July 31, 2006

KINGDOM OF NONSENSE

We got HBO when we moved back to the US, so we've been trying to catch up on movies that we missed while we were in Germany. So far we've been unimpressed with most of them that we've seen: A History of Violence (too creepy), Elephant (too existentialist), War of the Worlds (too Dakota), and most recently, Kingdom of Heaven.

Roger Ebert writes:

The Muslim scholar Hamid Dabashi, however, after being asked to consult on the movie, writes in the new issue of Sight & Sound: "It was neither pro- nor anti-Islamic, neither pro- nor anti-Christian. It was, in fact, not even about the 'Crusades.'" And yet I consider the film to be a profound act of faith." It is an act of faith, he thinks, because for its hero Balian (Orlando Bloom), who is a non-believer, "All religious affiliations fade in the light of his melancholic quest to find a noble purpose in life."

That's an insight that helps me understand my own initial question about the film, which was: Why don't they talk more about religion? Weren't the Crusades seen by Christians as a Holy War to gain control of Jerusalem from the Muslims? I wondered if perhaps Scott was evading the issue. But not really: He shows characters more concerned with personal power and advancement than with theological issues.

And that's precisely why I didn't like the movie. Orlando Bloom comes off sounding more like a modern campus activist than someone from 1184. His rally speech sounded like a debate on reparations, not the Holy Crusades:

It has fallen to us, to defend Jerusalem, and we have made our preparations as well as they can be made. None of us took this city from Muslims. No Muslim of the great army now coming against us was born when this city was lost. We fight over an offence we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended. What is Jerusalem? Your holy palaces lie over the Jewish temple that the Romans pulled down. The Muslim places of worship lie over yours. Which is more holy? The wall? The Mosque? The Sepulchre? Who has claim? No one has claim. All have claim!

If Ridley Scott set out to make a movie where the premise is "all religions are equally dumb," then he succeeded. Because it sure wasn't a movie about the Crusades. It just wasn't really what I expected, but in hindsight, I don't know why I was surprised: it's so typical in 2006 to expect a movie where all people could live in harmony if white Europeans would just let them be. Oh, and where the Muslims win the battle of Helm's Deep. I should've seen it coming.

Posted by: Sarah at 07:50 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 Well for many of us ALL RELIGIONS ARE STUPID. The creation stories promoted by these religions make no more sense than the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" theory. Religion is the main impedement to the human species getting along.

Posted by: BubbaBoBobBrain at July 31, 2006 05:25 PM (8ruhu)

2 A really great film would have attempted to re-create for the viewer the world in which religion was the dominant aspect of life, and help them understand the conflict as its protagonists saw it. Simply transporting modern attitudes back in time is a trivial exercise.

Posted by: david foster at August 01, 2006 07:12 PM (WWPKp)

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