Same tale for different times – The Ten Commandments (1956) and Exodus (2014)

I imagine to be in a place where I can see the present and the origins from the past. I can see civilizations, the mighty empires of the yore and the developed metropolis of today. I can see the science of our ancestors and the technology of the present. While there are many points of change, there is one which I believe has stood the test of time -people and their interpretations to various beliefs.

It is in this premise I look at the epic, Cecile DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) and the recently released ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ (2014).

Both take on the same topic – the story of freedom of ‘Hebrews’ from the bondage of the Egyptian rulers, same backdrop, same characters and a similar conclusion; yet the treatment is miles apart. In case of DeMille, going by his strong interest towards religion and his inclination towards detailed scripting gives us the most accurate narration based on what has been written on the matter – whereas the 2014 movie does justice to what the current generation would be more inclined to believe.

What is history? It is a record of what had happened, written by people who have witnessed or have recorded from other sources. While it narrates, it fails to give us a 360° approach on any matter. Take the story of Moses, books have been written based on evidence that has been unearthed so far. Who can validate the veracity of events that were recorded? The more we dwell in this matter, the more skewed the analysis. Instead, it is well acknowledged, evidence serves us a basis to comment on a topic, narrate and in this case make movies on screen.

It is fascinating to see in less than sixty years, our ways of looking at history has evolved immensely. I arrive at this from the way movies have been scripted. If you go back in time to 1923, when The Ten Commandments was released by Cecile DeMille,  it was well accepted, though it was considered inaccurate and the modern version was criticised while applauding the historical aspects of the movie it covered. That was 1923 where magic of moving pictures and that too on such a ‘hot topic’ would definitely be a hit.

In what turned out to be his last movie he ever directed and produced, DeMille keeping up with the technical advancements re-made his 1923 classic, adding sound and the colours to make it more appealing to the audiences. He went deeper, a place where even Bible has not been – to the early years of Moses, the first 30 years of his life which he spent as a prince of Egypt. The 1956 movie was 3 hours and 40 minutes long and every minute retained its essence, adding flavours to the continuity. The movie could have gone on and on if not for practical considerations. The movie ends in the period it started thereby reproducing the texts and artifacts into a movie. This epic of 1956 was as accurate as it can get to the source from which the stories are told, re-told on the life of Moses. There is no transportation to the 20th century to see how events have panned out as a result of history. The movie was history in itself and that to me was the most appealing part.

What was once considered as miracles by external forces is unsurprisingly replaced by natural forces in today’s world. While one looked at the father of all lords, the current crop turns to mother nature for answers. Idol worship, praying to forces of nature, following a person, humanisation of ‘gods’, turning men to gods men and dogmatic beliefs – all of it existed and exists even today. The situation has evolved – we attempt to look at it in a different way and have a tendency to believe the same set of stories when showcased in a different manner, a manner that is close to what we accept as a way of living and how life exists.

In today’s generation, science has allowed us to access more answers than our previous generations were privilege to. A chant of a man to clear out the waters from the sea is replaced by the science of tides. The origins of plague is not one’s creation but as a result of imbalance in the eco-system. Mere words do not serve the purpose, one needs to be equipped to defend the might of the strong even if it ends in a war. Such is the world we live where we blindly do not accept unless there is rationale behind it. In such an environment, it is suffice to say, a blind remake of the 1956 classic would have been ‘misplaced’ or even rejected by the very people, who would have believed if they were living in another generation.

Keeping this in mind, I was extremely pleased to the treatment given to the story of Exodus by the film makers. It does not take away the factor of ‘hope’ by miracles alone; the freedom is sought through preparation, willingness, hard work and by fighting it out – all and many such qualities which the current generation can associate with. With time being the essence, a movie over 200 minutes would not have made any business sense in today’s market, no matter how good the narration is.

We truly live in a great era where access to information has never been this simple. While there are many sources to confuse people, movie makers who go to great heights to research a topic and present it keeping in mind the relevance is much appreciated.

What we believe is what we see; what we see is what is shown; for there are no boundaries when it comes to expression! Perceptions are a mere indicator of a story, an idea and how it has flown through time, tampered by scholars from different eras, narrated to the best of their understandings.. straying here and there while ensuring the essence to last.. only to be carried on to future generations with more discoveries and additions. That to me is the beauty surrounding the various stories, myths, and the creative works that surrounds them! There is no truth but recording of facts based on evidences! It would be interesting to re-visit the same topic in a decade’s time or maybe in 50 years time.

So let it be written, so let it be done! 

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