Cecil B. DeMille’s movie is entitled “The Ten Commandments”, but it should have been named after its main character: “Moses”, as it follows him from the court of Egypt close to the Promised Land.
Initially, the character of Moses is fashioned after modern and unlikely standards: a successful, yet moral and altruistic leader, who enjoys both wealth and love, political power and goodness. Needless to say, the Holy Book does not contain such a description of the prophet, though it admits him being a royal prince.
Exodus 2:10 Later, when the child was old enough, she took him to the king’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son.
All of a sudden, at the pinnacle of his glory, as Icarus burnt his wings when he flew too close to the Sun, so Moses’ wings are singed by a most strange uncovering: he does not share the blood of the Pharaohs, but of the slaves. It is a slave, of course, who opposes his climbing to the throne. A slave who, despite her pitiful condition, has internalized the dominant ideology of the Pharaohs, of their divine nature based on pure blood. She believes with all her heart that slaves are always to be slaves, and rulers are always to be rulers, no matter their personal qualities, morality or behaviour.
This is the triggering moment. From now on, from a secular point of view, we are going to witness the undoing of the promising young prince. From a spiritual perspective, on the other hand, we watch as Moses undertakes a path towards self-discovery and personal development.
First half of the movie reflects, roughly, the self-discovery of his true birth and the consequences of this revelation. After finding the truth, he leaves no stone unturned to flee his royal destiny and begin his spiritual journey. His love, Nefertiri, a synecdoche for the entire kingdom ( her hand in marriage comes with the entire kingdom), tries her best to beguile him to stay in power. She teases him, she mocks him, she praises him, she kisses him, but… to no avail! Moses has set his heart on starting again as a slave.
In order to fully realize his spiritual mission, he must completely abandon his princely personality in order to receive the revelation. There is bondage in secular power, as there is freedom in the wilderness. Only as an outcast, Moses discovers his inner destiny.
The second half of the movie shows us the leader and the law-maker.
If we are to see the discourses of the two parts through the lens of political doctrines, we will observe that the first half is leftist, with a lot of talk about inequality, injustice and liberation from serfdom, whereas the second part is more to the right, talking about the necessity of law and order.
After the burning bush, the character does not change any more. He is complete and static after the Exodus. All he can do is to support the movement the revelation of the burning bush set in motion. He found his way and all he can do is to follow it from here to eternity.
Now, the focus is not on Moses any more. It shifts from his personality, from his character, from his humanity to his legacy. From Moses the man to Moses the prophet.
Unfortunately, I must confess, the first part is much more intriguing than the second. Of course, one of the strengths of the movie – its special effects, is present now, but I like much more a man of flesh and blood, than a prophet with a lost gaze, lost in the transcendence of the sacred mountain.
Maybe it is just the nature of our limited nature, but we are much more interested in the fate our fellow mortals than that of almost like-gods.
From a cinematografic perspectiv, I would say that the movie suffers from a fatal flaw here. It fails to complete his character, to make it, as E.M. Forster put it, a “round character”. Moses does not develop any longer: he is captive of his own vision, of his own mission.
So, I like more the first half than the second, because I like more to watch real people on the screen than idealized versions of abstract ideas.
And only real people and round characters, by means of personal challenge, facing real difficulties, can grow and develop. The still ones, the people with transcendent certainties are only doomed to follow a predestined path.
That is why I consider that the movie, unfortunately, fails to deliver us a powerful message of personal development and we remain with beautiful choreography and costumes, and not with living memories of it.