Last month, I asked if Exodus: Gods and Kings was going to offer a “naturalistic” depiction of the parting of the Red Sea, rather than a miraculous one. My question was prompted by a comment that Ridley Scott made to the effect that the Red Sea story may have been inspired by a giant tsunami that supposedly hit the coast of Egypt thousands of years ago. At the time, it was not clear whether Scott was actually going to incorporate that theory into his film — but now, thanks to an interview in Entertainment Weekly, it seems pretty clear that he will.
“You can’t just do a a giant parting, with walls of water trembling while people ride between them,” says Scott, who remembers scoffing at biblical epics from his boyhood like 1956’s The Ten Commandments. “I didn’t believe it then, when I was just a kid sitting in the third row. I remember that feeling, and thought that I’d better come up with a more scientific or natural explanation.”
Scott’s solution came from a deep dive into the history of Egypt circa 3000 B.C. After reading that a massive underwater earthquake off the coast of Italy caused a tsunami, he thought about how water recedes as a prelude to such disasters. “I thought that logically, [the parting] should be a drainage. And that when [the water] returns, it comes back withe a vengeance.” Here’s a 5,000-year-old spoiler alert: That’s what happens when Moses (Christian Bale) leads the no-longer-enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt, with leader Ramses (Joel Edgerton) in close pursuit.
So, long story short (and setting aside, for now, the fact that Scott is still claiming that the story takes place 5,000 years ago, rather than 3,300 years ago when the historical Ramses II lived and fought in the Battle of Kadesh): unless there are two faraway earthquakes and two tsunamis draining the water from opposite ends, it seems pretty clear that there will be no “parting” of the Red Sea in this film.
Presumably the drainage will open up some sort of escape route for the Hebrews, but it won’t be the escape route that we’re used to seeing in other films.
Some viewers, expecting to see a literal depiction of the Israelites walking between “a wall of water on their right and on their left,” may object to the tsunami idea. Others, however, may be more comfortable with such theories and will still see the crossing of the Red Sea as a miracle of some sort because of its fortuitous timing.
We certainly can’t say that the movie rules out the miraculous altogether. We already know that it will include two prophecies that aren’t even mentioned in the Bible, and that both of these prophecies will come true; and then, of course, it will have the burning bush and the plagues that strike Egypt just as Moses predicted.
All of these things may have “naturalistic” explanations within the film too, but after a while the sheer number of natural catastrophes that work out in Moses’ favour will have to begin to look like more than just a series of coincidences.
Meanwhile, Christian Bale has been making some speculative comments of his own that could also alienate some religious viewers. Christianity Today, in a new article on the ups and downs of this year’s “faith-based” movies, quotes Bale to the effect that the biblical Moses was “likely schizophrenic” and quite “barbaric”:
On his role as Moses, Bale recently made it plain to reporters in Los Angeles that he wasn’t playing Moses as the benevolent old leader we remember from Charlton Heston’s portrayal. “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” the forty-year-old star said. “He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling.”
That matches Bale’s earlier comments about the “shocking” and “mercurial” nature of Moses and his God, though it goes a bit further, insofar as it does not merely describe what’s in the Bible — which frankly is rather shocking and mercurial at times — but speculates about what was going on inside Moses’ head at the time.
Finally, Deadline reports that, despite their modernizing of this classic biblical tale — and despite their negative depiction of the ancient Egyptians! — the filmmakers still hope to get their film released in Egypt, which previously banned Noah because of a Sunni Muslim prohibition against visual depictions of the prophets.
Time will tell how that plan works out. The film is currently set to open in most Middle Eastern territories on December 25 — almost two weeks after it opens in North America — but Egypt will currently have to wait until December 31.
October 25 update: Bale, speaking to Total Film magazine, has also commented that Moses was both “a freedom fighter” and “a terrorist”. Details here.