I put on my 3-D glasses as Ridley Scott appeared on the screen. In his dapper accent, he thanked his audience of film critics at the 42nd Street AMC, and explained that we would be seeing unlocked footage of a few scenes from his unfinished film Exodus: Gods and Kings, which releases in December. He said the classic biblical story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery under the heavy hand of his ‘brother’ Rhamses in Egypt, was at its core a story about the “undying quest for freedom”. This quest still resonates in our human hearts thousands of years after it became an oral tradition of the ancient Middle East.
Although Scott gave a disclaimer that many of the special effects had not yet moved into post-production for perfecting, the scenes created with cutting-edge 3-D technology included sweeping aerial shots of a sprawling Egyptian cityscape, both panoramic and stunningly intricate. The Sphinx and the partly-contructed pyramids loom in life-like splendor, and from grandiose stone fixtures leap flames that threaten to singe your eyelashes. Scott sets up for us an exceptional world like only he can. It is said the film so far has cost $40 million to make.
Scott opened with the moment just before the battle with the Hittites. The detail of life in the desert camps is immaculate, from the authentic tent construction to the fabric of the tunics. You can almost smell the dead animals strung up as people go about their daily business in a world that seems to lack gravity, down to the protruding facial hair of the men. When the camp is breached, a long battle sequence ensues, complete with three-dimensional splaying guts and unbelievable near-misses portrayed in slow-motion–a la The Matrix–culminating in Moses saving a vulnerable Rhamses’ hide. The brotherly loyalty is established in the face of death.
Christian Bale deftly transforms his Moses from a confident, pink-cheeked Egyptian prince to a desperate, hollow-faced revolutionary who feels his way through overturning the world in partnership with the Hebrew God who up until then he had not believed in. In the scene in which the recently informed–and devastated–Moses admits to Rhamses that he is indeed Hebrew, a split-second flash of his sword saves his supposed sister-mother from losing her arm to Rhamses’ wrath by a hair. It is Moses who is the reviled and suspect Hebrew; it is the woman the ruler is ready to punish in his rage. When Rhamses sends them all into exile, it is briefly noted that Moses’ sister originally risked her life to save his, but now he has saved hers.
Later, the plagues come in some serious 3-D glory, flooding us in blood and swarming us with locusts. We witness as Moses marries Sefora, the soft-skinned ingenue with come-hither eyes to relieve the weight of the world Moses holds with light-hearted love-sickness. The 40 minutes of the movie I saw was visually gorgeous, bringing goosebumps to my skin. The acting was intense, bringing mythical scenes to life in front of my eyes. In terms of the storyline, it traveled the biblical track of a well-known ancient tale many could recite by heart; the men played gods and kings, while quietly brave women endured the consequences of their whims, appeased their anger and met their needs.
As I watched in awe of Scott’s filmmaking brilliance, part of me wondered when we will stop replaying, rehashing and repurposing the old stories of men. The bloody wars, the violent killing, the hateful rivalries, the hopeless oppression and gory brutality, the traditional superstition, the energetic disdain for women and disrespect for creation in the brief pauses between the murderous struggles for countless thrones. We will reproduce them writ large, and take them in over and over and over again, leaving the stories of women, biblical and otherwise, to go straight to DVD.We are still a society of ill-advised gods and kings. NFL players-among other prominent figures-are paid millions and allowed to get away with whatever bad behavior suits them, as have college football stars. Charges are dropped, prosecution is not pursued, outrageous violence and criminality is overlooked, and female victims are discarded and forgotten. Politicians try to win elections by threatening women’s rights and powerful corporations take precedence over our proper healthcare and personal autonomy. Our Congress is made up of about 80% men, even though women make up 51% of the population. On the latest list of America’s highest-paid CEOs, there were 11 women out of 200, and their median pay was $1.6 million less than their male peers. The average woman still generally makes 78 cents or less to the average man’s dollar, and the same old guys in Congress refuse to pass the Equal Pay Act.
Maybe one day, the billion-dollar box office will center around the well-known tales of female heroism. The stories we can recite by heart might be of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia student who dared to drag her mattress around campus everywhere she went until her alleged rapist was expelled. We’ll spend millions on special effects that show exactly how the bullet went through Malala’s head when she was hunted and shot by men who did not want her going to school, and how she bravely pressed on in her fight to win the Nobel Peace Prize and make a huge difference in the world for girls. We will endlessly recount the strength and tenacity of women from Gabrielle Giffords, to teenage Houston rape victim Jada, to Sojourner Truth.
Maybe one day we will re-imagine in blockbuster, cinematic greatness the story of every last woman over the centuries who has spoken up, acted out, knocked down walls, shattered glass ceilings and risked her life in the battle so that we might be educated, equal, respected, heard.
Until then, it is more gods and kings. Despite the fact that there are so many different, magnificent ways to bring to life the undying quest for freedom of the other half of the population, it is more gods and kings. Despite the beauty of his latest film, I want to tell Scott there are millions of other epic, earth-shattering, world-changing stories of bravery and sacrifice and triumph to be told. I dare him to do it.