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Ridley Scott’s “Exodus”: Promised Land or Wilderness?




With newly trailers released for Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” the operative word seems to be “epic”; but will it be an epic success or an epic fail? Swords and sandals are in abundance, as well as thousands of extras. The 10 plagues are expected to be made more horrifying than ever with advanced technology.

Faith Driven Consumer, a Christian group that got behind Phil Roberston of “Ducky Dynasty” to help him get his job back after a dismissal for homophobic statements, has cautioned Ridley Scott (not that it isn’t too late) that his portrayal had better square with the Biblical text as it appears in the King James Bible, or the Christian consumer whose decisions on what films to watch are based on religious beliefs, 17% within the subset of an estimated 77% Christians in the U.S. (according to Faith Driven Consumer’s polls) may stay away. Christian groups famously attacked Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” for its alleged lack of biblical accuracy and insufficient mention, according to critics, of God.

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Anthony Weiss of JTS’ main concern about accuracy is that the film makes an assumption that Pharaoh is indeed Ramses, something historians debate, and there are scenes of pyramids when the Torah says the Hebrew slaves were building storehouses. But Weiss doesn’t seem as bothered by this as he is about the fact that the film is nothing more than “big, ” adding the disclaimer that this opinion is based only on a 90 second trailer. He writes, “What’s disheartening is that the trailer isn’t all that tempting. There’s not much sign of the visual wit of Scott’s ‘Alien’ or ‘Blade Runner’ or the intimacy of ‘Thelma and Louise.’ Mostly it seems epically, well, big (and it doesn’t help that the title makes it sound like a video game).”

Ridley Scott's "Exodus"

Ridley Scott came under fire for allegedly racist casting decisions, with white actors in leading roles and black actors playing servants and slaves. Ridley Scott defended the casting of Exodus, as reported by Haaretz, “Egypt was, and is now, a confluence of cultures. We cast actors from different ethnicities to reflect this diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs. There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how best to represent their culture.”

There is one break with casting tradition, as seen in Cecil B DeMille’s “Ten Commandments”, that the good guys, or Hebrews, were played by American actors and the bad guys were played by non-American actors. In Exodus, Moses is played by the Welsh Christian Bale, Nun is portrayed by English actor Ben Kingsley and Seti is played by American actor John Turturro.

Nathan Abrams of Haaretz writes that “Exodus, ” like “The Ten Commandments, ” with non-Jewish actors, “mirrors how DeMille de-Judaized and drained the Exodus of any specifically Jewish content.” Well, the last Biblical film with very overt (and some say blatantly anti-semitic) Jewish overtones was Mel Gibson’s “Passion, ” and given that choice, perhaps it is better to let the Jewish aspects remain a bit subliminal and in-house, like enjoyment of the irony that Pharaoh in DeMille’s version was played by Jewish actor Yul Brenner.



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