Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of Heaven poster
Also, Orlando Bloom as Balian

Because I was in the mood for a ‘cheap thrill’ last night before going to a terrible T-W-Th semester.

Though I should be fair: the movie’s not a ‘cheap thrill’ as you other low-lives may define it. There’s nothing cheap about the movie despite the apparently fail US advertising and mixed reviews (see Wikipedia). What I meant by ‘cheap thrill’ is, well, ‘thrilling’. But after the romance between Orlando Bloom and Eva Green, after all the shiny armor and the shiny missiles blasting against Jerusalem’s walls, the movie sure does make me think. A bit.

So the film is about Balian (Orlando Bloom) who, after his wife’s suicide and the death of his recently discovered father, the Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), went to the crusades, offering services to the dying leper King Baldwin of Jerusalem (Edward Norton). Bearing in mind his father’s exhortation for him to be a good knight as well as the King’s ideal of the virtuous Kingdom of Heaven, Balian strives to be a “decent man in an indecent time” (line actually from Christopher Nolan’s movie The Dark Knight) and attempts to hold up the delicate balance in Jerusalem. The catch: arrayed against the Kingdom is a terrible danger—not so much as the sixty-thousand Muslim army led by the great Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) as the racist, intolerant and fanatic ultra-Christians, such as the Knights Templar, led by Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas).

Edward Norton as the admirable leper King Baldwin IV

Now, of course, history will tell us that the Muslims and the Christians both committed atrocities throughout the Crusades. However, what I like in the movie is the noble depiction of the Muslims, especially Saladin and Imad ad-Din (Alexander Siddig). While this is actually an exaggeration, such a portrayal, in my view at least, is much better than the nasty images others hold regarding the Muslims: that they are all terrorists, that they are all unruly—images that, sadly, even my own family members subscribe to. So when Saladin was shown to lift up and re-place the fallen cross after the capture of Jerusalem, I was with the Muslim audience in applauding wildly (see Wikipedia—for the Muslim response, I mean).

Ghassan Massoud as the great Saladin

Also, though critics point out that Christianity was portrayed in an unfavorable light, I think that essential Christian values are upheld in the film: foremost is the idea of standing up for virtuosity and morality even in spite of inconvenience and peril. I would like to point out the interesting interaction between the King Baldwin and Balian here. Having been offered the hand of the King’s sister Sibylla (Eva Green) in marriage—which would mean the execution of her warmongering husband Guy de Lusignan), Balian expresses his unwillingness, repeating the King’s words: “A king may move a man… But remember that your soul is in your keeping alone.” He sets aside his own feelings and risking the stability of the Jerusalem court for the sake of the ideal Jerusalem, the “Kingdom of Conscience”.

Eva Green as the tantalizing Princess Sibylla

In the end, I must admit that there are exaggerations in the film, especially regarding the morality and magnanimity (or the lack thereof) of the Muslim and Christian factions. But perhaps this exaggeration is a necessary means, a necessary step towards reconciliation and peace. Perhaps we must learn to believe that there can be and there are good Muslims, and that there are among us bad Christians. It is worth noting that, almost at the end of the film, Balian and Imad ad-Din exchange greetings of peace: Balian says “Assalamu Alaikum” just as Imad says “Peace be with you”—the Christian speaks Arabic, the Arab speaks in European (presumably French). Perhaps, by seeing things with the other’s eyes, we may come to heal the wounds of history.

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