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Monday, December 15, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings




About midway through Exodus: Gods and Kings, Joshua (Aaron Paul) starts seeing the damnedest things: Moses (Christian Bale), a former general of Egypt and now the leader of the Hebrew slave insurgency, would regularly wander off alone and start arguing with nothing. Joshua watches, mouth agape, trying to comprehend why Moses is talking to himself, sometimes even screaming at a rock or at thin air. If only Joshua could see what we, the audience, can. Moses isn't crazy; he's arguing with God (manifested as a young boy played with intense charisma by Isaac Andrews). And boy, can God and Moses bicker. After their first couple of arguments, God was probably asking himself why he gave Man free will to begin with. Especially this man.

God is a tough taskmaster not above mocking Moses for his failure to liberate the Jewish people from their oppressive Egyptian master. However, Moses isn't going to take the Almighty's shit, either. Moses openly defies his creator (whom he grew up believing wasn't his creator, thinking himself Egyptian until nine years and one exile ago). Moses constantly questions God, and even threatens to quit his holy mission more than once. "400 years of doing nothing," Moses chides, and now God wants Moses to lead the Hebrews against Egypt all of a sudden. God doesn't have a good answer for why He sat on his Heavenly cloud for 400 years and what the urgency is for the Hebrews to break the shackles of the Egyptian Pharaoh. After watching Moses' "insurgency" fail, God tells Moses to stand down and "just watch." If God wants to mess with a Pharaoh right, God's got to do it Himself.

When God enters the fray, He makes damn sure to make life a living hell for Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Soon, all of Egypt trembles before Superstorm Yahweh. What God wants, He explains to Moses during one of their shouting matches, is for self-styled god-kings who worship cat gods and sun gods like Ramses to be humble before Him. To achieve the adequate amount of humility He desires, which takes an awful long time, God does what Homer Simpson would do and consults the Bible (it's the prankster's Bible). First, alligators just up and start eating Egyptians in the Nile. Then all the fish die when the water of the Nile becomes blood. Then God starts in with an invasion of frogs like what happened at the end of Magnolia. Then the flies and the locusts swarm in. When Ramses, ever defiant, declares he'll kill every first born Hebrew son like the Penguin planned in Batman Returns, God decides to beat him to the punch and kills every first born Egyptian, including Ramses' beloved son. Just for shits and giggles, God brings down a hailstorm, too. God doesn't relent, even when Moses points out all of this plague He is raining down upon Egypt is making the miserable lives of the Hebrews even more miserable as much as it's inconveniencing the Egyptians.

This type of Old Testament crazy is way more than Moses, with his Robin Hood-like plan of teaching the Hebrews archery and guerrilla warfare tactics, could manage on his own. Though Moses doubts God's tactics throughout and doesn't express his gratitude until the end, when he willingly takes hammer to stone and carves out Ten Commandments for an approving God, Moses was very fortunate to have God on his side. This is especially evident when Moses leads 400,000 Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and into the desert. Ramses let them all go peacefully before giving it a couple of days to mull it over and deciding he really wanted to kill them all anyway. God parts the Red Sea for the scurrying Jews and then digs into His own classic bag of tricks and brings down a massive tidal wave Noah-style onto the pursuing Egyptian army, drowning everyone except for Moses and Ramses. Why didn't God just drown Ramses too? Because what He really wanted, apparently, was the satisfaction of hearing Ramses, washed up on shore and finally seeing the futility of his actions, admit he ain't nothin' compared to God. This was all about putting Ramses in his place. (And not in the way condoms will be named after him in a few thousand years.)

Exodus: Gods and Kings is pure Bibical action spectacle by Sir Ridley Scott, the Old Testament by way of Gladiator. Touchingly dedicated to his late brother Tony Scott, Exodus is at its core about a terrible dispute between two men who grew up as close as brothers but were torn apart for political and ideological reasons. He couldn't count on Ramses, but in the end Moses learns what a friend he has in God. Bale is in top form as the noble but conflicted Moses, shouldering the burden of falling from grace as Egypt's greatest general upon learning his true heredity as a Hebrew destined by God to lead his people from the shackles of slavery. Edgerton is quite excellent as the preening and unyielding Ramses, who grew up knowing his late father the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro!!) favored his adopted brother more than himself, and that Moses was always the better man. When Moses is banished upon Ramses' discovering Moses is actually born a Hebrew (at the urging of his mother Sigourney Weaver, largely wasted in a nothing part), he wanders the desert for years before taking a comely wife (Maria Valverde), having a family, and settling into a humble life as a shepherd. That is until a bush starts burning and God comes calling. When the elderly Moses, at last having fulfilled all of God's wishes, gets a nod of approval from the Almighty as he carries forth the Ten Commandments in the Ark of the Covenant, we nod in approval as well. Because we all know in a few thousand years, Indiana Jones will pick up where Moses left off and he will choose... wisely.