The more I think about Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, the more I like it. It is a ridiculously violent film, an epic spectacle, and the actors find new and entertaining ways to chew up scenery. (It would have been an even better movie if it had been rated R. Though to be honest, other than not showing people getting limbs hacked off in battles and nudity, the movie pushes the barriers of PG-13 to the limit. We’re talking about a movie where scores of people get eaten by crocodiles, so many that the river runs red with blood.) All of those things that I stated merely make the movie entertaining. What makes it brilliant is that this is a movie that brings the insanely ridiculous violence of the Old Testament front and center.
One of my favorite quotes is the Hannah Arendt quote, “the horrible can not only be ludicrous, but outright funny.” The Old Testament is so ingrained in our culture that even though we acknowledge the violence in it, and the fact that much of this violence comes from a wrathful God, that I don’t think it registers with most people in a visceral way how absurd it is. Floods, plagues, mass murder, and a woman being turned into a pillar of salt are just the tip of the iceberg. We know this stuff. Even those like myself, that didn’t grow up going to church, know all of these stories. But how often do we reflect upon how batshit insane they all are. Ridley Scott did. He made a movie out of part of the Old Testament and he put the batshit insane right up front. No other movie that I can think of takes the violence of the Old Testament and presents it as such a ridiculously depraved spectacle. Which, whether you believe in the Old Testament or not, is hard to deny. Like the Hannah Arendt quote above, this movie is often so horribly violent that it becomes a comedy. Even if Ridley Scott changes some parts of the story, he tries to find natural causes for most of the plagues for instance, he is getting the essence correct. I mean, he didn’t make up the plague where all of the Egyptian first born children are killed.
A lot of the reviews for this movie have talked about how Scott got this or that wrong, or that he made it too much of a spectacle, or whatever. No, Ridley Scott basically just showed what was there without all of the self seriousness of most religious films. Again, I’m not saying that he didn’t take certain artistic liberties with the story, only that he does so in a way which actually highlights things that are already there. He helps show us a story that we’ve heard a million times in a way that doesn’t allow us to ignore what is going on. I would imagine that most of those that really didn’t like this movie already have preconceived notions as to what the story is about. This movie is basically showing us that we are telling millions of children a year a story full of the most depraved violence. And it has a good laugh at it. The comedy of the divine. I mean certain scenes from this could almost be in a Monty Python movie.
This movie does the opposite of what another famously violent religious movie does. That movie The Passion of the Christ is also insanely violent, but what it does is actually obscure what is important in the Christ story through that violence. That movie focuses mostly on the violence that was directed at Christ leading up to his death. But there is nothing special about his death. I guarantee that someone is meeting just as horrible a fate as he did in some third world shithole right now. Christ wasn’t even the only one crucified that day! This isn’t the fantastic violence of an angry God. This is an extreme version of the day to day violence of mankind. In focusing on this kind of violence it actually helps one to ignore what was spectacular about the story of Christ. The fantastic part of his story is that he rose from the dead. But that still isn’t what I’m talking about. Whether or not you believe Christ was the son of God, or that he rose from the dead is still, in my mind, not what is most important in his story. Christ spent a good deal of his life teaching people what they should be doing. They should be loving each other and not worrying about earthly possessions and treating the lesser amongst us with kindness. That is what makes his story exceptional. And he did that at a time when the world was even more barbaric and depraved than it is now. Right now someone is probably being executed as we speak, in a horribly painful way, in an Arab country for drawing a comic book about Muhammad or something equally as ridiculous. So again, dwelling on the whole crucifixion thing, longer than the love and kindness in his teachings, is kind of ass backwards the way I see it.
So you have two violent movies that tell stories from the Bible. One highlights the absurdity of violence, while the other uses violence to distract from a message of love. Do you have to guess which one made more money and got more critical acclaim?