Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
I'm eagerly anticipating this new movie under Ridley Scott's direction set to open Dec. 12. I've been seeing previews for the last 2 months and it looks to be a cinematic masterpiece as well as blockbuster. Especially with Christian Bale as Moses under Scott's direction. The cinematography and CGI look astounding from the previews. And the chemistry between Bale's Moses and Joel Edgerton's Ramses looks fiercely intense.
It's also a good metaphor for today's saga of wage slavery, with Senator Warren leading the masses out of Egypt (poverty) against the indomitable will of the 1% played by Charles Koch. This thread will serve as discussion prior to the film's release, as well as commentary after we've seen it.
I just read this preview discussing Scott's comments on the casting. Seems some are upset because the two main characters are played by white guys, while those of color are relegated to the roles of slaves, thieves or servants. The criticism highlights the apparent hypocrisy of telling a story about the liberation of slaves while engaging in "cinematic colonialism," thus unconsciously participating in the depiction of a white, Euro-centric dominated culture as rescuing those ignorant Egyptians from their inferior culture.
Scott meanwhile said he would never have gotten the financing for this huge venture without the giant star quality of Bale to ensure returns at the box office. Not sure that applies equally to Edgerton, but there are other big white names like Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad) and Sigourney Weaver. But again, my devaluation of Edgerton's Aussie star power are also indicative of my own colonialism and favoritism for American actors.
Anyway... please discuss.
I await this film hesitantly. The Moses story is a hard one to pull off with any cinematic profundity. Ridley sometimes enters the pantheon of the greatest directors and other times seems to stumble... often because he has too much on his plate. The Martian and Prometheus 2 are both already at work!
Bale -- when I saw him in American Hustle -- seemed like he was on the edge of something like a McConnaisance. That performance moved into that amazing territory where "acting" no longer applies and the audiences watches like they might observe a car crash or the gods descending upon the earth. I hope very much that he continues in this vein and does not return to the mere semblance of intense acting. After "Tropic Thunder" it seemed like we were on the verge of a bold new Tom Cruise. Alas it did not sustain itself.
I care not a whit(e) about racially appropriate casting. However Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver also give hit or miss performances. Not in their "acting skill" but in there ability to conspire with a film to make it pop.
On the whole I would say there is a 35-45% risk that the film will be clunky. However I will definitely see it for Ridley, Bale, epic CGI, mytho-historical curiosity and its potential to reveal the implicit cultural unconscious of this Western moment.
Actually, a film might have to be "overly Euro-American" if its purpose is to unveil the ideological matrix of the current Western moment.
So far it has only a 41% fresh rating at rottentomatoes.com, not a good omen.
I saw it and the low ratings are deserved. Nevertheless, there are some interesting themes which I'll play off of this review. Moses starts our mocking the superstitions of diviners and the religious. He is a man of reason. But then he goes up the mountain to encounter the burning bush. However this is depicted more as a hallucination after Moses gets caught up in a flash flood and mudslide in which he hits his head, is knocked unconscious and is buried in mud. When he awakens he sees the hallucination and believes he has a conversation with God's messenger. When he returns and tells his wife, herself devoutly religious, she even believes its a delusion caused by the hard knock.
Several other of the mythical story lines are depicted by Scott as having a more naturalistic explanation. The Nile turns red due to an unusually busy crocodile season. This causes the frogs to flee the bloody water and die. Their rotting corpses breed flies and pestilence. Meanwhile Moses, under his delusion, sees them all as signs of God to pursue his destiny of freeing the slaves of Egypt and returning them to their homeland.
Even the Red Sea myth is re-done. He doesn't invoke God to part it but due to a comet striking nearby this causes the waters to recede so that they can cross. I know, fortuitous timing, but he has to follow the biblical plot line. Even Moses gets caught up in the return tidal wave but by luck, or the grace of God (take your pick), he washes ashore to continue the lead on the journey home.
The linked review thinks the film is about Scott's own struggle between his atheism and how religious belief nonetheless can motive a hero to perform herculean feats for social good. If we see signs that God is telling us to free the slaves, and it gets us to do it, then so much the better for the newly freed people. Still, there are atrocities to be had at the hand of God, like killing the children on non-believers that don't put the blood of the lamb or their doorjamb. Scott doesn't provide a natural explanation for this, like his own tribe going around killing the innocent children. He keeps that one a mystery of God.