If there’s one Old Testament image everyone knows, it’s the parting of the Red Sea. And when shooting that scene in Exodus: Gods and Kings (in theaters Dec. 12), director Ridley Scott knew that he want to treat the incident as realistically as possible. “You can’t just do a a giant parting, with walls of water trembling while people ride between them,” says Scott, who remembers scoffing at biblical epics from his boyhood like 1956’s The Ten Commandments. “I didn’t believe it then, when I was just a kid sitting in the third row. I remember that feeling, and thought that I’d better come up with a more scientific or natural explanation.”
Scott’s solution came from a deep dive into the history of Egypt circa 3000 B.C. After reading that a massive underwater earthquake off the coast of Italy caused a tsunami, he thought about how water recedes as a prelude to such disasters. “I thought that logically, [the parting] should be a drainage. And that when [the water] returns, it comes back withe a vengeance.” Here’s a 5,000-year-old spoiler alert: That’s what happens when Moses (Christian Bale) leads the no-longer-enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt, with leader Ramses (Joel Edgerton) in close pursuit.
Scott’s desire for rational explanations extended to other elements of his saga, including the 10 plagues the Egyptians suffer before Ramses frees the Hebrews: swarms of frogs and flies, an epidemic of boils, and darkness. While the film doesn’t completely shy away from the miraculous, the director says, “it’s always interesting to address all the facts. Out of the facts comes the logic, and out of the logic comes reality.”