To be the child of immigrants is to be a constant source of disappointment for those immigrants. Right? Or am I just trying to make myself feel better about doing the unthinkable last Saturday? For it was then that I forced my Egyptian parents—the ones who sacrificed everything for me—to see the movie Gods of Egypt.
It was the perfect family bonding experience: They saw it in Cincinnati while my sister and I saw it in Chicago. My dad is the only one of us with more than a cursory knowledge of Ancient Egypt, so I was most interested to hear what he thought of the film. The last time I went to the Pharaonic Museum in Cairo, my tour guide Mohammed kept trying to convince me that Egyptians invented trees, so I wouldn’t say my understanding of the era is airtight. At least my father falls asleep in front of the History Channel’s Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered a few nights a week.
Still, I hate the whitewashing of Hollywood as much as the next mildly engaged person, so I went in prepared to lambaste the whole production. We saw it in 3-D, barely, because as my sister noted, “These 3-D glasses aren’t big enough for our large Egyptian eyes.” There were two other people in the theater. They looked like PhD students from 1974 and laughed at all the moments the screenwriters intended for you to laugh at. Which was more disturbing than it seems.
I imagine the pitch for this movie went something like: “Gerard Butler. Growling. For 126 minutes.” The plot is utterly inscrutable, and yet my father assured me it was based on an actual Ancient Egyptian myth. Basically, the coronation ceremony of Horus (played by Game Of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is cut short when his uncle Set (played by Gerard Butler) descends upon the kingdom to kill his brother Osiris (Horus’s father), yank out Horus’s eyeballs, and steal the crown. This leaves Horus in a very vulnerable and grumpy place.
As Horus emotes, a mortal boy named Bek stupidly gets his secret girlfriend Zaya killed. I hate Bek so much. Bek is trash. Played by Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, the character is a mix between DJ Tanner’s boyfriend Steve and sugarless, microwaved oatmeal. He is the de facto hero of this story, though, so we follow him as he sneaks into Set’s scorpion-filled lair to steal back one of Horus’s eyeballs. He then leverages said ball to convince Horus to help him save Zaya from eternal death. Meanwhile, Gerard Butler is growling and pissed.
It is an understatement to say that I hardly picked up on any of this. So distracted I was by the CGI demon-cats and prolonged cleavage shots that filled up the screen. Two states over, my mom—an angel who can see the good in a Monsanto commercial—took away something much more profound:
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!?! My sister thinks this is a beautiful riddle meant to shade me into becoming the sort of person who doesn’t force her parents to sit through two hours of glittering garbage. She’s a doctor, so I know she’s right.
Then there’s my father. He basically refused to give me any critique of the actual movie and instead launched into a 30-minute history lesson about the Book of the Dead. I have no idea what this has to do with anything. The only comment he made in regards to the film’s contents was “I did like that they made the Gods giant. They were much bigger than the boy.”
Director Alex Proyas’ decision to enlarge Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gerard Butler to twice the size of Bek did make for a funny juxtaposition. I laughed. And the 3-D effects were extremely cool. I typically don’t even like 3-D movies, but something about the sweeping views of ancient marketplaces and Egypt’s mountainous beauty (???) got to me. Plus, they rendered the pyramids into something actually enjoyable to look at. In real life, going to the pyramids is a lesson in not dying from heat exhaustion and the noxious smell of camel farts. I much prefer to view them in the air-conditioned comfort of a movie theater.
Those were the only redeeming aspects of Gods of Egypt, which is why I’m glad no Egyptian actors have to lay claim to this heap of gold-plated puke. If this was a good movie, I’d say cast Egyptian-American Mr. Robot star Rami Malek as Horus and DJ Khaled as Set. This is so obvious it barely warrants discussion. But Gods of Egypt is not a good movie. It is a plotless video game designed by an idiot. It is Ancient Egypt as imagined by a thirteen-year-old boy. It is white people who inexplicably don’t sunburn.
By the way: Most movie-goers could sense something was amiss. They stayed away from this one. According to Fortune, the movie cost around $140 million to make. But it only earned about $14 million at the box office. One-tenth of its budget. The Wrap calls it "the biggest flop of the year so far." Ouch.
I asked my parents what they thought of the casting, and my mom started gushing over Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s face. When I noted the lack of people of color, their responses generally amounted to “meh.” Maybe they’re just from a generation that’s learned not to expect too much. Or maybe they’re too busy worrying they’re going to be banned from the country to care. Probably a little of both.
My sister, on the other hand, summed it up nicely: “I’m not offended as an Egyptian, I’m offended as a human.” She’s right (she’s always right). Gods of Egypt is an insult to storytelling. I regret making my family go see it. They were left confused and unfulfilled, more disappointed than ever that I became a writer and not a doctor.
Sarah Gouda writes and lives in Chicago. She's interested in science, pop culture, fashion, and free food.