The Queer Subtext in Biblical Epic Movies

They’re holding women, but their minds are on each other.

I always thought that the male characters in The Ten Commandments seemed more interested in each other than they did in the beautiful women in flowly clothes who parade around them. Richard Lindsay confirms my suspicions:

Some of the queer subtext of biblical epics comes not from the sexual desirability of the main characters, but from the films’ aesthetic of camp. Camp, a sensibility of theatricality taken to extremes—sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly—has long been a reading strategy of queer audiences. It takes an audience with an eye for the decadent and a gift for seeing double meaning to understand the subversive possibilities of a film like DeMille’s The Ten Commandments of 1959.

The picture claims to be a straight-ahead portrayal of the Exodus story, yet contains a love triangle between Moses, Pharaoh, and the Princess Nefretiri. Whatever the excesses of modern translations of the Scriptures, one could look in vain for years without finding a biblical reference for Nefretiri’s line to Moses in the film: “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!” Or, referencing Moses’ experiences with God on Mount Sinai: “I don’t believe it’s only the thunder of a mountain that stirs your heart!”

Within The Ten Commandments, one even finds characters that fit the camp mold often assigned to queer persons. One example is the master builder Baka, played by Vincent Price. A villain in the story, Price plays Baka as a camp virtuoso—one with a refined understanding of the camp arts of cosmetics, decoration, and artifice.

Read the rest: The Camp and Queer Bible Goes Down Under.

  • http://www.redemptionpictures.com Micah Murray

    I can see what the author’s arguing here, but it seems like a stretch to imply that this was any of this was actually in the artists’ original intent. Seems more like a retrospective projection.

    • Zachary W

      Perhaps not in the case of this particular film, but numerous movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age contain passing references or buried jokes about the ‘disreputable’ actions and identities of their actors and crew members. Take, for example, Rock Hudson–particularly in his great melodramas with the director Douglas Sirk. Today it is taken for granted that he was gay, but during the 1950s it would have been almost impossible for Hudson to be publicly open. Among some quarters of Hollywood however, his queer identity was unspoken but tacitly accepted, and this manifested itself in inside jokes references in dialogue and mise en scene.

  • Ircel Harrison

    This theme may be even more evident in another Heston biblical epic, Ben Hur, where the antagonist’s relationship with a Roman centurion played by Stephen Boyd has a certain homoerotic feeling.

    • LoneWolf

      You know, I was thinking the same thing.

  • Ayin

    Just so you know, my slash-loving mind is now in the gutter.

  • smrnda

    Quo Vadis has quite a few scenes which would qualify. “One tear for me, one for Petronius!”

  • Mike

    Who cares? I mean really, who gives a fat frog’s butt!