Seeing Exodus: Gods and Kings made me even prouder to be Jewish, and not just because Moses is played by a star named Christian. This movie shatters every stereotype of Jews as being brainy or rich or overly cultured, because Moses is portrayed as a swarthy, two-fisted brawler, barreling through the desert on horseback and sometimes skewering two evil Egyptians with one thrust of his golden sword, like shish kebab. I loved watching Christian Bale gradually morph into Charlton Heston, thanks to an array of belted caftans, hair extensions and fake beards. Christian manages the colossal task of never embarassing himself, even when late in the film, he has to hunch over those stone tablets, diligently chiseling the ten commandments as if they were an overdue crafts project, and he really wanted that merit badge.
When it comes to biblical epics, I’ve always favored both The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Story Ever Told, because they feature celebrity cameos; the Demille movie also includes Anne Baxter as the Pharoah’s haughty wife, sneering, “Moses, Moses, Moses!” with, according to IMDB, “Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora.” Exodus makes do with John Turturro as a dying monarch who resembles my Aunt Sylvia at the pool in Boca, and the glorious Sigourney Weaver as someone called Tuya, a name which seems perfect for knock-knock jokes. Ben Kingsley also shows up as a wise Hebrew elder, and I was hoping that maybe Ian McKellan, as Gandalf, might be glimpsed near a pyramid, having lost his way. But overall, Exodus is a very solemn movie, although like the very best epics, just about the entire cast uses quasi-English accents, as if the Old Testament was produced by the BBC.
There’s been some controversy over the fact that Exodus stars only the most extremely Caucasian actors, slathered in makeup the color of redwood patio furniture. The Australian Joel Edgerton plays Ramses with a shaved head and a gallon of black Cleopatra-style eyeliner, and Joel’s gaudy outfits made me wonder if gold sequins had been one of the 12 plagues. There’s a scrawny burning bush, but God is played by a snippy English child actor, as if the Lord was Malfoy from the Harry Potter series. There’s something fun about the idea of God as a spoiled brat, because it explains everything from the Holocaust to that last Transformers movie.
The plagues are the highlights of Exodus, because Egypt gets visited by some pretty snazzy special effects, including locusts, frogs and gnats which give everyone onscreen a terrible rash, as if they’re having the worst summer camp experience ever. Because we’ve all seen so many CGI tidal waves and tsunamis, the parting of the Red Sea is no big deal, although I might have spotted a few charioteers surfing. And when it comes to the relationships between Moses and Ramses and their wives, the movie gets incredibly PC. Moses marries a gorgeous, unblemished babe whom he meets at an oasis, and they promise to love and respect each other forever, as if the ceremony was taking place on the beach in Easthampton. In ancient times, most of the guys had many wives and concubines, but then so do the billionaires in Amagansett.
My only problem with Exodus is that I’m not sure why it was made, because the story of Moses is awfully familiar, especially from that animated Disney version with the tiny noses. Exodus tries really hard not to seem too Jewish, which made me long for Mel Brooks to show up with a brisket and a bottle of Manischewitz. Maybe director Ridley Scott just wanted to make a deeply goyische version, like Troy with matzoh. But at one point an exasperated slavemaster does begin a sentence by saying “Let me tell you about Hebrews”, which is just the way my Aunt Sylvia talks, after she’s had a few Mai Tais over canasta. Exodus ends with the Jews finally approaching the Promised Land, and I only wish that, as the music soared triumphantly, we’d seen superimposed images of Albert Einstein, Jerry Seinfeld and Barbra Steisand, if you ask me.