Ridley Scott’s Exodus and Why The Bible Isn’t A Movie Script

*Disclaimer: I wrote this years ago, and a lot of my perspectives have changed—so don’t take this too seriously. If you want to know how thinking about these topics can evolve, feel free to get in touch.*

The book was better than the movie.”

That’s what most of us hear when bestsellers are adapted for the big screen. They don’t live up to the expectations of the story and characters that were built up in our minds in one way, but very different from what film producers came up with. They don’t capture the same feeling, the nuances and complexity, the ebb and flow of a character’s growth or the intricate details of the plot.

With Exodus: Gods and Kings, it’s no different—but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.

Releasing The Perpetual Critic Mindset

As with any story, there’s a lot of good that can shine through and there’s a lot that can get confused. Even if we didn’t particularly like the filmmaker’s interpretation, it’s still a story to be heard and to consider. Regardless of how we feel about Hollywood producing films based on Bible stories, we can at least appreciate that the conversations are happening.

Exodus: Gods and Kings has garnered mostly mixed to negative reviews, and for a variety of reasons.

The film industry got excited for what director Ridley Scott hyped as one of his most epic projects—which says a lot, because he’s the guy behind Gladiator, Prometheus, Kingdom of Heaven, and so many more. Critics deemed it a flop in both box office earnings and artistic value. The Christian and Jewish communities voiced staunch disappointment in the creative license used in the storytelling.

I don’t think it was earth-shatteringly epic like Scott predicted, but I don’t think it was as devastating as most others complain.

I understand the disconnect—Exodus left me wanting more: more character depth in the protagonist, more ethnically-accurate casting, more backstory to explain the plight of the enslaved Israelites, improved dialogue. Yes, the film missed big elements of the Exodus story. However, the whole thing came off as a decent film: beautifully shot and colored, visually stunning, generally good acting, and a compelling story.

The Toughest Crowd To Please

Lots of reviews liken Exodus to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah from earlier in 2014 (a film in which I found 6 things to appreciate, despite its mixed reception). Generally, Christian audiences have lambasted any project from Hollywood as an evil distortion of the truth, but fail to celebrate how more and more people are considering stories and ideas from a book we consider to be the words of God.

Why not embrace the questions and curiosity of wider audiences asking about faith and God, while admitting that it’s OK to engage the ideas of the Bible without having all the answers?

Regardless of our beliefs (or lack thereof), we can all admit we don’t understand everything, but truth is worth seeking.

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, Exodus and films like it don’t need to be objects of our scorn, but tools we can use to talk about and point people to finding truth in Jesus.

The Bible Is Not A Movie Script

It’s unrealistic to expect a perfectly accurate portrayal of Bible stories in modern film because that’s not what Bible stories are for.

The stories of the Bible are not written so that we can create entertaining films, but so we can see the story of humanity and how we fit into God’s story.

The Bible doesn’t all make sense.

It’s not an exhaustive history on all things.

It’s not all pretty or family friendly.

It’s not easy to explain.

I am all for filmmakers and artists of all kinds rendering interpretations of the stories of the Bible because it’s how people wrestle with the ideas of what is true, what is good, who are we, and what we’re doing here. Even Ridley Scott told Esquire a few years ago:

I’m really intrigued by those eternal questions of creation and belief and faith. I don’t care who you are, it’s what we all think about. It’s in the back of all our minds.

Sure, share your opinions about Exodus and other movies. Point out where they go wrong. But remember that art, like people, has more than one or two dimensions. Real life, real faith, the stories we need to hear to keep us going—these things are never perfectly packaged just the way we expect.

The truth is messier than that.


Do you plan on seeing Exodus: Gods and Kings? Why or why not? Answer in the comments below.



4 responses to “Ridley Scott’s Exodus and Why The Bible Isn’t A Movie Script

  1. I do want to see this film. I have yet to see Noah as well. I so appreciate your take on this. Such truthful words. Especially how the Bible is not pretty or often family-friendly! And despite the cliche, the struggle is indeed real! It’s great to see creative minds struggle through it, because none of us will ever have it 100% right. Thanks John!

  2. I don’t think this movie is devoid of supernatural, I think the presence and power of God is very, very vivid all along:

    -The plagues, totally out of hand or without scientific explanations… Scott even pointed out the hanging of the reasoners in ramses court at failing to provide a reason… A higher intelligence at work is clearly shown. Esp. the death of the 1st born plague…

    -The timing at how would Moses knew a Tsunami is coming… he didn’t… he was clueless but had faith.

    -The law-giving at the end, and prediction that the hebrews will go astray very soon.

    I loved the 2nd half more and the God’s speaking through Malak(the boy angel) was all in right aesthetics… showed the unsettling feeling of immense power and command. Yet in a negotiating way. The abrupt coming of day out of night is also an interesting miracle shown… Loved this religion epic 😉

  3. Thoughtful comments John. I have yet to see the movie. The trouble filmmakers encounter when creating screenplay from biblical narrative is obvious. We shouldn’t judge a film based on a biblical account as we would Hebrew or Greek Scripture translated to English. A film does not portend to be the Word of God, even though it may contain words of God.

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