I like these two movie posters, one for Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (2009), the other for Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), and I suspect their similarity is anything but coincidental.
Both posters show Holy Men dressed in garments of flowing red and orange, both men perched on top of mountain peaks that overlook a world about to be destroyed by maelstroms of rushing blue water. Both posters announce epics of cataclysmic proportions featuring all-star casts.
However, the differences are as significant as the similarities. 2012 is literally about the end of the world. (Will anything prevent it?) What the poster shows is merely a synecdoche for what is supposedly occurring all over the globe. The Ten Commandments poster, on the other hand, shows the Biblically-described parting of the Red Sea, a comparatively local event.
MOSES VS. THE MONK – The Holy Man represented in The Ten Commandments poster is, of course, Moses the lawgiver, a preeminent prophet in the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic faiths. The Holy Man in the 2012 poster is a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Like the second player in a game of jacks, Emmerich’s 2012 picks up the religious traditions that The Ten Commandments leaves behind – Eastern mysticism, Mayan prophecy, and contemporary New Age beliefs. Both the pictured cataclysms suggest the wrath of an angry deity – but not the same one. The offended deity of The Ten Commandments is Jehovah, God of the Old Testament, drowning the Egyptians who persecuted and pursued his chosen people. The offended deity most appropriate to 2012 would be Gaia, the New Age Goddess of the Earth, fed up at last with the way her planet has been polluted and despoiled.
ACTIVE VS. PASSIVE – Moses, the Holy Man of The Ten Commandments, is facing us with his arms raised angrily above his head. He is the active agent of the destruction we see, calling down the wrath of his God upon his people’s enemies. The Buddhist monk of 2012, conversely, has his back to us. Embodying the more accepting nature of Eastern philosophy, he simply watches passively the destruction unfolding beyond him, even while his own monastery is being destroyed.
BACKWARD VS. FORWARD – Consistent with the opposing postures of the two Holy Men, The Ten Commandments looks backwards toward the past, to that which has already been written, while 2012 looks forward . . . to an uncertain future.