The Ten Commandments Essay
The Ten Commandments
The predominant lasting impact I’ve experienced from viewing Cecil B. Demille’s 1956 remake film “The Ten Commandments” is a sense of epic profundity. This well-expected response to the film relates not only to the sweeping scope of the film’s narrative, but to the impact of the craftsmanship and craft work that brought this monumental film to the screen. In some ways, the impact of the film seems to be dependant upon its historical scope; however, simultaneously, it is the film’s mythological resonance that drives its power. Few films I have experienced offer such a delicate balance of historical “realism” and what seems to be pure fantasy, or at least utilizes the “special effects” for film that are traditionally associated with fantasy (and horror) films.
Interestingly enough, a book was published in 1956 which chronicled the search for historical authenticity which preoccupied the film-makers. This text reveals that realism, indeed, was a target for the Director and scriptwriters as well as the set and costume designers. This extremely challenging criteria was made even more difficult by the lack of a consistent and reliable historical source for much needed information “To relate the biblical events of Moses’ birth and the significant Exodus with Egyptian history has proved to be a most difficult puzzle. No conscientious scholar has been able to set an exact date with absolute certainty for these events. No one can point his finger at this or that pharaoh and state accurately, “He is the one who reigned when Moses was born, and upon (Noerdlinger 7)
An important part of the movie’s overall aesthetic, for me, is the tension between the movie’s obvious “mission” to transmit a believably and historically accurate narrative while simultaneously appealing to audience’s ‘sense of wonder” and tantalizing viewers shape-shifting serpents, magically parting waters, and burning bushes. The juxtaposition of these two seemingly conflicting aesthetic visions grounds “The Ten Commandments” in uniqueness as it literalizes, visually and narratively, the otherwise symbolic elements of scripture.
Even the moments in the film which appear to me obviously staged or contrived, such as the receiving of the tablets and most of the crucifixion scenes, carry a profound thematic impact within the scope of the film. The insistence by Cecil B. DeMille that film could capture, could literalize the “historical” events of the Bible in such a dramatically convincing fashion appears to be directed at skeptics who doubted the plausibility of Biblical events. At the very least, the subordination (or elevation) of these images from scripture to film strikes me as quite powerfully dramatically, and also historically, as the movie “The Ten Commandments” gives dimesnsion to hard-to grasp aspects of ancient life: the slaves, the decadence of the rulers, the pageantry and poverty co-existing.
Aside from a bit of cultural simplification and unintentional cultural shallowness, the film brings ancient worlds to life, engaging the viewer with its massive scope: “In making a motion picture, such as The Ten Commandments, it is advisable in certain cases to project onto the screen what is considered typical, to present that which an audience can readily recognize[…] There is substantiation to support in a general sense the choice of set designs made by Cecil B. deMille and the art directors” (Noerdlinger 102)
For me, “the Ten Commandments” will always stand as a forceful, spirited monument to what film can accomplish. If modern film-makers pushed the limits of technology, film-craft, dramatic screen writing, historical research, dramatic acting, and epic scops as much as De Mille in this film, we’d all be richer for it. A truly magnificent film with unique audacity and scope.
Noerdlinger, Henry S. Moses and Egypt: The Documentation to the Motion Picture the Ten Commandments. Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, 1956.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 March 2017