Thoughts on Gods of Egypt (the movie)

Mythology isn’t just a bunch of stories about gods. Well, it is, but it’s more. When taken as a whole, those stories reflect its society’s attitudes, its morals, the important lessons about itself. Like chapters in a novel, each myth advances how a society thinks and feels and functions.

When I look at a mythology I’m inspired to mug, I try to look at what the underlying story is. What is it trying to say about being a good person and living a good life? And I try to incorporate some of that otherness into whatever I create, so it’s not so…us nowadays.

When Gods of Egypt was announced, I was dubious about seeing it. Egyptian mythology is one of my favorites and I have a long history of discussion on the topic with various friends. There was a time when a couple of us set out to read hieroglyphics. And it’s Hollywood. I honestly don’t expect much depth or comprehension when it comes to mythologies.

I was talked into seeing it opening weekend with one of those friends I’ve had long discussions with. We went in expecting a Hollywood romp, fantastic special effects and maybe some pretty people to look at. Any hint of a good story or a good myth mug would be a bonus.

We got the bonus. Some might disagree, but that was possibly the best myth mugging Hollywood has done since the original Clash of the Titans (The Hamlin one). We were pretty blown away.

You see, when I “read the novel” of Egyptian mythology, my take-away of its “theme” of how to live a good life all centers around the concept of Ma-at. Yes, she’s a goddess, the one with the feather on her head, but Ma-at is also far more. It’s the understanding that you have a path in life that you must walk and, once you die, your heart will be weighed against your Ma-at to see if you did that or not. Each individual Ma-at is an important part of the society’s Ma-at, which keeps Order in the world and Chaos at bay. Ma-at doesn’t mean don’t live up to your greatest potential, but it does mean to learn to be content with what is yours and don’t covet what isn’t. If your heart balances with her feather, you have lived a good life and you are allowed into the After Life to continue living that life. If your heart doesn’t balance, your ka (soul) gets eaten by a horrible monster and you cease to exist.

Gods of Egypt is all about Ma-at. The whole conflict is Set and Horus accepting their own paths and being content. Neither are so inclined at the beginning. Horus is the stereotypical party brat heir with no real desire for responsibility or duty. Set has had full rule of the desert and is pretty much alone there while the other gods live it up in the comfort of the Nile. Both have paths laid out for them by their fathers, and when Set strikes out against the hand he’s been dealt, the conflict starts.

They also did an excellent job with Set, by the way. Set is the god of the desert, the Outsider, the corruptor. He is Avarice Incarnate. He, like the desert, will destroy anything if given the chance. He is insatiable. The writers, director and actor all managed to make that very clear in the movie. When the time comes when Set is presented with what his Ma-at is, what his time in the desert was preparing him for, you know he’s going to reject it. He has to. Even though everything he has done against the gods and humanity could be forgiven and fixed if he accepts, he has to reject it. He has to destroy everything.

Horus, on the other hand, when he’s presented with his Ma-at, thinks he’s too broken to achieve it. Set killed his parents, stole his eyes (though he gets one back) and left him to wallow in his misery and depression. Horus lost faith in himself, in his path, and has to find his own way back. The climax begins when he finally kicks himself out of the cycle of depression and revenge, and while the event is predictable, it was still enjoyable to see.

I know many people are upset with the casting and won’t go see it. I understand, I do. But it’s also a shame, because otherwise, Hollywood did a bang-up job with this one. The movie honors the mythology. It remembers that Ra does more than just ride the solar barque (which is some awesome Fx), for instance. It remembers Set dismembering Osiris after the murder, and that a piece was missing (though which one was changed for plot reasons). It had fun with the Sphinx’s riddles. It honored the Egyptian vision of the road to the After Life, and the many trials the ka had to go through to get to the weighing. It created an Aapep monster (embodiment of Chaos) that gave me the chills. The movie just did a bang-up job on the movie itself.

If you’re interested in myth mugging, I highly recommend this movie. It’s too bad it came out against Deadpool and probably won’t be in the theaters long, but if you get the opportunity, take it. It’s a good lesson on how to do the work right.

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