What could Clash of the Titans—a mindless “popcorn flick” from 2010—possibly have in common with director Ridley Scott’s recent Bible-themed epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings? Something much more fundamental and revealing than you might expect.
Moviegoers had for good reason looked forward to seeing how Scott would portray the Bible’s account of Moses, Egypt, and God’s liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery. Most expected that Scott’s experienced eye as a director would serve him well in crafting the sorts of evocative visuals that impress today’s moviegoers.
Indeed, it has. Exodus depicts an Egypt of beauty, splendor and power—as one would expect of a “superpower” nation of its day. Many of the famous plagues on Egypt are digitally realized with a realism never before seen in a cinematic adaption of the Exodus. Many of the images are haunting and memorable, and Scott fully utilizes the techniques of Hollywood and the skill of his actors to tell his story.
But that’s the problem. Scott told his story.
Consider the opening moments of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic, The Ten Commandments—against which, inevitably, Scott’s movie will be compared. Before his ancient tale began, DeMille parted some curtains to speak to the assembled audience. He very movingly explained: “Our intention was not to create a story, but to be worthy of the divinely inspired story, created 3,000 years ago—the five books of Moses.”
To be sure, DeMille took some dramatic liberties throughout the film. But as one watches The Ten Commandments there is a sense the director respected the fact that—truly, deeply and profoundly—it is not ultimately his story. It is, indeed, a “divinely inspired story” of events in the history of a chosen people three millennia ago.
It is God’s story.
This is where Exodus: Gods and Kings and Clash of the Titans find some fundamental common ground. Greek myths were the “inspiration” for Clash of the Titans, yet the moviemakers certainly did not take those myths as true. And since there was no real “truth” to represent on film—Zeus is not really a god, and Perseus didn’t really battle a Medusa—why not use elements of those myths to sell movie tickets and tell a whole new story?
Similarly—and much as Darren Aronofsky did in making Noah—Ridley Scott in his Exodus has treated the Bible as myth and mere “inspiration.” In Scott’s hands, the Bible is a fiction to be used however he wishes to tell his own story.
And if the Bible is just a collection of myths, why not use its elements to tell whatever story we want? Do we want the plagues to be substantially about humbling a proud Moses? Why not? Do we want Moses and God to bicker back and forth, with Moses defiantly disagreeing? Sure! It’s just a story, right? Hey—why not cast an 11-year-old boy to be God’s human “avatar” and portray him as a petulant, volatile, creepy little weirdo? Well, sure—no one has done that before!
In Ridley Scott’s own words, he “wanted to avoid the clichés” concerning depicting God’s presence in film, such as pillars of fire or voices from clouds.
But what if the truth is cliché?
Not quite 60 years ago, filmmaker DeMille recognized the privileged burden of being “worthy of the divinely inspired story.” Aronofsky and Scott, however, seem typical of today’s filmmakers whose main goal is to “avoid the clichés”—something much easier to do when one jettisons those two crucial words: “divinely inspired.”
Yet the Bible is divinely inspired. It is not simply a collection of fictions to be used as grist for the mill in telling one’s own story. It is God’s story! If you have never proven that for yourself, order your free copy of our booklet The Bible: Fact or Fiction?
When you do, you will find that you can do so much more than watch the story depicted poorly on the screen. You can become a part of that story. It continues to unfold today.