Since my childhood, when I first read the story of Exodus, I have been fascinated with the role of the Pharaoh in the letting go of Hebrews. The unnamed king proves to be so inexplicably predictable, so stubborn in his absurd ways, that he continues to fascinate me even today.
The Lord had said to Moses, “The king will continue to refuse to listen to you, in order that I may do more of my miracles in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these miracles before the king, but the Lord made him stubborn, and he would not let the Israelites leave his country. (Exodus 11:9)
In “The Ten Commandments”, Yul Brynner succeeds in offering a possible explanation through his excellent acting. In a movie dominated by theatrical poses and gestures, he portrays a self-aware king, very imperious and ambitious. In a good tradition of Western values, where the influence of women is much more palatable than the whispers of God, his stubbornness, or, how some translations of the Bible put it, his hardening of the heart, is explained through the influence of a maleficent woman.
What I consider that is interesting in this matter is the need of the scriptwriter to introduce a woman as a proper explanation of absurd, nonsensical behaviour, rather than let it to divine intervention or event predestination.
Cinematography logic need something concrete which could account for missing bits of plots. It is not God, though He is the main character in the Bible and the crucial character in the movie, who block the Pharaoh’s reason. No, not at all! It is the ancient beguiler, who can work wonders in explaining such a behaviour.
This shift in meaning is very important in understanding cinematography inspired by a written medium. Although both text are verbal and narrative, with characters, plots and dialogues, the movie introduces a mundane explanation for an intriguing and crucial behaviour. Of course, the Pharaoh could have been depicted as ruler blinded by his own sense of superiority, but cinematography work best when you put a beautiful and passionate woman as a linchpin in the ongoing tragedy.
Thus, through this device of eye-candy, the ancient story can be rendered through modern and visual means. We do not understand what is happening in the Pharaohs heart and mind, but we can condone his cruel deeds when we behold the beauty of Anne Baxter and the opulence of the royal court. But, on the other hand, it is exactly this too perfect an explanation that leaves one unsatisfied, as life, and Bible after it, seldom offers such easy answer to inexplicable and destructive behaviours.