Disclaimer: if you are unfamiliar with the story of Yahweh’s deliverance of the Hebrew slaves, and are concerned that I might spoil the ending for you, read here no further. In which case I would urge you, rather than to spend your time watching Ridley Scott’s upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings, go get the real thing here. That being said, I did get invited to an early screening of the upcoming film, and my comments below will give away some plot points (no surprises), and interpretive decisions (unfortunate surprises), and my reactions (surprises doubtful). I write not as a film critic, but as one who cares deeply about the Bible and your faith in the God it presents.
Entrails Don’t Say Anything
An early scene betrays the paradigmatic flaw in Ridley Scott’s approach to telling the Exodus narrative. In an effort to divine the outcome of an upcoming battle against Hittite armies, Pharaoh inquires of an Egyptian priestess hovering over a bleeding fowl, “What do the entrails say?”
She condescends, “The entrails don’t say anything, they simply imply. And that requires an interpretation.”
Thus Christians watching Scott’s interpretation of the Hebrews’ deliverance are left wondering if he considers the biblical narrative to be any more discernable than bird guts.
Ground Rules For Criticism
I could rack up a hefty word count to itemize discrepancies from the Pentateuch account and play the “creative license” game: how far is too far? I went in to the screening expecting to find a horde of misrepresented details. Considering how many evangelical expositors wouldn’t touch the foreskins of Zipporah’s “bridegroom of blood” with a ten-foot pole and a hazmat suit [Exod 4:24-26], I was not surprised to see circumcision cut out of Scott’s PG-13 production. Ever since reading the initial rumors of Christian Bale’s casting, I figured the 80-year-old desert fugitive would appear strikingly youthful.
But I don’t object to a lack of encyclopedic fidelity as much as the fundamentally mangled perspective stemming from a failure to honor authorial intent. Concerning the checklist of major plot events, Scott commendably does not shy away even from the miraculous. Granted, these make for some great CGI moments. Evidently the spectacular and the supernatural are not as unpalatable as sovereignty and sincerity. Scott’s retelling of the great Exodus deliverance is missing one critical ingredient: God’s character.
The Glaring Difference
The glaring difference between the written account and the blockbuster production lies not in the points but the vector. The biblical account resounds with revelation of a powerful and righteous God. But it’s more than telling when Scott decides to portray the God of Creation as an 11-year old boy, who only Moses can see. And this only after he bumps his head on a rock. Because in Scott’s case, he does not mind the extraordinary; he fears the holy. And nothing tames the consuming fire quite as well as cherubby cheeks.
According to the written account, YHWH’s precise and orderly judgments on Pharaoh’s Egypt were terrible spectacles of his power and righteousness. God raised Pharaoh for this very reason [Exod 9:16], that in his judgment the whole world might hear God’s name, that is, his character. Of all the details that we could argue could or should have been included or not from this cinematic rendering, the childish irrationality of Scott’s God does not bear any notable resemblance to the One Moses encountered.
And that is exactly why Christians are a people of the Book, and not even (primarily) of historical events. Events alone, like entrails, don’t say anything and are left open to interpretation. And events are all Scott seems to acknowledge. Now, to be clear: I affirm the complete historicity of the plagues, the parting of the red sea, the law given in cloud and thick darkness. But Scott thinks the Exodus events are as open to interpretation as goose gizzards.
And for that reason, faithful viewers will find their hearts squeamish to the incoherent, capricious, immature, prepubescent Deity depicted in Scott’s irreverent portrait. It is a distant relative from the God who graciously speaks interpretation of his own actions, before they happen [Exod 3:18-22]. You will not find on this screen the longsuffering God whose patience is mocked by a hardening heart. You will not find the God who repeatedly relents disaster, only to meet further reckless insubordination.
Some Hope Yet
As with the majority of Hollywood Biblebusters, I take small courage that perhaps seeing this film will rattle some cobwebbed Sunday school memories and provoke many to dust off their mantelpiece Bibles. There we can find, not only breathtaking spectacles, but heart-piercing interpretation. I pray that the Holy Spirit would enflame the fresh reading of His exhaled Words for a new generation of seekers. Ridley Scott’s far-from-inspired motion picture may yet have an eternal significance if only because it so brazenly misses the mark that it directs masses to a narrative arc that actually makes sense.