Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Review Rating: 7
The life story of Moses and his brother Ramses, and the legendary conflict between the Egyptian kings and their Hebrew slaves.
It’s important to note from the outset that the movie, being a Ridley Scott opus, gives us a unique point of view to look at Moses from – that of a warrior standpoint. Everything starts off with Moses as a young man, preparing to go to war with his adopted brother Ramses, Prince of Egypt, against the Hitites. Moses is played by Christian Bale, with messy hair and a beard for most of the film, and an accent I found odd, if not I guessed appropriate. Ramses is played by Joel Edgerton, in all his kohl-eyed and golden glory. Pharoah Seti (John Turturro) treats both his sons well, though he evinces doubt about Ramses ability to properly succeed him. But off they both troop to war, where Moses manages to rather publicly and blatantly save the life of a, let’s face it, far too prideful Ramses. Moses has a strange meeting with some literal underground Hebrews led by Ben Kingsley as Nun, where certain unpleasant truths are brought to light. Those truths begin circulating and as soon as there’s a royal death and Ramses wants to lay those rumors to rest, more unpleasantness is had and finally, Moses is exiled into the desert. He has slim hope of survival.
Or does he? Because it turns out that, despite not knowing how to survive in the desert and supposedly done for, someone left Moses his sword and he still has enough oomph to use it to kill some bad guys and save some ladies at a watering hole. This is how he meets the future wife. Fast forward a little montage and Moses is now a married shepherd with a son, and happy. He makes no bones about the religion of his wifes people, but will not claim them as his own, and has reservations about his son being brought up that way. He espouses no particular religion, until the night of a massive storm and some lost livestock, Moses finds himself the victim of a landslide and next thing you know, it’s a burning bush.
Or is it? Yes there is a burning bush sitting there, burning merrily away. But a young boy in a simple robe sits near it, and he speaks for the He that Moses has a rather blunt conversation with. This He, if he can be believed to be the manifestation of Moses’ God to talk with, is Old Testament-style wrathful, and wants his chosen people freed via bloodshed, with Moses as his General, as soon as possible. Moses is awed and reluctant, but sets forth to begin training the men of his settled village in arms. Ramses, who put a bounty on Moses after learning he was alive, begins a campaign of killing Hebrews, usually a family at a time, in public executions as a discouragement to aid Moses. This turns out to be too much for the child-God, who tells Moses he’s about to step up the timeline. And suddenly there’s a flurry of activity.
There’s this glorious scene on the Nile where monster crocodiles swarm a whole bunch of hapless humans in a feeding frenzy and then proceed to turn on eachother, making the waters of the Nile run red with blood. The blood contaminates the water and the fish begin dying. This further contaminates the river and now there are demonic flies everywhere. Demonic flies lead to, you guessed it, sickness and finally death. Oh, it’s miserable everywhere in Egypt. The frogs are everywhere, the locusts are coming too, the food and crops are gone, the waters are toxic, even the High Priestess is sickly. But that still isn’t enough. Moses pleads with the child-God for that to be the end of it, but is curtly refused, and so he tries to warn Ramses, pleading as much as he can for Ramses to simply end this thing and let the Hebrews go already. Because if he doesn’t, something worse than all these other plagues is coming. Cue those poor lambs, the doorframes and lintels, and a sweeping darkness of death that covers the land like a curtain. Out of the darkness comes the sounds of mourning from many throats, as a whole lot of children were just extinguished like candles, including Ramses own beloved son. Pharoah finally, weeping bitter tears holding the shrouded body of his son, remonstrates Moses soundly and bids him take the damned Hebrews and go, already.
So, finally, we have the exodus! Numbers are sketchy, the Egyptians and the Hebrews can’t seem to agree on just how many of them are leaving, but we know it’s somewhere in the several-thousands. And where are we going? Well apparently Moses has a plan, to get all these people and their children and stuff around mountains and across the sea when the tide is at its lowest point. Back in the death-shrouded city, Pharoah Ramses seems to have finally lost his temper and orders his army after Moses and the Hebrews! Ramses wants no truck with delay either, ordering those ridiculous chariots over treacherous mountain paths because they’re faster, and of course begins losing men at an alarming rate. Meanwhile at the coast, Moses and the Hebrews have indeed made it, but the tide is high and noone knows what to do now. The child-God is silent and Moses tosses his Egyptian sword into the drink in a fit of anger, only to pull it out later like the plug from a huge drain, causing the waters tide to pull out just enough for the Hebrews to cross. Sadly, there is no epic scene with a staff (he left it with his son, remember) and Moses parting the waters. Nope, he just pulls the plug and the water drains out, it’s very anticlimactic. The Hebrews cross and of course Moses is more or less last, Ramses chasing him all the way even after all his soldiers have stopped, they can see the tide coming back in and want to live, damnit. Both Moses and Ramses take a turn in the drink and come out more or less unscathed, leaving Ramses to contemplate his folly and Moses to continue his work.
This means it’s off to the village where his wife and son are waiting for him, Moses straggles in leading a few thousand or so homeless Hebrews and attempts to impress upon his wife his newfound shared faith in their God. Then (boy, does this thing ever end?) Moses wanders off to a forbidden sacred mountain retreat, where he shares a last few bits of rueful wisdom with the child-God while he carves certain important stone tablets. Because, as the child-God says, man may falter but stone does not. And the last we see of Moses is an old man with the white hair and beard, being carried in a wagon with his sacred tablets while the children of Israel walk alongside him, forever searching for their home.
Whew! Yes the film is a tad long, considering all the biblical stuff they wanted to cram into it, coming it at about two hours and thirty minutes or so. That’s why the review is a tad long too. I don’t recall the terms “Jews” being used anywhere in the film, they’re always called Hebrews. The whole child-God slant was interesting, especially at the end of his first appearance, when he simply said in response to Moses’ demands for identification, “I AM.” The bloodthirsty child-God who rains misery on the heads of the Egyptians and demands all kinds of mayhem and death from his chosen General Moses, that is a very bold stance for Ridley Scott to take. Bale brought a kind of exhausted vulnerability to warrior-Moses, he generally seemed to ooze the plea, “can’t we all just get along?” Edgerton only gets a few good rants as Ramses, which is kind of a shame, because I wanted to see his face contort and have him start screaming about himself being the Morning and the Evening Star. It is a great and epic movie, though I still think they could’ve just called it Exodus and left it at that. There’s only one real King or God of note in the film, that being Ramses himself and the child-God of Moses respectively, but I suppose it’s still better than calling the movie Exodus: Ramses vs. Moses. Oh, and look out for an easter egg in the form of the actress playing Ramses mother.