By now, you've probably seen the bonkers first trailer for Alex Proyas' Gods Of Egypt. If you haven't, I'll give you a moment to watch, because, well, like I said...bonkers.
In the trailer, we see two Egyptian gods battling it out: Set (Gerard Butler) defeats Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), ripping out his eyeballs in the process. He then sets up tyrannical rule over Egypt, while Horus teams up with common thief, Bek (Brenton Thwaites) to steal back his eye and regain control of Egypt. If you were like most people, you watched that and immediately watched it again because you weren't entirely sure what the hell just happened. Flying gods and stolen eyes and lots and lots of gold - the eyeball thing seems especially odd. It seems like a script written in a fever dream, right?
But in reality, the plot is loosely based on actual Egyptian mythology, and the story behind the story might be even stranger than the movie itself. A MacGuffin in Proyas' movie, in mythology, the Eye of Horus actually grew to symbolize the idea of order triumphing over disorder, and the larger story of the conflicts between Horus and Set (or Seth) symbolizing the idea of death and rebirth, along with establishing ancient Egyptian's ideas about legitimacy of rulership and the succession of kings.
The ancient grudge was in place well before Horus was even born, according to mythology. It started when Set, jealous of the wisdom and power of his benevolent brother, Osiris, killed his brother and dismembered his body. Orisis' sister and wife, Isis, then reassembled her husband's corpse long enough for them to conceive a child, Horus. With his brother out of the way, Horus became the main rival to Set for the throne of Egypt and Set was not having it. Egypt was separated into two halves, with Set ruling Upper Egypt and Horus ruling Lower Egypt, but the battle between both for full control still raged.
From here, the myths vary somewhat in the telling, with various other gods intervening or influencing the outcome, depending on the version being told. Thoth (played by Chadwick Boseman in the movie), as the God of Wisdom, regularly featured in the stories as the mediator between the pair, and in one version, Isis (who is not in the movie) often helps Horus through her cleverness and magical abilities. But the stories are always the same at their cores, with Horus and Set battling for supremacy for decades with no one being the clear winner.
So where does Horus' eye come into the story? In multiple versions of the story, Set tears out (or at least damages) one or both or Horus' eyes, tearing it into six pieces. This is important: As a major sky deity, the eyes of Horus represent the diurnal and nocturnal cycles, with his right eye representing the sun, and his left eye representing the moon. So the theft of his eye is equated with the darkening of the sky during the moon's lunar phase through the month and during eclipses. Conversely, the return of Horus' stolen eye to him represents the moon brightening once again and becoming whole and the land of Egypt also becoming whole as kingship is returned to Horus and the land once again is restored. Unlike the movie, there was no thief named Bek that helped steal Horus' eye back for him - in most versions of the story, it's once again Thoth (with help from some of the other gods) who retrieves the eye and restores it to its original form, once again making it whole.
Eventually, particularly in versions from later in Egypt's history, the gods awarded rulership over the entirety of Egypt to Horus, and Set was increasingly seen not as a god to rival Horus, but as a bringer of chaos, destruction, and evil. Where Horus represented balance and unity, Set came to represent disharmony and disorder, a direct threat to the natural order of things.
To bring the conflict myth full circle, ancient Egyptians believed that the gods awarding Horus rulership of England finally corrected the imbalance caused by Set when he murdered Osiris. There is a great celebration among the gods of Egypt as Horus takes the throne, and Set is punished for his crimes. In some versions, he is exiled or destroyed, but in many versions, he's bidden to take Oriris' body and carry it to his final resting place. Horus, as the new king of Egypt, performs final rites over his father's body, and Osiris is then able to take his place in the afterlife, becoming the god of the dead as his son had become the god of the living.
While the movie will obviously be streamlining the very convoluted and conflicting myths for the sake of the screen, including cutting down on the number of mythological deities on the screen, it appears as if it will actually be pulling some of the story directly from the ancient myths. And adding the character of Bek as an audience surrogate is just smart. While it's great to watch a superpowered beat-down from time to time, the story is traditionally a hard one to wrap the head around (and I left out the most disturbing parts). So having a normal human character among the sea of gods should help the audience relate to Bek, caught up in the maelstrom of weird that is a battle between the gods. Hopefully, Gods of Egypt will manage to capture the epic spectacle of the original mythology while still being relatable for us mere mortals.
Gods of Egypt is in theaters on February 26, 2016.