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Oh My God: Modern Cinematic Depictions of the Almighty…

Religion is understandably one of the great cinematic themes.

After all, religion provides a way of making sense of a seemingly chaotic world, of imposing order upon the universe. More than that, it connects into any number of other rich themes, from man’s place in the grand scheme of things to the art of creation. However, religion is understandably a subject that needs to be treated with some delicacy, joining sex and politics on topics to be avoided in dinner table conversation. Of course, there has always been a market for religious subject matter in cinema.

Classic Hollywood produced any number of broad religious epics for public consumption, films like Ben Hur, The Robe, The Ten Commandments. These stories blended familiar biblical narratives with large-scale spectacle, offering reassuring tales of conventional heroics often anchored in Christian iconography. These biblical epics faded from view towards the end of the sixties; perhaps tellingly, they faded out of view around the same time as that other American creation myth, the western.

However, there remains a market for religious entertainment. The twenty-first century has seen an explosion of smaller Christian-based movie studios producing wholesome narratives couched in religious language and imagery. Films like Saving Christmas or God’s Not Dead are clearly calibrated to appeal to a very particular market instead of a broader audience, akin to specialty cinema like Bollywood. However, entire studios exist to feed this market and provide a solid return on a reasonable budget; just look at Left Behind, starring Nicolas Cage.

Nic Cage doesn’t get raptured. It turns out God has seen the remake of The Wicker Man.

While these specialty studios are offering a much more conventional and old-school depiction of divinity and religion, there is something interesting happening in more mainstream cinema. The twenty-first century has seen a number of high-profile creators grappling with strong religious themes in explicitly Christian terms, and – in doing so – offering a number of provocative and subversive interpretations of God.

Note: the post will include spoilers for mother! If you have not seen the film yet, proceed at your own peril.

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Non-Review Review: Exodus – Gods and Kings

Exodus: Gods and Kings might be more traditional in structure and execution than the year’s other big biblical epic, but it shares a lot of the same core sentiments of Noah. Both films posit the Old Testament God as a primordial and almost unfathomable force, transforming biblical parables in epic horror stories. Both accept the divine as inhuman, almost by definition; both offer harrowing and unsettling depictions of stories that many viewers will know from childhood or have heard dozens of times before.

Exodus: Gods and Kings suffers a bit with its pacing, trying to boil the core Moses stories down into a single two-and-a-half hour narrative. The film runs through a check list of iconic moments, struggling to squeeze so much in that the story of the reed basket is mentioned only in passing. Instead, the film moves from Moses’ relationship with Ramses II through to his exile through to his epiphany through to his military rebellion through to the plagues through to the exodus.

"Well, I got back to Gotham in six days, I think I can get us to the Promised Land."

“Well, I got back to Gotham in six days, I think I can get us to the Promised Land.”

It is an epic story in almost every sense of the word, and Exodus: Gods and Kings struggles to contain it all. Often key elements are only present for moments before the film has to hurry along – the burning bush lingers in the background; the golden calf is glimpsed only from the distance. So much ground is covered that it is occasionally difficult to maintain focus, as Moses seems to lose and gain families with each passing act break. Exodus: Gods and Kings holds itself together under the pressure, but the strain can be felt.

Nevertheless, Exodus: Gods and Kings largely works. Feeling more like Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator, the movie does a wonderful job of building a massive and sprawling (and foreign) world. Exodus: Gods and Kings looks and feels like a more traditional biblical epic than Noah, and Scott’s efforts to ground the film in a tangible reality only serves to enhance the awe-inspiring scale of the horror on display here. Exodus: Gods and Kings is an exploration of faith and devotion, asking uncomfortable questions and leaving the answers to the audience.

"Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings..."

“Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings…”

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