I Am Who They Want Me to Be: The Extent Portrayals of Moses in Film Document the Fragmentation of Institutionalized Religion in the United States

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Haverford College. Department of Religion
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Over the past few years biblical films have seemingly increased following the release of the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ. Since then, topics ranging from the life of Christ to the life of Noah have gone to the box office, yet some feature very different versions of the narrative they portray on the big screen. With Moses, the character has seen the big screen since 1923 in the United States until recently in 2016. However, the versions of the character differ greatly from each other, with the latter deviating the most from the biblical narrative. This work explores the differences and deviations present, arguing that the character’s evolution in film is a reflection of a fluctuating stance of American unipolarity and a documentation of the fragmentation of institutionalized religion in the United States. Due to the events of the Cold War, the 1956 film The Ten Commandments featured a Moses who was adamant in his values of freedom and empathy, reflecting the beliefs of patriotic Americans as well as documenting the presence of organized Protestantism present to support the conflict against the atheistic Soviet Union. Once that threat no longer existed, signaled with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, globalization began to emerge with the ascent of US hegemony. With the influx of ideas from all over the world as well as the spread of free market standards from globalization, the 1998 film The Prince of Egypt presents a Moses who is conflicted between his past life and his newfound life during a time when new ideas conflicted with old traditions. Furthermore, the spread of free market standards created a culture of consumerism, subjecting religion to the same rules as any other commodity in a free market, thus accelerating its fragmentation even more. The 2016 film Exodus: Gods and Kings portrays a Moses who is not only conflicted but also dubious of the divine, reflecting a time when the culture of consumerism ushered by globalization has turned religion into a selective characteristic. In this, the film and the character embody selective religious elements while portraying the narrative of the Exodus in a rational manner, thus visually presenting a film that embodies the fragmentation of institutionalized religion in the United States. The three characters evolve as American influence changes while also presenting the increasing conflict institutionalized religion faces in a globalized world.