An evaluation of the Ten Commandments as a document of the Cold War
Like any other work of art, films are a product of their cultural, historical, and social contexts. Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments was released during one of the most crucial periods in American history – the Cold War. Needless to say, the political context of the film is reflected in its plot, although the film is set in a different century and culture. To understand how the film portrays the realities of the Cold War, we first need to examine the context of its production.
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The ideological differences between the Soviet Union and the United States were the main reason for the strained political relations between the two governments, and they were indeed fundamental. American ideology emphasizes freedom of speech and democracy. The Communist leaders of the Soviet Union, on the other hand, stood on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum. The government censorship was rough; there was no freedom of expression. While the American government and society were built on the idea of freedom in all aspects of life, the Soviets were the face of oppression and fear.
The Ten Commandments is set in a cultural and social context that mirrors that of the Soviet Union, with a solid governmental power – the pharaohs – oppressing the weaker population – the brave Hebrews. The Exodus, the myth behind the film, is about Hebrews who were inspired by Moses to rise against the oppression and free themselves from slavery. Moses, therefore, represents the American mission to bring freedom and equality to the people in all areas of the world. The analogy is so apparent in the movie that it is supported by DeMille’s introductory words: “Are men the property of the state, or are they, free souls, under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today” (The Ten Commandments, 1:35-1:41).
The rise of the Hebrews against their masters thus signifies the victory of the United States over the oppressive Soviet regime. To increase the contrast and the applicability of the film to the realities of the Cold War, Moses is Christianized. Certain aspects of Moses’ story that appear in the film differ a lot from the original myth about Moses, creating similarities between him and Jesus instead. For instance, Moses’ appearance is forecasted by a prophecy, which left people waiting for the Hebrew Messiah to appear. The scene where Moses is on trial, on the other hand, mirrors the image of Jesus’ trial before Pilate.
Overall, The Ten Commandments portrays the American vision of the ideological struggle that was central to the Cold War. The film creates an analogy between the contemporary political context and a well-known myth to emphasize that the victory of freedom against oppression is inevitable, thus promoting American ideology.
A brief analysis of Moses as both a flat and round character in The Ten Commandments
One of the ways to perform character analysis on a film or a piece of literature is to divide characters into two major groups: flat and round. Round characters are usually more central to the story than the flat ones; they also exhibit different sides of their personality and are driven by a variety of internal factors and motivations. Round characters develop throughout the story and are interesting to watch, as they are more realistic and human-like. Flat characters, on the other hand, tend to be stereotypical; only one of the aspects of their personality is important to the story, whereas the others are left undeveloped. Flat characters can still be important and interesting: for instance, they can serve as metaphors or be used to explore a certain side of human personality. Most of the time, round characters stay round throughout the movie, although a flat character can develop into a round one as his or her personality and backstory are explored.
However, in The Ten Commandments, we see a different trend. Throughout the first part of the world, Moses is a solid example of a round character. He exhibits a variety of qualities, including kindness, pride, ambition, and justness. There is an internal conflict, which somewhat governs his actions. On the one hand, he feels responsible for the struggles faced by the Hebrew slaves; on the other hand, he understands that his role as the Prince of Egypt is to continue the traditions of the previous rulers, not oppose them. For example, when Ramses confronts Moses about the reform of slave management, Moses replies that he is trying to increase the workers’ productivity instead of appealing for justice or kindness. His desire to help those in need and his motivation to do so grows throughout the first part of the film.
Nevertheless, Moses’ visit to Mount Horeb, or Mount Sinai, changes him into a flat character. His desires and motivations transform as he turns from a human into the Deliverer. He discovers his mission and acts upon it; however, his acts are not governed by his internal feelings or conflicts. Moses loses his humanity and roundness, becoming an embodiment of God’s will instead. For instance, when Ramses chases the freed Hebrews with his army, Moses stops the fighter not using his traits or qualities, as a round character would, but using God’s power.
Overall, Moses’ character undergoes two major changes in the film: when he discovers his true lineage and when he visits Mount Sinai. However, whereas the first event makes him more complex, the experience at Mount Sinai erases Moses’ internal conflict, which is among the primary features of a round character. Therefore, Moses is a round character in the first part of the film but changes into a flat character as the story progresses.
The Ten Commandments. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, performances by Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, and Edward G. Robinson, Paramount Pictures, 1956.