September 26, 2017

EXODUS: Gods and Kings and the limits of artistic licence by Toni Kan

EXODUS: Gods and Kings and the limits of artistic licence by Toni Kan

The Ridley Scott movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings should have been called Moses or at best, Moses and Ramses played by Joel Edgerton, because it does not tell the story of the Biblical Exodus.

True, there is Moses played by Christian Bale, who looms very large, so large he dwarfs every other character, except Rameses, who becomes like a shadow, a doppelganger if you will.

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And this Moses is not a Jew or Hebrew as the movie insists on portraying them. His acceptance of his Jewishness is grudging and the God factor is more oblique and tangential than tangible. This is a movie in which the director has worked hard to not just re-interpret the story but to invent a counter-narrative that seeks, almost, to obliterate the place of the Divine in a story that is propelled by the very force of the Divine.

True, every movie, especially one based on a previous material is most often a re-interpretation based on the director’s preferences, peccadilloes and whims. Ridley Scott is therefore, within his limits in infusing elements of his own artistic licence in the narrative and what he achieves is a movie that is more literal than symbolic.

There is a more linear narrative in Exodus. Events have a more cause and effect relationship which situates them in the realm of the common sense but the Bible is not just your everyday story book. The Bible would not be the Bible if it was as literal and commonsensical as Ridley Scott has made it seem.

The second problem with this movie is that it takes too many liberties with a story that everyone knows, even children as young as five. Scott is said to have told reporters that the parting of the Red sea was not divinely inspired but as a result of a tsunami.

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True there are new elements like the portrayal of Moses as a Man of War, thus the permanent presence of his sword (He was after all a general in the Egyptian army) instead of just as a Shepherd with a staff as other movies have shown him, but in doing away with the staff, Ridley Scott shoots himself in the foot.

In Scott’s movie, Moses’s staff does not play a part. What happened to the Lord asking him to throw his staff on the ground and the staff becoming a snake or Aaron’s staff becoming a snake and swallowing the Egyptian staffs?

In striving for a literal interpretation, Scott destroys the defining moment of Moses’ conversion from sceptic to believer. Everyone who has read the bible remembers the injunction, “Take off your sandals for where you stand is holy ground.”

This is glossed over and the famous quote “I am who I am” is shortened to “I am” and then nowhere in the movie does Moses explicitly ask Remeses to “Let my People go!” a demand so well known it is a borrowed trope in the Steven Spielberg movie Amistad where the leader of the slaves says to the judge “Give us us free!”

Imagine a remake of Amistad without those four words!

Why focus so much on Moses in a story that has about 5 major characters; Moses, Rameses, Aaron, Miriam and Joshua? In Scott’s Exodus, Joshua has more presence than Aaron. Is it because Joshua is a man of war and Ridley Scott’s is an action movie auteur?

Miriam aside from the farewell scene at Moses’ exile is written out of the movie. While Aaron was Moses’ sidekick in the Bible, Scott relegates him to just two mentions and nowhere does he accompany Moses to negotiate with Pharaoh.

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There is also the complete re-imagining of Jethro the father of Zipphora, Moses’ wife. The bible describes Jethro as ‘Priest of Midian’ and Moses’ father-in-law. Scott does not accord him any special relevance.

This movie is dedicated to Anthony Scott, Ridley Scott’s younger brother who committed suicide two years ago. This movie does a disservice to his memory because while Ridley Scott scored beautifully with another epic movie, Gladiator, which was also set in antiquity, he fails woefully with Exodus: Gods and Kings which is a travesty of its source material and which fails also as an action movie because except for the opening battle scene where Moses saves Rameses and the scene where the chariots fall into the ravine, the movie falls flat.

The director missed a critical lesson at the moment when an Israelite confronts Moses during the crossing of the Red sea and Moses replies with an emphasis on Trust and Faith.

Ridley Scott’s movie trusted so much on his famed directorial acumen but failed to take a leap of faith.

With this movie, Ridley Scott has taken many liberties and must not be allowed to go scot free

Photo credit: http://www.highdefdigest.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/exodus.jpeg

http://cdn.screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/exodus-gods-kings-cast.jpg

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2 Comments

  1. IJENDU IHEAKA

    I thank this critic for a work I give high marks to although I have not viewed the film. I have applauded this criticism of the film “Exodus: gods and kings” because this film critic has from the short narrative of the film and his interwoven commentary shown a mastery of artistic and filmic interpretation. It must be noted that the attempt by many contemporary film directors to develop or work on new dramatic directorial concepts seem to have only been succeeding in rubbishing the earlier works of such directors and Ridley Scott and this film of his serves as a good example.
    As a result, this critic’s statement “the director missed a critical lesson at the moment when an Israelite confronts Moses during the crossing of the Red sea and Moses replies with an emphasis on Trust and Faith.
    “Ridley Scott’s movie trusted so much on his famed directorial acumen but failed to take a leap of faith.
    “With this movie, Ridley Scott has taken many liberties and must not be allowed to go scot free”, is a well deserved judgement for a creative work on trial, a fact which Scott has ignored to his peril. His punishment is that someone like me having read this criticism will not lift a dime to purchase a creative work that defeats its purpose from the onset and disappoints its audience without appology. IJENDU IHEAKA.

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  2. Dale

    The preview of the movie alone told me that it would leave much to be desired and so I made up my mind not to watch it. Your critic just confirmed that..Thank you

    Reply

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