So the daughter and I are bonding over The Ten Commandments.
Yes, THE Ten Commandments as re-imagined by the ever so full of his own self Cecil B. de Mille and enacted with too much gravitas by a Charlton Heston to campy effect and scene chewed with relish by Yul Brynner. Who does not love some Yul?
We were in Fargo on Easter Saturday and neither Rob nor I were up for a youth infected dip in the postage stamp pool, so we talked Dee into a “movie night” and she discovered one of my Easter rituals from days of yore – watching The Ten Commandments.
I had forgotten just how bad a film it is. Notable now for the healthy figures of its leading ladies and for the fact that Yul and Charlton were looking mighty fine, Dee was enthralled. It had everything. Princesses. Injustice. Fabulous locales and just enough religious detail to set her near-pagan mind a-tingle with the need to “know more about it”.
As it is an ungodly long flick, she only got to watch up to the part where Moses is banished to the desert. Frankly, the movie goes steadily downhill from this point. Once Seti dies and Rameses are bit players, it sinks under the weight of Heston’s attempts to make Moses a regal authority when in fact, Moses had to be poked, prodded and continually ego-stroked by God to get him to do anything.
And the fact that Brynner and Heston are mostly clothed from here on certainly doesn’t help either.
Moses is a pretty lame hero. Arron, his brother the rabbi, performed most of the plague tricks and Moses whined and doubted – a lot. I think it was the whining rather than the doubting that kept him out of the promised land in spite of what Sister told us in school.
Which brings up a curious point. Why are God’s Old Testament prophets so often cowardly and whingeing? God could have chosen Joshua. Joshua was an Old Testament warrior type. He would have latched onto Pharoah’s ankle and gnawed the guy’s foot off if God commanded it, but Moses was always questioning and moaning, “Why, Lord?”
When we got back home, Dee was still going on and on about the movie, so I stopped at the library after yoga one day and picked it up for her.
It’s three hours and 39 mins long and that is not counting from Judaism sprang the true religion that eventually begat the wonder that is democracy in the United States the greatest place on earth speech that de Mille gives before the film that prompted Dee to say,
“Just go to the menu and pick scene selection, Mom.”
As we watched the first night – and this was after a long day of training – I was reminded of all the times I must have watched this growing up because I easily recognized the bits that had been edited out for commercials when it ran on television. Usually it was Yul who got his lines cut, which is a shame because he is a hoot.
Last night we watched part two which is the boring “let my people go”. Heston is quite impressive with that one line. Unfortunately they gave him a lot of other things to angst about too that really slow the movie down and his Elvira hair distracted.
After boring us with Moses’s time in exile, it surprises me that de Mille skipped most of the plagues, but he’d chewed up over two hours by the time Moses sees the burning bush and returns to Egypt and there was still Passover and a sea to part. The music swells in awesomely in the sea sequence. Still makes me tingle a bit.
Anyway, the last plague is – of course – death to the first-born of Egypt which the Hebrews ride out in their blood stained mud huts – which in retrospect is appropriate because their God is murdering innocents in their name, so smearing them with blood fits.
The superbly cheesy effect of the smoky hand of God, green and wispy, slithering across the moonlight sky before snaking to earth prompted me to think,
“Aw fuck, I forgot about the whole hand of God killing children thing.”
Dee was horrified.
“Why does God want to kill the little boy?”
Pharoah’s son – if you know the story skip this – is of course smited by the hand of God to teach Pharoah a lesson. A lot of innocent children bite it in the Old Testament because God was, apparently, still working on his personal enlightenment. Perhaps he should have been paying more attention to the Asians because I believe they were busy coming up with what would the be basis for the Sutras and Buddhism. Although, if they had been God’s chosen, the concept of enlightenment might not have ever been discovered by humans at all.
When I was Dee’s age, I knew the story of Moses. The idea that God killed for no other reason than to teach lessons the hard way was not foreign to me and I was Catholic enough to accept this rather bloody-minded view that it was okay because it was God.
Dee has been deliberately distanced from Christianity in general. When Will died, I allowed her to believe in heaven and angels but I kept her ignorant of the hell and damnation component. Two reasons for that. First being that if she is going to believe in God in some fashion or other, I want her to do so without the fear factor. Too many people are religious for no other reason than they are afraid not to be and this, in my opinion, is the root cause of poor Christians. Second, there is no good reason to scare the crap out of children to promote blind obedience to any creed. That kind of nonsense is why Catholic priests were able to get away with abusing children and why Catholic schools were hotbeds of physical and emotional abuse as well.
“Baby, if there is a God, do you think he would kill little children?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied wide-eyed and very serious.
“Moses is a made up story. Churches used to tell horrible stories like this to scare people into believing and being good,” I said – and that’s about as age-appropriate simple as it gets.
“A very good question,” I said. “But I don’t know the answer.”
“God is a good person,” she assured me. “And Daddy Will and Grandpa live with him in heaven and do good things too.”
Seriously, can you wish more for your child than believing this?
But, naturally, the green glowing hand of God came back to slap me about a half hour after I’d put Dee in bed.
“Mom?’ came a plaintive wail from upstairs which I followed and discovered a wide-awake worried child at its tail.
“It’s that hand of God,” she said.
Dang-it hand of God. Curse Cecil B. De Mille.
6 thoughts on “The Hand of God”
The priest at my Dad’s funeral preached hell-fire and brimstone, perhaps for the benefit of those of us who no longer follow the faith. It was annoying. And stupid. And made my sister, the best Christian I know, stop and explain to her teen-aged children that they didn’t believe that way, that they strove for God’s kingdom on earth.
The Old Testament is extremely violent, between God killing off all and sundry, and the Hebrews eliminating tribes that got in their way. We should have dropped it entirely.
These days I try to emulate the Pagan/atheist sentiment “Be good for goodness sake.”
I saw this movie as a kid but haven’t watched it since. I enjoyed learning Bible stories, although the story of Job bothered me for weeks. Thank goodness for a patient Sunday school teacher. I grew up in a church that used stories in the New Testament for lessons, and I always somehow “knew” that they were stories intended to make a point and weren’t necessarily literal. I felt safe at church as a kid, where there were people who cared about me. It was a progressive, open-minded environment where questions were welcomed and differences were accepted. In turn I shared all kinds of beliefs with my own children, and as grown-ups they all have their own questions and ideas. We are all still learning.
Yeah, poor old Job. I knew that the story was trying to make points but felt it portrayed God in an unflattering light that I could never understand why others didn’t find alarming.
I just saw this, too! It made me realize how stupid the idea of wiping lamb’s blood on their doors is. If the Angel of Death is an other-worldly spirit, wouldn’t it know through its mystical power the Hebrew homes from the Egyptian homes?! Why would they need to put blood on their doors? It’s stupid!
Worst casting in history: Edward G. Robinson as an Egyptian.
Fun fact. The voice of God in the burning bush was actor Ted Cassidy, the same guy who played Lurch on The Addams Family.
If the Angel of Death is an other-worldly spirit, wouldn’t it know through its mystical power the Hebrew homes from the Egyptian homes?!
Dee had all these questions after the film ended and it mostly centered on why God was such a thug. It occurred to me during the scenes where “God” is writing out the commandments that the first three are all about him and he doesn’t mention the whole “not killing people” until number 5. Number 5!! It’s more important that his name not be besmirched and that his jealous nature is appeased than it is that his people not wantonly murder.