December 21, 2014


Ridley Scott and Missing the Point of the Book of Exodus (Fr. Robert Barron, 12/19/14, Catholic World Report)

Many commentators have focused their critical attention on the portrayal of the angel as an annoyed little boy, but in itself that choice didn't bother me. Let's face it: it's next to impossible to represent God in a cinematically adequate way. For Charlton Heston, the God of Mt. Sinai was a disembodied voice (actually Heston's own, dramatically slowed down) and flashes of fire. I'm not at all sure that this was better than Ridley Scott's version, and in point of fact, the weird kid caught something of the unnerving, unsettling, more than vaguely frightening quality of the God disclosed in the Old Testament. 

The problem is the way the relationship between Moses and the God of Israel is presented. In the Biblical telling, Moses, like many of the other heroes of Israel, was compelled to pass through a long period of testing and purification in order to prepare himself to receive the divine word. Only when he had been sufficiently humbled and purified was he able to take in the presence of God and to accept the dangerous mission of liberation that God gave him. 

Ridley Scott's Moses did indeed spend years in the desert to the east of Egypt, but he seems little changed from the self-absorbed, violent, and worldly prince of Egypt that he had been. And thus, he accepts the angel's charge, not with joy and spiritual enthusiasm, but with a kind of resentment. And whenever the child appears to Moses in the remainder of the movie, the liberator seems annoyed, put upon. 

In the book of Exodus, on the other hand, Moses is utterly fascinated by God and drawn ever deeper into union with God's mind and purpose. So transformed was he after one encounter that his face shone with the brightness of divine glory. How far this is from Christian Bale's brooding Moses who seems to wish that God would just leave him alone! 

This misconstrual of the rapport between God and Moses leads to a second major problem with Scott's film, namely, the reduction of the Exodus to the story of political liberation from a tyrannical system of government. Never does Scott's Moses tell the people that their God had directed him to free them, and when the tribes of Israel make their way successfully across the Red Sea, no one mentions God or breathes a word of thanks to him. 

On the Scriptural telling, of course, the crossing of the Red Sea is followed immediately by an ecstatic song of thanksgiving: "I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he is been my savior...Who is like to you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like to you, magnificent in holiness?" (Ex. 15:1-2; 11) In point of fact, that last line is, arguably, the key to interpreting the entire book under consideration. Seen aright, Exodus is not telling a story primarily of political liberation (though that is part of it), but rather a story of spiritual liberation from false gods. 

Posted by at December 21, 2014 9:34 AM

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