Thursday, January 01, 2015

Exodus The Movie (parish magazine item preview)

I recently went to see the new Biblical epic, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. I was especially interested to do so because last year I preached my way through Exodus chapters 1-20 and I am planning to return to the book soon. And I thought it might provide me with some copy for the insatiable parish magazine, which it appears to have done! If you haven’t already seen the film and intend to, perhaps I should say that you might think this article contains spoilers. Right, those of you who are still with us, what should we make of it?

Both The Telegraph and The Guardian gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, and I think that’s about right. I found it watchable, but I’ve no real desire to see it again. Not Ridley Scott’s best work, I reckon. Gladiator is worth owning; Exodus isn’t.  

I suppose we can expect Hollywood to take some licence when it treats Holy Scripture. I didn’t see the Noah movie, but my impression is that this adaptation was rather less outlandish (no giant stone monsters, for example) but much less straight that Cecil B. De Mill’s The Ten Commandments, which is undoubtedly a classic of its type and still a great film. I was disappointed that there seemed to be some unnecessary monkeying about with the Biblical narrative in Exodus. For example, I can’t really see that it was required for Moses to have a bump on the head before he met with God at the Burning Bush. Even if the film-makers had issues with historicity of the Exodus narrative they might have trusted it as a great story and left us to make up our own minds about its truthfulness. Attempts to explain or explain away the story might not carry as much conviction as letting it stand on its own merits.

The drama of the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea were striking. The film brought home the mighty power of God and the devastation of these terrible events with the full panoply of modern special effects. Though we might have our quibbles, this might actually enhance our reading of the Biblical texts as we wonder what these things might have been like to live through. If we are tempted to sanitise, domesticate or gloss over the events which are briefly narrated in Exodus, Exodus might be an antidote.

The depiction of God was interesting. He appeared as a ten year old boy. For the Christian this is intriguing, especially when the movie is released just after Christmas. God as a boy could suggest identification with the human condition, especially with his people in slavery in Egypt. The incarnation is all about God caring enough about our plight not only to somehow save us from afar but to enter into it as our rescuer. Thus we have a God who is not also powerful but personally sympathetic. He knows what fear and exploitation feel like for a human being from the inside. Though I fear that for the film-makers, God as a child was perhaps meant to suggest petulance and unpredictability. This God played dice. Moses seemed to have modern liberal values; God less so. This God didn’t quite stamp his foot and have a tantrum but you felt that he might. In the film the Passover is presented as morally problematic when the Bible sees it as a deserved judgement, though we might find this hard to swallow.

The film’s Moses was perhaps more Braveheart than prophet, but one point which did come through clearly was Moses’ inability to save his people. He has to learn humility and come to the point where he recognises his dependence on God. To this we can say, “Amen”. In fact, the Bible later calls Moses the meekest man in all the earth. We might fairly assume that this was to some extent hard-won rather than a natural part of his personality. More importantly, Moses might be the agent of salvation – in this he is a picture of the greater Saviour to come, the Prophet like Moses, Jesus Christ. But salvation is the work of God alone. God saves us despite ourselves, because of his undeserved love for us. Our response is trust and obedience. It’s not for us to set about saving ourselves or other apart from God.

If the Exodus movie causes us to revisit the Biblical book of Exodus that would be a very good thing. And even better if we manage to see in Exodus a picture of our own deliverance from our slavery to sin.

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