Ridley Scott’s 'Exodus': Big Story, Small Picture

The Biblical Balaam knew what has escaped Ridley Scott.

Jack Engelhard,

OpEds Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard
צילום: מתוך האתר האישי

Director Ridley Scott’s just released “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” is one of those rare movies in which everybody is miscast, but that is not my real complaint.

Here is one part this production did get right – the Land of Israel was promised to the Hebrews, a Binding Resolution that came directly from God Almighty. Scott deserves respect for standing against today’s scoffers. Yes, the Torah was the paper of record long before The New York Times came along.

But how did all these Brits get into the picture, and all of them speaking a different British dialect? The confounding of tongues is the first problem.

You know immediately that despite a $140 million budget, this is something that got cobbled together.

Only Christian Bale (“Moses”) shows up speaking American, too much as though he rushed straight from the set of “American Hustle.” Sigourney Weaver, it seemed, blundered onto the set from another sound stage, quickly got costumed, rehearsed, reminded what movie she was in, and off she goes to collect a paycheck.

The women in this flick, we have no idea who they are or what they want. They have practically no lines and no “faces.”

Somebody forgot that during the Exodus, the real one, our incredibly gorgeous but modest Hebrew women played a big part and that if it were not for Miriam, fuhgeddaboutit, we never would have made it those 40 years. This anti-epic production tries too hard to meet our generation’s hero-averse sensibilities and thus turns a story entirely sublime into a story entirely trivial.

This is not about the Hebrew rebellion against slavery. Rather, this is about Ridley Scott’s rebellion against Cecil B. DeMille.
In Scott’s hands, and from the stitching of his four screenwriters, this is not about the Hebrew rebellion against slavery.

Rather, this is about Ridley Scott’s rebellion against Cecil B. DeMille. For everything DeMille did big, Scott does small. If DeMille splits the sea with effects so spectacular for 1956, Scott’s “Moses” in 2014 waits for the Weather Channel to report the next low tide. The Ten Commandments? Nothing to write home about.

In this telling, nobody shines, neither Bale as Moses, nor Joel Edgerton as Pharaoh, nor the digitally enhanced “cast of thousands.”  

Cut to Norma Desmond from “Sunset Boulevard” (1950): “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

We know that all movies are about two movie stars, period. Usually that’s boy meets girl. In the Bible sense, usually it’s boy meets God.

So minimalism is good when it is done by someone like David Lean, whose genius was to let a whole big story get told through the eyes of one hero.

But for Scott, there was no fixed position, and this brings me to my complaint.

Why are the Hebrews shown as a filthy rabble? This, to be honest, is no fault of this director alone. All movies that feature the Hebrews of times past give us Jews that are unwashed and uncombed. Watch us against the Greeks or the Romans, and now the Egyptians, and see how well groomed our enemies are against our own tattered Hebrew extras.

The opposite is true. Since we are talking about the Hebrew Bible (more to less), turn to practically any page and there find the rules of cleanliness. Through the Torah, Judaism is all about separating the clean from the unclean; distinguishing the pure from the impure.

Through the Torah, Judaism taught hygiene to the entire world – a world that knew nothing abut the urgency of washing hands until the late 1800s.

The Jews knew it some 3,800 years ago from Scriptures and from a thousand different volumes on etiquette compiled and distilled, like the Shulchan Aruch, to remind us of the laws pertinent to cleanliness and proper behavior. So even as we travelled as slaves throughout those 40 years, we marched onward clean, disciplined and orderly – never as an unruly mob. Never.

Even in the wilderness, pitching camp along 42 stops en route to the Promised Land, every home and booth was a model of modesty and morality.

So much so that Balaam, that man who was dispatched to curse the Hebrews, could not help himself but to exclaim:

“How goodly thy tents O Jacob; Thy dwelling places, O Israel.”

Jack Engelhard writes a regular column for Arutz Sheva. New from the novelist, the acclaimed anti-BDS thriller Compulsive. Engelhard wrote the int’l bestseller Indecent Proposal that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. Website: www.jackengelhard.com