Last week, I went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings. I remember first seeing the trailer for it a few months ago and being instantly intrigued and interested. I rarely ever go see movies in theaters, but I knew I wanted to watch this one. And I’m really glad I did. In fact, I really enjoyed it.
Of course, because Exodus is a retelling of a Bible story and because two other huge films have already been made on the same story (Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in 1956 and the 1998 DreamWorks film The Prince of Egypt), Exodus has been scrutinized from the very beginning. Especially in the Christian community, people were concerned that director Ridley Scott would take way too many creative liberties with the plot and characters.
Well, Ridley Scott certainly took creative liberties. Even more than the creators of The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt. In fact, Exodus really only followed the main pillars of the Biblical plot: the Israelites in slavery, Moses being called by God to deliver them, the ten plagues, the parting/crossing of the Red Sea. Many of the details were completely different from what we attribute to the real story in the book of Exodus.
But despite all of this, I enjoyed watching the film. I’m really glad I went. Here’s why:
Exodus: Gods and Kings made me think. It presented a story I’ve known all of my life from a completely different perspective. And while this perspective was inaccurate in many respects, it caused me to reconsider my preconceived notions of the Bible that I’ve developed which may not be as true as I once thought they were.
For example, Ridley Scott chose to portray God in the form of an eleven-year-old boy with a very questionable personality. I found this portrayal to be strange and concerning, but it made me deeply consider my view of God. When it comes to Biblical stories like the exodus, I think we tend to see God as a disembodied, deep booming voice without much depth to His character. So seeing God depicted in a totally opposite manner was good for me. It was a good reminder to me that God is so much deeper than we often make Him out to be.
The storyline of Exodus also includes an enormous number of details that are nowhere to be found in the Biblical story. But that made me realize: we don’t know a bunch of the details. In fact, many of the details that we do treat as Biblical fact aren’t that at all. Just as Ridley Scott filled in the holes with his ideas for the plot, so do we Christians. If you go back and read the story in the Bible, you might be surprised to find what isn’t in the story that we all assume is fact. Watching Exodus helped me to think about the human element of the story of the exodus, something I think we often forget. It provided human plot details that may or may not have been true. But either way, it made me think.
Something I very much appreciated about Exodus was that I never got the impression that this film was an attempt to discredit the Biblical account. Sure, it took a lot of liberties, some of which were not accurate. And yes, it did try to naturalize some of the plagues. And I did disagree with how the parting of the Red Sea was depicted. But through all of that, I never felt as if the creators were attacking the Bible story. In fact, I appreciated and respected the creativity and thought put into the film by Ridley Scott and everyone else.
Ridley Scott is a self-described atheist. But he doesn’t attack the Bible. In fact, throughout the film, despite the inaccuracies, I see respect for the original story. And that is remarkable. I think it’s neat that an “avowed atheist” would create a film of such depth based on the Bible.
After I saw the film, I was asked if I’d recommend it to anyone to see. And I had to stop and think before answering. My answer was this: If you’re looking to watch a Bible story on film, then don’t see Exodus. But if you’re looking to be challenged and to think, then by all means do so. If you enjoy movies of depth that leave you pondering and reflective, then this is the movie for you. And even if you don’t enjoy the story, the cinematography is phenomenal. I almost think it alone was worth my ticket.
I very much enjoyed seeing Exodus: Gods and Kings. It wasn’t what I expected. But it was good. It made me think hard about a lot of elements in the story. So to Ridley Scott, I say well done. I very much respect your work. Thank you for not attacking the Bible, but helping me be intentional about what I do believe.