I haven’t seen Exodus: Gods and Kings yet. I’m going to see it tonight, actually, and you can see my full review at Plugged In the day the film officially releases (Dec. 12). I still hope that I’ll have some good things to say about it.
But I have to admit, I’m a little worried. Much of the early buzz doesn’t center on Christian Bale’s turn as Moses or the plague of locusts, but director Ridley Scott’s decision to cast God as an 11-year-old boy.
IMDB lists Isaac Andrews (pictured) as playing “Malak,” a Semitic word for “angel.” According to The New York Times, the boy plays the Guy Upstairs Himself. Writes the Times’ Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, Andrews is “stern-eyed, impatient, at times vaguely angelic and at times ‘Children of the Corn’ terrifying.”
The child-God may be particularly terrifying for believers who don’t picture their Divine Creator as an enfant terrible.
“The portrayal of God as a willful, angry and petulant child in Exodus will be a deal breaker for most people of faith around the world,” says Chris Stone, founder of the activist group Faith Driven Consumer. “Christians, Jews and Muslims alike see this story as foundational and will find this false portrayal and image of God to be deeply incompatible both with scripture and their deeply-held beliefs.”
Scott offers a different spin on the casting. “Sacred texts give no specific depiction of God, so for centuries artists and filmmakers have had to choose their own visual depiction,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “Malak exudes innocence and purity, and those two qualities are extremely powerful.”
Now, I don’t have an inherent revulsion to casting an 11-year-old boy as God. After all, God made a pretty significant impact as an infant, and whether he shows up as a burning bush or a still small voice, He does seem to like to surprise us. I’m not inclined to judge Scott’s God solely by how He looks.
But I am concerned with what He says and does. And frankly, when I hear God described by some as “willful, angry and petulant,” it worries me. And a small part of me wonders whether the film may be giving a nod to the Gnostic concept of the demiurge.
Now, I’m no expert in Gnosticism, of course. But from what I understand, this heretical offshoot (or rather, a whole bunch of offshoots) of Christianity holds that the Bible is really the story of two gods—one the essentially unknowable and most-high God of the New Testament, and the other a lesser, more vindictive god of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament god, who became known as the demiurge, was the offspring of Sophia (an aspect of the true God whose name means “wisdom”), who birthed the babe in secret and wrapped him in a cloud. Because the child was hidden inside this cloud, he couldn’t see anyone or anything else, and thus assumed that he was the only being in the universe. But, being the only being, he got lonely. And so, according to many Gnostics, he made the world and everything in it, including us. While some Gnostic branches portrayed this demiurge as a lion-headed god, he acted more like a child—treating the whole of creation like it was his own toy, to make or break or horde or mistreat as he wished … as an 11-year-old boy might.
Gnosticism has seen an uptick of interest in recent years, what with secular society’s growing discomfort of a God who sometimes gets angry and even jealous. The idea of a God who truly cares about what we do isn’t much in vogue these days. The philosophy might appeal to Scott, who in an interview with Esquire called religion “the biggest source of evil.”
All this is pure “what if” speculation at this point, of course—kinda fun to discuss, but perhaps not relevant to how the movie actually plays out. Whether Scott is familiar or interested in Gnosticism at all, I’m not sure. His 11-year-old God might come across as (in spite of Scott’s own leaning) as surprisingly pious and faithful. It might doom the story, but for reasons that have nothing to do with Gnosticism. Whatever the case might be, I’m anxious to tell you all about it … after I see the flick.