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Exodus Preview Leaves Faith Elements Vague

<i>Exodus</i> Preview Leaves Faith Elements Vague

(WNS)--The buzz, hiss, and tsk-tsk among Christian circles over Darren Aronofsky’s Noah have only just hushed down. Now with the release of the trailer and a media preview of the next biblical epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings, the fire is slowly roaring back up again—though whether it will produce roars of applause or a cacophony of boos is still unclear. Given the controversy over Noah, probably both. 

Fox invited WORLD and some other media outlets to preview exclusive 3-D footage of the upcoming movie recently in Los Angeles. Both producer Jenno Topping and actor Christian Bale, who plays Moses, were present at the 20th Century Fox lot to introduce the film. The media presentation revealed only eight scenes, a total of about 37 minutes of the movie, which opens Dec. 12. 

Before screening the scenes, Topping warned some of the special effects were incomplete, but I wasn’t able to spot any flaws in the visuals—they were stunning in their crispness and realism. Most impressive were the scenes of the plagues: One showed a legion of flies attacking an Egyptian man, his horrified scream silenced as the creatures plowed into his mouth and nostrils. The scene with the locusts is even more terrifying. Certainly, Exodus will be an action-packed movie, like Noah. The devastating, horrifying, and revolting details of the plagues make the then-astounding special effects in the 1956 classic The Ten Commandments (starring Charlton Heston) seem like children’s Play-Doh. 

Though the mood is akin to The Ten Commandments, Noah, and Braveheart, the themes—especially that of brotherly conflict—reminded me of the animated kids movie Prince of Egypt. Exodus will highlight the three crises Moses meets in his life: an identity crisis (Is he a Hebrew?); his crisis of faith (Who is the Jehovah God?), and a battle of loyalties (to his family or his adoptive brother Ramses?). 

While Heston’s Moses was dark, brooding, and earnest, from what I could detect from the snippets, Bale plays a Moses whose personality is brighter and richer in dimension. Bale’s Moses is a chiseled prince with boyish charms, deadpan sarcasm, and impatient arrogance—until his personal battles scour him into a wide-eyed, reluctant leader who pleads with Ramses, played by Joel Edgerton, not to test God. Bale described Moses as someone who was straining under the “incredible weight on his shoulders” as the chosen deliverer, pointing to the many times Moses “tried to get out of the gig. … You know, it’s a hard job.”

“The big one for me, other than realizing I had no idea of Moses at all, was how complex he was,” Bale said during a follow-up Q&A session, in which no audience questions were allowed. “He was a very troubled, tumultuous man and mercurial.” But the bigger surprise, Bale said, was realizing “the nature of God,” whom he described as “equally very mercurial.” He also said he was surprised that there was no mention of the afterlife or the devil. 

Bale, who admitted that his faith level is “below Sunday school,” remembers bursting into incredulous laughter when director Ridley Scott first offered him the role. The first movie he rented as “research” was Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a British religious satire about a Jewish man who is mistaken as the Messiah. Then he rented Mel Brook’s History of the World, Part I, yet another parody film that includes a Exodus scene, in which Moses (Mel Brooks) descends Mount Sinai carrying three stone tablets, then accidentally drops and smashes one, thus cutting God’s 15 commandments into 10. 

“You have to have humor when you are playing something as serious as this,” Bale explained to much audience laughter. He said he eventually re-watched The Ten Commandments as well, and later dryly remarked that nobody can “out-Heston Heston.” For more serious research, Bale read Jonathan Kirsch’s Moses: A Life, Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews, the Torah, the Pentateuch, and the Quran. 

The Q&A session didn’t address the brewing controversy over the domination of explicitly white actors for all the meaty roles, while black actors play low-class Egyptians and slaves. Some groups have already called for a boycott, accusing Exodus of “white-washing”—just because a white man wears eyeliner doesn’t make him Middle-Eastern, they protest. At least The Ten Commandments had the legitimate excuse of facing very limited cast choices. 

Ambiguous too is how Exodus will deal with the faith elements, other than doing yet another dramatization of human psychological issues. Judging from the few scenes I saw, Exodus does a good job portraying Moses as a multi-dimensional, fascinating, complex character, but doesn’t allow the same kind of character depth to God. But we’ll know for sure in December.

*This Article First Published by World News Service