THE BLOG
12/19/2014 11:29 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2015

Holy Moses, Ridley Scott!

Never have I seen a movie so profoundly, completely and utterly misunderstand the point of its own story as Exodus: Gods and Kings did. In fact, it's so off that I can't help but wonder if maybe the film has a different agenda than I thought it did.

Even setting aside that a white man named Christian -- CHRISTIAN -- was hired to play Moses, and that Ramses had blue eyes, and that there were Brits and Scots and Americans just in the mix to play the speaking characters, and that Aaron Paul was there (and didn't play Aaron), this film made no sense.

Every single person and idea in this story is so thoroughly mischaracterized that the basic, essential point -- that the Hebrews have been long oppressed and are being deservedly liberated, hooray! -- gets lost. Instead, we are left feeling deeply sad for Ramses, who twice tells his young son something like "You sleep so well. It is because you know that you are loved. I have never slept so well." You want to cry for him. Ramses keenly feels his father's lack of approval and affection, and it drives him in everything he does. We know why he is motivated to do the bad things he does. We can empathize.

Moses, meanwhile, is completely unsympathetic. Christian Bale plays him like he is reprising his role in American Psycho. He has no rapport with Ramses. He doesn't look or dress like an Egyptian in the beginning of the film, when he believes he is one. He doesn't kill a taskmaster to spare a beaten slave: he does it out of aggression, and when he need not have. Like the rest of his actions, this choice is inexplicable and unjustifiable.

We also see hundreds more shots of innocent Egyptian citizens suffering terribly because of the plagues than we do images of the Hebrews being forced to work or otherwise abused. Moses doesn't seem to mind that the man he was raised with, as a brother, is enduring this. There is no emotional plea to Pharaoh to "Let my people go!" He never even says this. Why would he? He clearly does not consider them his people, or really care if they get to go or not.

God doesn't really seem to care, either. If possible, he is even less interested in explaining anything to Moses than he is in the Old Testament. It's as if he doesn't want Moses to know what's going on, either. Instead of saying he has heard the cries of his people, and that he is ready to save them, he needles Moses for asking where he's been for 400 years. He snidely points out that Moses hasn't done anything to help the Hebrews, either. He never assures Moses that he will be with him, and help him on his difficult journey. He also yells at Moses that revenge feels great, which is entirely inconsistent with Judaism. (On Passover, we remove a drop of wine from our glasses for each plague, so as not to celebrate the suffering of the innocent Egyptians.)

Not helping matters is the fact that Aaron and Miriam are rendered even less relevant than they were in the Dreamworks classic The Prince of Egypt -- which, by the way, is my only complaint about that film. It is as if he has no allegiances or ties or sense of kinship to anyone or anything at all. At no point does Moses seem to belong to the Hebrews any more than he belonged when he was an Egyptian prince. Nor does he even have any apparent fondness for the Midianites, or chemistry with Tzipporah, who is as unsupportive as it gets. And once he leads the Hebrews through the sea, he seems indifferent about whether he collects her and his son before they head to Canaan or not.

Moses is also pretty staunchly and aggressively atheist for most of the film, even arguing with his wife about nurturing their son's faith -- that is, until he gets knocked unconscious by an avalanche, which is what happens right before he encounters God. So we can only assume he was concussed and hallucinating. Which I hope he was. Because God happens to be embodied by a creepy, petulant little British boy, while the burning bush in the background is totally ignored. The representation of God in the Old Testament is inconsistent, yes, but in this story, God is fire. He does not come to Moses as a person. God is a "mighty hand and an outstretched arm." He is pillars of smoke. He is a staff that becomes a cobra. He is his "wonders."

So what of the wonders? Well, there's no staff, so it doesn't get turned into a snake. For some reason, the Nile turns to blood not because God had Moses do it with his staff, since there is no staff. Instead, it is because God sent some hungry crocodiles into the water to chew up the people in boats -- here, there is homage to Jaws -- and then each other, until the water is bloodied. There being no staff, that also does not part the Red Sea (!). He throws his sword in it. And then it does not part. Instead, it drains like a bathtub. Not super fast, either. It takes all night.

This movie is so tone-deaf, and so misses every mark you expect to see it knock out of the park, that it's not even aggravating so much as it is baffling. So, Happy Hanukkah. If, for some reason, you wish to celebrate it with the Passover story, try The Prince of Egypt. Because we will all be happier if we just pretend Exodus: Gods and Kings was never made.