Friday, December 19, 2014

EXODUS: GODS & KINGS (2014)

After the disappointing idiosyncracy of Darren Aronofsky's Noah (2014), my Biblical expectations were lowered walking into Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods & Kings (2014), which is probably a good thing because I relaxed into a straightforward, competent epic that I found as satisfying and entertaining as a DeMille spectacle. Granted, Scott was probably directing CGI technicians in the rendering of thousands of people (in contrast to DeMille who was directing thousands of people), but the special effects were spectacular (a euphemism for miraculous) and—I don't know about you—but I'm always game to see the parting of the Red Sea and, without question, Exodus: Gods & Kings offers the best plagues to be seen at a multiplex this year; my favorite being the crocodile sequence reddening the Nile.

As Moses, Christian Bale may not have had the commanding presence of Charlton Heston, nor Joel Edgerton Yul Brynner's virile grasp of Ramses, but let's face it, none of them hold a candle to Mel Brooks who wins hands-down for tripping while coming down from Mt. Sinai and offering (oops!) 10, instead of 15, commandments.

In terms of eccentricity credits, Aronofsky may have gone a bit too far with his fallen angels lumbering around as rock giants, but there were two off-center flourishes in Exodus: Gods & Kings that intrigued me. First, envisioning God's voice as a petulant, ill-tempered tween was, in my estimation, a bold move for commenting upon the capricious nature of everyone's favorite demiurge. I prefer Job trembling on his palette before a howling whirlwind, myself, but if the cross-browed boy suggests that the Old Testament God hardly feels a need to explain his angers and punishments—the "might means right" motto that cops adopt nowadays as their God-given justification to brutalize the public—then, I "get" it. But can you imagine? Getting older and older and having this entitled brat criticizing everything you do? At least his eyes didn't glow white.

But what interested me most was this: I am of the camp that interprets Moses as a shamanic figure leading his tribal people out of Egypt. Even Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses depicts him with his "horns of light." And then there's the question of his staff, the one named Snake, that parts the Red Sea and draws water from a stone. Once in the aughts, visiting Istanbul for the first time, I went to the Topkapi Palace to see the emerald-encrusted dagger of Sultan Mahmud I that Melina Mercouri and Maximillian Schell set their sights on in Jules Dassin's Topkapi (1964). It was quite beautiful, yes, along with all the other glittering and golden items on display; but, what impressed me most was the museum's boast that they had the staff of Moses in their collection. I scurried on over to see it and was startled to discover a thin piece of wood, not much larger than a conductor's baton. This was the staff of Moses?! This was the staff named Snake?! Weathering that revelation, I was curious to see how the staff would be presented in Exodus: Gods & Kings and—now here's the interesting thing—Scott did away with it altogether and substituted in a sword! If there is one question I could ask the director it would be why this substitution was made and to what narrative end?

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