A promising storyline (God unleashes his wrath over Egypt to aid Moses’ departure from Egypt who dramatically splits the Red Sea so his following of thousands of Hebrews can make their way towards safety)
An Oscar-winning actor as the main protagonist (Christian Bale as Moses)
The director of some of the most iconic films in Hollywood history (Ridley Scott)
An epic Christmas blockbuster film of biblical proportions.
A story that starts off promising in an excessively CGI-recreated ancient Egypt, but lets you leave the cinema unconvinced and unmoved after 2.5 long hours.
I had high hopes for the new Ridley Scott film Exodus: Gods and Kings. I mean, this is the man who gave us Blade Runner, Gladiator and my all-time favourite film Alien, so how could he possibly go wrong with re-telling the ancient and spectacular story of Moses’ exodus out of Egypt?
This CGI-heavy film would have been better off if it had looked less slick, but had more of a heart instead. As a viewer I was never actually drawn into the story of Moses’ difficult task. I assume most of you will be familiar with the story (either from the Bible, the Dreamworks Pictures animation film The Prince of Egypt or even Metallica’s classic track ‘Creeping Death’) and know how the events will develop, but these are represented in such a cold way in the film that I could never sympathise with Moses’ struggles. Christian Bale’s memorable roles in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Brad Anderson’s The Machinist and Mary Harron’s American Psycho make him a great actor in my book, but I won’t be adding his transformation from a high-status Egyptian general to an exile (notice any resemblances to Scott’s other epic film?) and an agent of God to that list.
Scott only lightly alludes to the Bible using it as a mere reference text (which is absolutely fine of course for a film adaptation) – altering the relationship between Ramses and Moses, the reason for Moses’ exile, the way God appears to Moses and omitting Moses’ ability to perform three miracles and the crucial role of Moses’ brother Aaron – but at least he never added any fantasy animals or mythical creatures as we saw in that other biblical film of this year, Noah. Instead of Aaron, Scott chose to emphasise the role of Moses’ successor, Joshua, played by Aaron Paul. A miscalculated casting choice if you ask me as I didn’t think his performance was strong enough to fulfil that part. I expect that his Breaking Bad legacy will remain a burden for a while still unfortunately. While we see Sigourney Weaver and John Turturro in meagre supporting roles, it’s only Ben Kingsley who manages to convince.
The key element in the film however is the appearance of God. I expected Scott would have portrayed God as an ambiguous entity, but instead he personified him as a 10-year old boy, an odd choice indeed. This film made me rethink the portrayal of God in cinema. So, rather than reviewing Ridley Scott’s biblical Christmas epos, let’s have a look at how God and Afterlife have been depicted in other films. Meanwhile, watch out for the upcoming biblical film by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven who has been working on the film-adaptation of his book Jesus of Nazareth for the last years now.
1 The Tree of Life (2011) Director: Terrence Malick
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
One of those films that you either love or hate. I was absolutely overwhelmed by this film when I saw it in the cinema. The more I philosophise about the countless metaphors for the circle of life and the celestial in it, the more powerful the film becomes. The esoteric visualisation of a superbeing and captivating soundtrack all add up to an ethereal experience, making the viewer feel like a humble cog in a divine wheel. After having bombarded the viewer with an abundance of misery, Malick ends the film with a sense of optimism and the hope of a bright afterlife.
2 Dogma (1999) Director: Kevin Smith
Distributor: Film Four
This film is definitely a classic! Featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as two evil angels, Jay and Silent Bob as prophets, Chris Rock as the 13th apostle no-one knows about and Alanis Morrisette as the Almighty. Do I need to add more? ‘Jesus loves you!’
3 Bruce Almighty (2003) Director: Tom Shadyac
Distributor: Spyglass Entertainment / Universal Pictures
When Bruce (Jim Carrey) complains about what a poor job God (Morgan Freeman) is doing, God decides to bestow Bruce with his divine powers while he takes holiday leave. Almighty Bruce takes his job seriously and puts his supreme gift into good use: potty-training his dog, enlarging his girlfriend’s bosom and parting of the Red Tomato Soup. ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Oh wait, that’s Spider-Man.
4 This Is the end (2013) Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Imagine you’re a Hollywood celebrity, minding your own business at James Franco’s housewarming party, when the Rapture hits and the Judgment Day is upon you. Is there any salvation for these egoistic and immoral mortals? At least many of you will be reassured to know that The Backstreet Boys continue their reunion tour in Heaven. For others this might be their idea of Hell.
5 The Lovely Bones (2009) Director: Peter Jackson
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Not as powerful as the book by Alice Sebold, but this film shows us Peter Jackson’s idea of purgatory where a murdered teenage girl is destined to remain till she is ready to move on to Heaven.
The colourful representation of the Afterlife strongly reminded me of the angelic oil painting sets in the film What Dreams May Come (1998), starring Robin Williams.
6 A Matter of Life and Death (1946) Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
A visually stunning film with an original plot. I can’t tell it more eloquently than the Guardian summary, so here is a direct quote from the Guardian website: A world war two pilot (David Niven) miraculously escapes death after bailing out of a burning plane. A celestial court is set up to judge his case while Niven hangs in limbo between a Technicolor earth and a monochrome heaven.
7 After Life (1998) Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Distributor: Artistic License Films
A moving and beautiful film with a simple plot: newly deceased get one week to go through their memories and choose one moment in their life as their perpetual Afterlife. Some of the characters in this Japanese film aren’t professional actors which is the big strength of this film actually. Their authentic responses and emotions will definitely touch your heart.