Exodus – Gods and Kings is aptly titled, as sitting through the whole length of the movie was as arduous a task as a real exodus. The 154 minutes of the movie felt more like 1540 minutes and by the time the movie was finished, I was exhausted by it.
Some films kill the imaginary landscape in our mind. They spoil the images you have carried with you throughout your life. Exodus does exactly that. Gone are the fantastical images of Moses leading his people across the sea, the cruel Pharaoh and the Biblical settings. Instead you leave the cinema with a heavy heart, not because the film moved you, but because your senses are numbed by an abuse of cinematic freedom.
Darren Aronofsky spoiled Noah for us, opting for a more psychological approach to the film and his own interpretation of the Bible, riddled with confusing imagery and attitude. In Black Swan this approach worked to a large extent because the theme worked well with this style of directing. But when it comes to stories like that of Noah or of Moses, it would be better to leave the psychological analysis at home and opt for a more visual style of storytelling, since these are the stories deeply rooted in people’s minds for centuries – no amount of new interpretation is going to change that perspective, and serves rather to kill any pleasure in watching the film.
Exodus – Gods and Kings fails from the opening scene. Ridley Scott fails to establish for us the nature of Pharaonic rule or properly show the central conflict between Moses and the Pharaohs and its disastrous results.
Instead you are made to watch a loosely written script which mocks your sense of logic in several places. Nowhere in the movie do you feel you are watching a story about Egypt at the height of its glory. Gigantic statues and sets of buildings don’t actually bring the glory alive onscreen, instead rendering the screen lifeless and hollow. Exodus suffers as a result.
There are no scenes to show us the magnitude of the glorious empire of Egypt. No developments of the conflict and the central theme. We don’t really know if the Pharaoh is a cruel person who deserves a revolt from his slaves. He looks like a stagey comedian, his antics and mannerisms interspersed with half-mumbled soliloquies and weird gestures of hands and body which only he and Ridley Scott could fathom. The movie’s main fault is this: Scott assumes too much and doesn’t opt for a visual translation of his assumptions, instead leaving them for the characters to keep in their minds and mumble along to. Why couldn’t the actors speak a bit louder, instead of speaking so often in murmurs? That might have helped… but perhaps not.
Halfway through, we see an edict being issued to arrest Moses. We see hordes of slaves who refuse to reveal his whereabouts being hanged. In the midst of all this, Moses wanders the streets unharmed and starts openly training his people for battle. Logic? At this point, do we care?
By the time we reach the part where God punishes the people of Egypt by turning the river to blood, raining grasshoppers from the sky and infesting them with deadly diseases, you are punished enough already and have lost all interest in the movie. You no longer care what happens to this Moses and his people; your mind wanders restlessly to thoughts of the nearest bar where you will be able to drown your numbness in a couple of drinks.
Almost all the actors are made to waste their talents. Christian Bale fails miserably as the larger-than-life character of Moses. The pharaohs look plastic, especially the young Ramses.
Even the final battle scene is predictable and hollow. There are some interesting visual sequences here in the form of a sea rising to the skies and Moses and Ramses facing both each other and the impending catastrophe. But then Scott makes you laugh when he shows us a Ramses who escapes the deluge dry and unscathed, with all his royal emblems intact and his sword by his side.
Such a waste of time and effort, such a mockery of our intelligence leaves you wondering why Scott bothered.