EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (4 Dec ’14)
A Commentary. Spoiler Alert.
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses.
Recipe for a miracle: A blow to the head, a near-death moment, a burning bush, the appearance of a young boy, a small pile of pebbles, and a few vagrant strains from Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold... And there you have it—the transformation of Moses from a former Prince of Egypt to the spiritual leader of the oppressed Israelites.
Ever since poet and critic Vachel Lindsay prophesied many years ago that this upstart film medium would lead a revolution of its own—establishing the secularization of religion—the movies have been torn between preaching sermons and miracles of special effects on the one hand, and, conversely, grounding the spiritual experience in material realities. Ironically, the more filmmakers like Cecil B. DeMille pursued the first option, the more their stories strayed into sheer hokum; and the more filmmakers like Pasolini and Scorsese chose the latter path, the more potential was allowed for a more spiritual experience.
Exodus falls somewhere in between. Moses’ conversion, already cited, is a party of the first part. And the Red Sea episode, which grovels in special effects of falling meteors and twisting tornadoes, is a party of the second part. In between we have Christian Bale’s Moses. As a young man he is a stalwart Egyptian patriot with a strong vocal command; and as he grows older, he becomes more a vigilante equipped with a Batman whisper. That’s right, the Prince of Egypt gradually shape-shifts into the rebel Batman. If you don’t believe it, just listen to the transformation in his voice . . .
And what about that small boy who shows up periodically to cajole and argue with Moses about his role as leader of the Israelites? Is he an hallucination? Or just a bratty kid?
And what about those tablets known as the Ten Commandments? I waited breathlessly as the film wound its way toward its 2 ½ hour length. Come on, I muttered to myself. Time’s running out. But finally, there’s Moses, huddled before a block of stone, tapping away while muttering some more Batman-like growls with the kid. Just in time to pack away the tablets into a wagon as the Israelites light out for the territory.
By the way, about that child. . . The closing credits give him the name of “Malak” and he is played by young Isaac Andrews.
One last thing: About those closing credits. They go on and on, surely a record for running time. There are so many names here that I began to hallucinate, myself, wondering if the Lost Tribes of Israel had returned.