It’s as if God gave me the best birthday gift ever: The movie “Exodus” came out on my birthday last week. It featured Christian Bale–yeah, the guy who once played Batman–as Moses, the greatest prophet ever known in Jewish history.
Sounds like it is destined to be amazing, right?
Well, there were some amazing things about it, and there were some not so amazing things about it. Here are some of my top highlights of each kind.
“Exodus” features a slew of incredible actors such as John Turturro, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul, and a sort of laughable but still endearing cameo by Sigourney Weaver. The actress who plays Moses‘ wife, Tzipporah, happens to be Spanish, but she looked like a Yemenite Princess in this movie and I sort of fell in love with her along with Moses. Christian Bale wasn’t working with a fantastic screenplay, but I think he is a really strong actor and I think he did a great job. Love a buff gruff Moses. Totally works for me.
Not Amazing: Removing Moses From Being An Active Actor
The movie chooses to put a slightly different spin on the Moses story than the Torah does, and this is not something I have a problem with, per se. What I did have a problem with is removing Moses from the story as an active participant in the execution of God’s will. In this telling of his story, he is moved to believe in the God of Israel, but it is God alone who implements the plagues, rather than Moses orchestrating their delivery, which is how the Torah tells it. I think that the mythical qualities of Moses are strong only when he is an active part of the story rather than a passive one.
Amazing: Special Effects
The visuals in this film could have been created by any imaginative child. They are beautiful, to put it simply. The tidal wave which swallows up the Egyptians is, in my mind, the perfect depiction of this miracle. All of the plagues in fact made me either get the chills or giggle or start drooling because my mouth was hanging open so wide for so long watching it all unfold on that big screen. The images of what Egypt must have looked like were beautiful. The images of hundreds of thousands of people leaving Egypt were staggering. Visually, it was stunning.
Not Amazing: Errors
It was not the Red Sea that the Jews crossed. It was the Sea of Reeds. Those are different things, and if you ask me, it is more probable that the city of Reeds parted than the Red Sea. And Moses was lame of tongue; he had a lisp or an impediment; Aaron has to speak for him in the Torah. His reluctance to be a leader stems from his acknowledgment of his imperfections as a human because he can’t speak well–this is a powerful feature of the hero which is gone from the movie.
Amazing: In-The-Know Tidbits
I don’t think that Ridley Scott is Jewish, but someone did their homework. There are nods to such lovely tidbits of the Torah and Talmud such as God showing Moses his back, Joshua’s waiting in the wings to take over as general, and Moses’ specialness and goodness. I almost feel like the movie was made for Jews who would pick up on all of those little tidbits–even the things that were wrong. It felt like if my Hebrew school had shown this movie when I was in middle school, it would have been incredibly entertaining and also incredibly educational to find the things that were hidden, both correct and incorrect.
Not Amazing: God Issues
Of course God is in everything and is everything, but the choice to portray God as a vengeful and kind of jerky kid didn’t really work for me. Between the casting and the screenplay and removing Moses from having a literal hand in implementing the plagues, it kind of seems like the movie wants to show that the Hebrew God is a vengeful jerk. Don’t get me wrong, secular or liberal friends: The angry and punishing patriarchal God of the Old Testament is very different from the God many of us have come to understand as adults who wants what is best for us and loves us unconditionally. However, someone clearly has got God issues and I think they wanted to work them out in this movie, with God coming out not really looking so good at all. Come to think of it, I felt kind of guilty as a Jewish believer leaving the theater–kind of like, “Yup, that’s my God. The one killing and maiming and visiting death upon babies.” Ouch.
Amazing: My Story
Ultimately, I loved “Exodus.” Even with all of its flaws, I loved the love story between Moses and Tzipporah, and I loved the dialogue they engaged in in their most intimate moments. It totally brought tears to my eyes every time. I love seeing how much of a struggle it must’ve been to be a reluctant prophet and leader. I love seeing the story of my people–our people–on the big screen. It was an amazing experience that I honestly cannot wait to share with my sons. Sure, it’s imperfect, but there was so much that was compelling and lovely.
If I were directing or writing a Moses movie, I’d cast Liev Schreiber to play Moses and I would play Tzipporah, right? And I’d take my dialogue and plot straight from the Source. Not sure anyone would buy it. But since I got thus inspired during Hanukkah time, let’s just say that I’m told there can be miracles when you believe!
Happy Festival of Lights, and I say go see “Exodus” to find the errors and to see the beauty. But be prepared to be underwhelmed: The Torah just tells it better.