That’s right, The Matrix. Or at any rate, that’s what I am reminded of when Ben Kingsley shows up and goes all Morpheus on Christian Bale’s Moses, telling him that he’s always felt something was wrong, that he has been deceived his whole life, and that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy regarding a deliverer.
It’s tempting to think that this “prophecy” business is just another movie cliché — it’s certainly not there in the biblical version of Moses’ story — but the first-century historian Josephus actually mentions such a prophecy and says the Hebrew babies were drowned in the Nile around the time of Moses’ birth because of it.
Cecil B. DeMille included this prophecy (and its consequences) in the prologue to The Ten Commandments — and although other characters refer to it later, there is no scene in which anyone actually discusses the prophecy with Moses. So Exodus is unique in having a mentor introduce the hero to his destiny like this.
Apart from that, the trailer mostly sells action, action, action — if the teaser had lots of horses, this one has lots of swords — but it also touches on Moses’ relationships with his “brother” Ramses, his wife Zipporah and his sons Gershom and Eliezer.
Here is the trailer itself:
And now for the shot-by-shot analysis.
The trailer — which has 127 shots, not counting company logos and title cards — begins with the opening notes to the Coldplay song ‘Midnight’, and a title card that says “When Men Ruled as Gods”. This is followed by a shot of an Egyptian city and a shot of Ramses (Joel Edgerton) wearing his royal accoutrements:
A title card says “One Was Chosen”, and we see Moses (Christian Bale) in the opening battle sequence:
A title card says “To Change the World”, and we see thousands of Hebrews trekking across some wet sand (the seabed that is exposed when the Red Sea parts, maybe?), as the Coldplay singer sings, “In the darkness before the dawn…”:
We see images of Moses and Ramses leading the Egyptian army out of the city, on the way to the Battle of Kadesh, as the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) says, in voiceover, “Moses. Ramses. You grew up together, close as brothers.”
Seti continues, in voiceover, “Keep each other safe, always,” as Moses and Ramses touch a pair of swords that Seti has just given them (each sword has the other person’s name inscribed on it, to signify their bond to one another):
The Coldplay singer sings, “In the swirling of the storm…” and we hear Nun (Ben Kingsley) say, “You know something’s wrong. You’ve always felt it.” We see the bodies of Hebrew slaves being cremated in piles, an image with Holocaust overtones:
Nun tells Moses, “Your parents never told you the truth.” Moses replies, “What truth?”
We see a procession in front of what looks like the Abu Simbel temples in southern Egypt — over 1,200 kilometres south of where the Hebrews lived and worked:
Nun says, in voiceover, “The year of your birth, there was a prophecy that our leader would be born to liberate us. That leader is you, Moses.”
Someone — possibly Moses — says, in voiceover, “After 400 years of slavery, things here have become much worse.” This number has a basis in the Bible, but Christian interpreters alike have argued that it encompasses much more than the period of enslavement, which may have been closer to about 200 years.
Note: despite the complaints of some that the film depicts black characters as slaves, it seems at least one of them is actually a whip-cracking taskmaster in this shot:
We see evidence of the plagues:
Moses tells Ramses, “As your brother, you must set them free.”
Ramses asks, “Is that a threat?”
Ramses prepares to chop a woman’s hand off, but Moses intervenes and yells, “Yes!”
Ramses says, “I want Moses and his family dead.”
A shot of Ramses’ mother Tuya (Sigourney Weaver):
Archers — are these Hebrew revolutionaries? — shoot flaming arrows at some boats:
Something blows up (because even movies set in the ancient world must have at least one explosion these days):
Shots of Moses drawing and wielding swords are intercut with Moses asking his wife Zipporah (María Valverde), “What is the most important thing in your life?”
Shots of Moses holding one of his sons are intercut with Zipporah replying, “You are. And when would you leave me?”, followed by Moses’ reply, “Never.”
Shots of Egyptian soldiers wreaking havoc are intercut with images of Moses’ family and of Ramses saying, “Let’s just see who’s more effective at killing. You, or me.”
