On Friday evening, I went to Exodus: Gods and Kings. While I’ll leave a full review to the professionals, there are a few points that stood out to me as atheist viewer. (Spoilers ahead!)
For starters, the movie didn’t follow the typical “Bible movie” path of utter sycophancy. Based on previous interviews with both lead actor Christian Bale and director Ridley Scott, this is not surprising. Bale and Scott had both indicated, for instance, that the actions of Moses, as portrayed in religious stories, would warrant military action in this day and age. So it wasn’t shocking to see some of this activity portrayed short of being glorious acts of God.
The killing of the firstborn is the most obvious example. In the Bible, it is presented as a triumph. Indeed, God is supposed to have deliberately hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to ensure that it happened. Exodus 11 reads:
So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.
The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you — so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
The film essentially depicts the same story, but shows the impact less as a righteous demonstration of God’s wrath and more from the perspective of those whose children were killed. (Even Moses, in the film, is mortified by God’s plan.) As the implications of this mass killing, like that of the flood and other purportedly righteous slaughters, are often overlooked, it will be interesting to see how religious viewers respond to watching these aspects of the story depicted.
Which isn’t to say the film was dismissive of the Hebrew god.
Scott seemed, for awhile, to try to walk a tightrope between “maybe God is real” and “maybe there’s a rational explanation for it all.” Moses begins as a skeptic to religion entirely; and, after his conversion, attributes his own ideas to God when questioned. Indeed, Moses’ first vision of the messenger of God only comes after taking a tremendous blow to the head.
But, in the end (mainly due to the killing of the firstborn, where no rational explanation can be provided), you are left to conclude that God is real. Petty, mercurial, tyrannical even; but real. Fair enough, as it’s a religion-based movie; but I doubt the depiction will appeal to religious viewers. The implication that God was real, but a real monster, was not particularly satisfying to me, either.
The movie seemed to get tangled between two threads, ending up half-way between being a secular take on religious mythology and a full-blown religious movie. I can’t say that I liked it, but it’s progress at least to see decent screen time given to the less savory aspects of these cherished Bible stories.