradling the swaddled corpse, “a child killer?”

It’s an incredibly honest question, and Moses seems taken aback by it. God does not author evil. Rather, this action was the direct result of the Ramses pride; his son was a holy innocent, just like the poor children who died at Herod’s hand or David and Bathsheba’s first son—and the millions of children who die from infanticide, abortion, in vitro fertilization, malnutrition, starvation, and abuse. They die because sin is present in the world, and every person of good will has the solemn responsibility to protect them. “The Hebrew children lived,” Moses responds. They were saved because their parents cared enough to follow God’s law and place their trust in him.

Other than that brief exchange, Exodus rarely rises above the level of mediocrity. Its depiction of God is strange and uneven at best. First, Moses does not encounter God in the burning bush (see Exodus 3). Instead, God appears to Moses with the bush (in the background) after the prophet nearly dies in a rockslide, allowing the viewer the option of believing that the revelations seen and heard by Moses were mere hallucinations. Later, when Joshua catches Moses talking to God, it appears that Moses is simply talking to himself. Second, God is portrayed by a young boy (Issac Andrews) who is quite pushy and rather scary. The credits claim he is actually an angel, but the film is unclear.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is an epic film of great scale and with impressive effects, but with little substance or depth. Scott spends millions of dollars on displaying combat and miracles but misses huge opportunities to flesh out the story and enter into the real drama. The writing is uneven and sometimes awkward, and major figures—notably Aaron, the brother of Moses, and Joshua, the successor of Moses—are essentially ignored. Aaron Paul, the multiple Emmy winner from the mega-hit show, Breaking Bad, is cast as Joshua but has only about five lines. Other fine actors, including Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, are hardly used. And, finally, major events are given short shrift: it takes ten minutes for Moses to walk across the desert in exile, but the golden calf and the giving of the commandments at Mount Sinai are glossed over in seconds.

This film simply doesn’t bring much to the story and, at times, undermines the story. I rarely ever say this, but the book really is better. Much better.
One notable detail here is the clear discomfort of even an orthodox Catholic reviewer with the elements of punishment in the story:
Ramses is not spared this divine wrath as he finds his adorable infant son lifeless in his crib. Wailing uncontrollably, he tries to wake his only child, shaking him like a ragdoll. “Is this your God,” he asks Moses, cradling the swaddled corpse, “a child killer?”

It’s an incredibly honest question, and Moses seems taken aback by it. God does not author evil. Rather, this action was the direct result of the Ramses pride; his son was a holy innocent, just like the poor children who died at Herod’s hand or David and Bathsheba’s first son—and the millions of children who die from infanticide, abortion, in vitro fertilization, malnutrition, starvation, and abuse. They die because sin is present in the world, and every person of good will has the solemn responsibility to protect them. “The Hebrew children lived,” Moses responds. They were saved because their parents cared enough to follow God’s law and place their trust in him.
Then, as Noir observes:
His last line, quoting Moses, is a bit better. The Hebrew children lived, yes. But I would be interested in hearing seminarians work this over. In my view, the Israelite young did not live because of their faith or their parents faith. That is not on the story at all. They lived because God willed it. Period. Herod killed the Holy Innocents, but the Lord killed the Egyptian first borns. Quite a big difference. Herod was responsible for raising God’s ire, but the actual punishments where NOT natural outworking of sin. In fact, the review here engages in the “ naturalism” he criticizes in the film’s own handling of the plague of plagues. It brings me back to one of my ongoing criticisms of modern Catholicism: it wants to depict God exclusively in terms of the Gospels, and not also in harmony with the OT and Revelation. There just is no place for judgement or a God who is above our criticisms.


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