Moses yells Ramses’ name during the opening Battle of Kadesh:
Ramses gives the order to hang three slaves, while other Hebrew slaves — including Nun — watch:
Moses shouts, “Is that meant to humble me? Because it will not!” — which is an interesting line, in light of the Bible’s description of Moses as “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
Moses wakes up — and sees a meteor?
A shadow creeps across the land — and one of the pyramids is still under construction, which seems a bit odd, since no major pyramids were built at this point in history:
Moses holds a sword to Ramses’ throat and says, “I came to tell you that something is coming…”
A plague of insects:
Frogs plague the royal palace — including the bedroom of Queen Nefertari (Golshifteh Farahani) — as Moses continues, in voiceover, “…that is far beyond you and I.”
Note the dead fish and the reddish tint to the water in that second shot of the frogs. Is this a sign that the film will follow a more “naturalistic” interpretation of the plagues, whereby the land was filled with frogs because the water had become poisoned?
A crocodile attacks a boat for some reason:
An image of dead Egyptian soldiers floating in the water (how Noah-esque!) as Moses says, in voiceover, “This is about Egypt’s survival, do you understand?”
More images of the plagues, this time of the bloodied Nile and more insects:
Moses sees the burning bush while Ramses asks, in voiceover, “Who has been telling you this?”
The plague of hail, and some lightning:
Moses replies, “God.” Note: not “Yahweh” or “the God of the Hebrews” or “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Just “God.”
Historically-inaccurate cavalrymen ride onto a beach:
Ramses shouts, “I am a god. I am a god!”
Ramses drives his chariot in pursuit of the Hebrews:
More people flee the insects:
Moses tells the Hebrew resistance, “Follow me and you will be free!” They cheer:
Moses wields a sword; Joshua (Aaron Paul) is behind him, to his right:
Egyptian chariots ride into the storm as one of Ramses’ officers asks him, in voiceover, “We’re going to recapture 400,000 slaves?”
A shot of Aaron Paul as Joshua:
A shot of the Hebrews massed by the shore:
Ramses replies, “We’re not recapturing anyone.”
More shots from the opening Battle of Kadesh:
The horse threatened by the returning waters:
Moses shouts, “There is a sea ahead and an army behind!”
The Red Sea comes rushing back towards the Egyptian chariots and the Hebrew cavalrymen as Moses shouts, “Ready yourselves!”
A random shot of Moses from the Battle of Kadesh:
And finally, a shot of horses and chariots against the waters of the Red Sea — and in the lower right corner, you can see a chariot trample a horse and its rider:
Most of the soundbites are stretched across several shots, so for convenience’s sake, here are all the dialogue clips stitched together, grouped by scene:
- Seti: Moses. Ramses. You grew up together, close as brothers. Keep each other safe, always.
- Nun: You know something’s wrong. You’ve always felt it. Your parents never told you the truth.
Moses: What truth?
Nun: The year of your birth, there was a prophecy that our leader would be born to liberate us. That leader is you, Moses.
- Moses: After four hundred years of slavery, things here have become much worse. As your brother, you must set them free.
Ramses: Is that a threat?
- Ramses: I want Moses and his family dead.
- Moses: What is the most important thing in your life?
Zipporah: You are. And when would you leave me?
- Ramses: Let’s just see who’s more effective at killing, you or me.
- Moses: Ramses!
- Moses: Is that meant to humble me? Because it will not!
- Moses: I came to tell you something is coming that is far beyond you and I. This is about Egypt’s survival, do you understand?
Ramses: Who is telling you this?
- Ramses: I am a god. I am a god!
- Moses: Follow me and you will be free!
- Egyptian officer: We’re going to recapture 400,000 slaves?
Ramses: We’re not recapturing anyone.
- Moses: There is a sea ahead and an army behind!
- Moses: Ready yourselves!
Check out earlier videos and my shot-by-shot trailer analyses here: