Not Your Grandma’s Moses

Exodus Gods and Kings

Exodus: Gods and Kings is, in many ways, a startling movie. It didn’t leave me with a strong impression of profundity, but it did make me a bit reflective. The media hype about God as an eleven-year-old boy proved to be merely hype. In fact, the boy deity was one of the most intriguing characters in the film. The role was played respectfully, and God, like a good Englishman, favored his tea. There was nothing comedic about it, however. More troubling was the agnostic Moses, à la Clash of the Titans with its unbelieving Perseus. Moses, even after meeting God, comes across as having little interior life. He hides in a cave and builds an army of terrorists making him seem like Moses bin Laden. He conceals himself while innocent Hebrews are hanged for his crimes (and did they even hang people in ancient Egypt?). When a great storm brews over Memphis, however, it is with a sense of wonder that we ponder at an eleven-year-old doing all this.

The movie plays lightly with the scholarly “explanations” that used to be doled out in seminaries about how one plague led to another. In fact, the character called “the Expert” in the credits is shown lecturing the Pharaoh on the causation scheme of clay churning up in the Nile turning it red, and killing the fish which in turn drove the frogs from the toxic water, but when they died flies came along and the flies spread disease. Then the Expert is hanged. Not so subtle a warning to biblical scholars. In fact, there seems to be a science behind much of the movie that makes miracles less acts of God than acts of nature. Even the drying of the Red Sea is understated. Its return is reminiscent of the Christmas Tsunami of 2004. God is sometimes not there when you’d expect a deity to care.

On the matter of caring, for an age of nones who have concerns for equality, the film was thin on women’s roles, making even the Bible appear to foreground them more. Sigourney Weaver—great in any context—seems only to be there to wish Moses dead. Even Miriam is given scant lines in the movie and no role in the Exodus itself. In Prince of Egypt she at least led her famous song. Zipporah is lovely but shows no sign of being as handy with a flint knife as Exodus makes her out to be. A woman of action. Miriam’s quick thinking saved the infant Moses. Overall, however, the Bible is a guy’s book, and Exodus is a guy’s flick. Opening with the battle of Qadesh on the Orontes is a way to draw men to a Bible movie. Lots of slashing, gashing, and charging horses. And the splendor of Egypt, filmed in Spain and the Canary Islands. Some miracles, it seems, are even impossible for CGI.

Sinking Feeling

Many readers are aware of the heavily metaphoric nature of many posts on this blog. Sometimes staring directly at something can be too troubling to handle, so metaphors come to the rescue. I was about to board a plane in LaGuardia yesterday when the news about the sinking of the Costa Concordia came onto the news. The wrecks of mass transit carriers—whether trains, planes, buses, or cruise ships—are tragic in terms of the potential for harm to many. Perhaps worse, they are reminders of our own anonymity. It is the rare John Jacob Astor who gets remembered as the victim of a specific mass tragedy. And he was already famous to begin with. We hear more about the Buddy Holly crash than we do the individual names of the many thousands wiped out in the Christmas Tsunami of 2004. What were their names?

As of this morning eleven people are reported dead from the Costa Concordia, one of them notably not being Captain Francesco Schettino, the man who would not go down with the ship. Seafaring lore—surely some of the richest and most inventive in the world—has rules about this kind of thing. The captain goes down with the ship. Ships were (are) generally given feminine names since they are the womb-like protectors of those aboard. Nature knows no better protector than a mother. The captain is the dedicated son who, when his mother sinks, accompanies her to Davy Jones. The Italian coast guard had to order Schettino back aboard his sinking ship after he’d abandoned rescue efforts.

We expect much from our leaders. Things are so complicated in this world we’ve constructed that many of us know we simply couldn’t get along without those smarter than we are. When the car won’t start. When I can’t connect to the Internet. When Wikipedia is shut down for a day. When I watch movies about the last person left alive in some post-apocalyptic scenario. At these times I realize just how little I know. I’ve occasionally been privileged to drive a boat—something I have no business doing—by those who trust my judgment more than I do. Even out on a wide lake the world seems out of control. We need a captain who will stay with the ship. And when all of this is over, whose name will be remembered? Is it the eleven (maybe more) who died? No, it will be Captain Francesco Schettino, the man who refused to go down with his ship.