The biggest question for me is “What am I looking for?” It’ll not be wise to see how faithful the movie is to the biblical story or how it stands against my expectations. I suppose it has to do more with satisfying a curiosity – a curiosity of how it compares to Ten Commandments and how the director interprets this age-old story with a 21st century perspective. The answers didn’t come easy. One has to first figure out from which angle the director approaches the story, and things did not sink in for me until several days after watching this film.
Christians have been trying to strike a balance between the transcendence and immanence of God through the ages. The former refers to the superiority of God that He is far above humankind, that He is holy and mighty and fearful to approach. And, all these bring to a deep sense of reverence when we look upon Him if we dare. We cannot imagine that we can fathom the thoughts of the transcendent God or know His way (Isaiah 55:8-9). We can only be in awe when we get even a glimpse of His power. Such is the God in the Book of Exodus. On the other hand, immanence refers to God’s presence and activity in nature and history. He acts through even human nature. God is close and intimate. The immanence of God is described throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 23:24; Job 27:3, 33:4; Psalm 104:29-30) but exemplified in the second person of the Trinity. Ridley Scott, the director of this film, either has a problem portraying a transcendent God or he believes the contemporary audience finds an immanent God easier to swallow. The result is to reduce a superior God to ‘human level’.
One evidence of an immanent portrayal of God (God working through nature) is the scientific explanations of the first few plagues. Since forty years ago, Christians and non-Christians have come up with the idea that at least some of the ten plagues were results of natural disasters. Some suggest that the ‘blood’ in River Nile was the result of algae, and this director explains it with crocodiles. Either way, the pollution of the water caused all the fish to die, therefore leading to gnats and flies. Also, frogs would need to escape from the river. Eventually, the infestations led to human and animal diseases. Likewise, the pillar of fire and cloud that blocks the Egyptian army from attacking the Hebrews by the Red Sea becomes Moses’s strategy of taking the mountain track that will slow down the chariots. But, the most obvious effort of such immanent portrayal would be the image of God Himself. To be fair, the idea of God as a child is Christian, not secular. I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who was the first to suggest that although we often think of God as an old man, He is probably younger than any of us. At the same time, my friend Laura was right when she said the boy character who represents God has an ‘attitude’. The Christian image of a child God is one of pure and joyful in creation. He brings lilies into being every morning one at a time by clapping his hands, announcing “Again! Again!” But the boy character in this film threw a temper tantrum while talking to Moses. You almost wanted to give him a good spanking.
Finally, I am a bit torn between endorsing or rejecting the portrayal of Moses. The Bible tells us the spiritual journey of Moses is in the wilderness. After 40 years of watching over sheep, the prince of Egypt is reduced to a shepherd who is not sure of himself anymore when he encountered God at the burning bush (which is reduced to a virtual fireplace in the movie). God builds up his faith as he witnesses the power of The Almighty over and over again. “Let my people go” rings authority in the original story. However, the director moves Moses’s spiritual journey to the actual exodus. His character reminds us more of Jacob who ‘wrestles’ with God than the towering figure who came as the man of God. In fact, his faith doesn’t come until he faces the parting (or, in this case, low-tide) of the Red Sea! On the other hand, I really shouldn’t be upset with an adaptation. Changing the time and place of Moses’s spiritual journey may have its justification from an artistic and production standpoint. Ultimately, the choice of endorsement or rejection of the Moses character is a personal one. But, the reason why I don’t like this movie is that the director didn’t get it. The story of Exodus stands in the core of the Pentateuch that Israel’s God comes to rescue His people and to become their God. Genesis builds up to it. Leviticus gives God’s perspective of the covenant. Numbers speaks of the failure of man to keep that covenant; and Deuteronomy substantiates the covenant by re-telling the story. The main character of the story is God, not Moses. Ridley Scott completely misses that!