by Rayno Daschner (Shofar Cape Town South)
My wife, Liana, and I were both intrigued by and suspicious of the latest depiction of the Exodus story. We were intrigued because we’re fans of Ridley Scott films like Gladiator and Black Hawk Down and even greater fans of ‘the epic’ in Scripture! However, we couldn’t help being a little suspicious, since we’d noticed the Hollywood trend of ‘hijacking’ biblical narratives and presenting them in altered form (by deviating at the very least from the heart of the original), of which the film Noah had been a recent example. We decided to watch the movie – because we both like taking risks and also because, irrespective of the outcome, we like to know what’s going on in film trends. I was not particularly impressed…
Normally after such a display of anti-Christian content I would try and do the right “Christian thing” – remain objective, whilst acknowledging both that which is good and bad about it. However the extremity of Ridley Scott’s false and inaccurate depiction of God demands a different type of response (whilst remaining objective of course). For instance Dr Mattson’s response is quite apt. “If it were Islam, Ridley Scott would need a bunker.”
Since there are many good Christian reviews on the movie out there, and that’s not the purpose of this article, I’d instead like to refer to some comments of reviews, which in my opinion capture the essence of the matter. Starting with secular reviewers, one website ventures so far as to say that Exodus is so bad it doesn’t even deserve to be rated as one of Ridley Scott’s top 15 films. (In fact they go on to rate the film at an anonymous “20th place”.)
Exodus simply isn’t a very good film. It stumbles gracelessly from plot point to plot point without ever offering much insight into the complicated men or the thorny relationships at the heart of the story. Though perhaps it’s for the best Scott doesn’t push those elements too hard, since Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton’s performances feel like they come from two entirely different films. (Lussier)
Ted Baehr conducted a five-year study on the success of films based on their worldview. “According to the five-year study, movies with very strong Christian worldviews averaged $82.97 million per movie, but movies with very strong Non-Christian worldviews averaged only $21.84 million.” This is the summary of his review – I’ll leave you to draw the conclusions.
Director Ridley Scott’s new epic, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, tries to follow the Bible, but it does so in a manner that avoids the richness of the biblical story and could be summarized as the Cliff Note version of a comic book version of the story of Exodus. The best that can be said is that it’s gloriously junky, with magnificent battle scenes and spectacular special effects, but diminished by mediocre character development and an annoying lack of setup of biblical events. (Baehr)
Dr Mattson correctly identifies the villain of Scott’s version of the film as God himself. “‘Yahweh’ is personified in the person of an 11-year-old boy. An utterly unlikeable, unsmiling, adolescent, impertinent, bloodthirsty, and vengeful brat.” Furthermore he hints toward the source of this depiction.
Far from being God’s champion, Moses goes to Pharaoh and essentially apologizes because this is all just out of his hands. The thematic and emotional culmination of the film is dramatically captured when Ramses, holding the dead body of his son, exclaims: ‘What kind of a god does this? What kind of a fanatic follows such a god?’ Sorry, but I can’t help thinking I’m hearing the director’s voice. (Mattson)
Subsequently, we’re perhaps left with only two responses that are in line with the facts. Is it a case of being so blinded by emotionally charged intentionality that Ridley couldn’t recognise his inability to keep “movie objectivity” or even worse “took a knock” for the sake of a personal or maybe not so personal agenda? Or did Ridley Scott, arguably one of the best directors according to Christians and non-Christians alike, make a complete hash of one of the best stories ever told (even in Hollywood blockbusters like The Prince of Egypt and Ten Commandments). I’d say the second option is highly unlikely.
Apologist Dinesh D’Souza makes the following remark regarding his interactions with activist atheists. “In my debates with leading atheists, I noticed that many of them aren’t real unbelievers. It’s not that they refuse to believe in God; rather, they are angry and disappointed with God.” It’s not that many do not believe in God, there are many that are vocally against the belief in God and not in just any God – particularly the Christian God. Once again, the point isn’t to delve into Ridley’s past and his reasons for his position and depiction; however what surfaces is the obvious lack of the true arts – not to be blamed on Scott and other perhaps vengeful artists.
This brings me toward what I believe the true Christian’s response to the film should be. What shook me in watching Exodus was the realisation that we’ve allowed the stories that rightfully belong to us as Christians to be rewritten and re-told with such a level of poetic license that the heart of the story is completely lost. Where are the voices of the Christian artists, filmmakers and storytellers? I understand there are some, but I can’t help but think there is something missing. (Please note that I refer to voices and not presence – whilst there is most certainly Christian presence on the world stage, it appears that the intentionality is lacking for some reason.)
Consider Christ in this matter. The very fact that He came to the earth is already enough proof that He was present – incarnation in essence means God choosing to be with His people. He didn’t stop there though – He was often uncomfortably close to the religious leaders, for three years He was involved daily, constantly, very closely and personally, in twelve men’s lives. Often He was so present that Scripture tells us that He had to escape to get some quiet time.
However, He wasn’t just present, there was intentionality about His presence. In fact, so much so that He was perceived as a troublemaker who was counter-cultural simply for the sake of being against the status quo. In His final trail He was accused of standing against the religious system, the political system and the social system. He wasn’t afraid to be Himself and say the things that needed to be said.
Of course we see that His going to the cross had nothing to do with ‘being against’ but instead everything to do with ‘being for’ humanity, even to death! He was intentional from the start, when He called His disciples, until He ascended to heaven. That tells us something about love… It’s intentional – not coincidental, not ‘perhaps, if the opportunity lends itself’ or, like popular Christian culture often says, ‘not necessary if it will offend some’.
The Church has lost the ability to be counter-cultural, whereas this has always been the root of not just Christ, but Christianity – to go against the stream, not merely for the sake of being different but for the love of the world – God’s salvation plan.
This is what my daring wife did in the theatre of Exodus. She stood up toward the end of the film, walked to the back of the cinema and at the right moment said something to the effect of “I know God and what you’re seeing is not the real and true God”. It took me a couple of seconds to realise that it was my wife speaking! Along with some others, I got up to walk out of the cinema. Someone had courageously said what many were thinking and it brought a shift in the atmosphere (for the sake of those that did not recognise the atrocities), this was quite evident from the conversations amongst those who had watched the film.
As a movement, we’ve been known for our strong and voiced stances against that which is wrong. Not merely for the sake of having a voice or forming an identity, but chiefly for the purpose of God – because someone needs to do it. If we don’t the rocks will cry out – yes we’re talking about worship.
We’ve been called and we’re not afraid (sounds like an album, doesn’t it?) for “greater is He that is in us”. Therefore my response to the film Exodus: Gods and Kings (and it’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion) is not actually my response. Because I believe that God wants to respond. I assumed the unshakeable drive against the inaccuracies and anger (the good type) after the film would go away… but they haven’t. In fact, they’ve only become stronger. God will respond, with His Church as the vehicle (Ephesians 1:22-23) and His sons and daughters as mouthpieces (Jeremiah 23:29).
Don’t be surprised if you get an unanticipated call to express your convictions in a classroom, on a train, a gentle whisper in a directors’ meeting, at the gym or even in a cinema! Be bold. (Joshua 1:9) Did Jesus not say “tell the world!” (Matthew 28) Did He not say, “shout it from the rooftops?!” (Luke 12:3) The great God of the Exodus is behind you and ahead of you but, most importantly, within you. The world is not holding back their message, why are you? You have the message of the Kingdom to create, film, dance, paint, sing, mix, phrase, design, wear. Do it.