Most audiences—especially religious audiences—will have a complicated relationship with Ridley Scott’s new epic film Exodus: Gods and Kings, out tomorrow (here is Brett McCracken’s review). It’s an old story that’s been retold many times on screen (read Peter Chattaway’s exploration of the history of Moses movies here). It’s a beloved story that’s vital to the identity and story of three major world religions.
And there is the complicated problem of casting white actors in the film’s major roles—a question that has implications that go far beyond the film and that deserves to be treated carefully and in more depth, particularly given the story of the Exodus.
But no matter what, it’s a film that many people will see and discuss. On Monday, I participated in a roundtable discussion with a number of journalists, during which director Ridley Scott, Christian Bale (who plays Moses), and Joel Edgerton (who pretty much steals the show as the Pharaoh, Ramses) talked about about Exodus: Gods and Kings.
After the roundtable, I got to sit down alone with Bale and Edgerton, who were funny and gracious. I asked them about how they prepared for their roles, what makes this film different from its predecessors, and why the story of the Exodus continues to be made into movies.
I’m really intrigued by the family dynamic of the story. The whole movie was set up as being about choosing your family, or being rejected by family. There’s a really big emphasis on the question: “Are these your people, or not?” There’s the death of the firstborn sons, and of course there’s the brotherly relationship. This all feels really close to what the story of Exodus is about, which is God choosing his people and leading them out of slavery. How much did this come up for you as you were preparing for your roles in the film?
Bale: Very much. I think it helped us find an ending for the film. The five books of Moses just keep going and are fascinating. Some of the earliest conversations I would have with Ridley would be me calling him up and saying, How can you not have this section in it? How can you not have the prayer of Miriam? And how can you not . . . Because everything seems to become essential.
Then you realize you can’t make an eight hour long film.
So it became, well, if we really focus on this brotherly bond—which is a fascinating bond: two men who are cynical about this pat theology of the Egyptian gods, who view it as a means to prop up the Pharaoh and have the citizens worship their leader. One is exiled and experiences purification in the desert and has a family and then is compelled by God; the other comes once he’s in power to have all of the arrogance of power and also the trivial nature of someone desperately holding on to power. He starts to believe the hype, starts to believe that he is a god, and then there’s that ensuing confrontation. That was such a complete relationship in and of itself, and it gave us right around a two-hour long film. So [that family story] ended up being perfect.
Then I just had to put up—well, no, rather Ridley just had to put up with me constantly saying Yeah, but, there’s all this other great stuff; Yeah, but, Rid, have you read this bit, I’m going to send you this passage now. And he’s like, Yeah, that’s great, Christian, I mean, I can’t film everything.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today