I like this movie. I have studied the period of the crusades for a long time. The film has a number of ahistorical aspects, but Ridley Scott is a great director and I think he "pulls it off."
The film gives the impression that the Kingdom of Jerusalem pretty much consisted of Jerusalem. In fact, it reached from Ghaza to Beirut and from the Mediterranean to the desert in Trans-Jordan.
The film gives the impression that the kingdom ended with the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 AD. In fact, the kingdom revived and lasted nearly a hundred more years.
The Templars were nothing like their image in the film. they were quite sophisticated in their relations with Muslims. A Muslim chronicler of the time wrote that during his visits to Jerusalem he stayed at their guest house and they made a place in one of their churches for him to pray. Guy de Lusignan and Reynald de Chatillon had nothing to do with the Templars. The Templars were exactly like the Hospitallers who were portrayed in a favorable light in the film.
Saladin’s behavior at Jerusalem was admirable, but on other fields, (Acre and Hittin) he killed thousands of prisoners.
A realistic portrayal of the actual nature of Muslim/Christian relations in the Latin kingdom in the time of Baldwin the IV.
A richness of detail in costuming and atmosphere which brings the period to life.
A history lesson. Many need it.
This is really interesting! History has always been a favorite hobby of mine, as the truth of most events is rarely found without getting as many details as you can from different parties and filtering the chaff away.
Forgive my ignorance, but who is Farrell?
– Deo Volente (wasn’t that the boat in Thunderball?) –
… is what I was referring to. Best laugh I’ve had all week.
An excellent novel about the people and period covered in Kindom of Heaven is “Jerusalem” by Cecelia Holland.
Farrell is Alan Farrell, a professor in the Modern Language Dept. at Virginia Military Institute (Pat is an alumnus, I believe).
Yes,first one and then the other. It was the custom of the age, but Richard’s massacres are better known. p
I, too, enjoyed the film, with a couple of reservations. It may be a small point, but I really wondered how Balian [Orlando Bloom] became so gifted with his weaponry. Hadn’t he spent his whole life fatherless, as a lowly blacksmith? And now, suddenly he seems unbeatable with a broadsword? How did this happen? Intelligent Design?
My second quibble was a laughable scene in which our young hero [Bloom], newly arrived into the dessicated wilderness, teaches the lowly Arabs [who have survived here for what? millenia?], anyway, —teaches them how to discover water: by digging down about 15 feet. Don’t you think the locals would’ve figured this out if it was that easy?
Still, I enjoyed the idea of some sanity somewhere in the world during the Crusades.
Ridley Scott: Faithful or Unfaithful to knighthood?
I recently watched the director’s cut via dvd of Kingdom of Heaven. All the adjectives that others have used to described Ridley Scott’s approach to cinematography apply: masterful, epic, sweeping, spectacular, and the list goes on. No doubt the technical expertise unfolds in all its glory.
That said, while I don’t know enough about crusader history to comment on the historical accuracy or lack thereof of the storyline, one aspect of the plotline has stayed with me for several days now, at least to point where I am willing to take the time to comment on the film. At first I wanted to discount this observation and simply attribute it to another example of my political incorrectness, but it has gnawed at me for awhile, so hopefully I can get it out of my system with this comment and then move on.
But would a crusader knight commit adultery, as did the protagonist Balian with Sybilla?
At one level, adultery does not seem consistent with Balian’s character, He, after all, was grieving mightily after the loss of his first wife, and the viewer from the beginning is left with the impression that Balian was not the type of guy to commit adultery. Monogamous all the way.
But on a more significant level, a knight from that time period, at least from what little I know (primarily from the works of Joseph Campbell) would never commit adultery because it goes against the chivalric and Christian code of honor.
From my understanding, knighthood in those days entailed an individual journey — what today passes also as a psychological journey — where such an individual headed out into the world — the wilderness so to speak– and was tested by a series of unique trials and ordeals specific to that individual’s make up.
If the knight survived all the tests, then he would experience the Holy Grail, which, to place in modern parlance, is a type of victory where the spiritual world starts to inform the natural world. It is Eliot’s wasteland no more (and apparently this experience is well known in the Islamic world, much to its credit). Jung probably was writing about the experience when he described his “process of individuation” where the unconscious starts to inform the conscious in a type of psychological wholeness and integration.
And unless I am missing something very basic, adultery was seen as one of the greatest temptations of all for the aspiring knight. It was a true ordeal where spiritual faith had to overcome sexual desire. It is the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and, if I remember correctly, Edmund Spenser’s Red Cross Knight had a similar test.
So, alas, I am having a difficult time understanding the director’s and screenwriter’s decision to have Balian jump in the sheets with Sybilla. Is this a 21st century adaptation of what constitutes a knight? Is the director now issuing a decree that adultery is part of the journey of knighthood? Let’s face it, at a sub textual level, the viewers, after watching the film, would now equate adultery as part of the journey of knighthood. Not sure that is a good thing, but again, such a view may come across as political incorrect.
So it seems to me a better plotline would have headed in another direction. Balian could have fought the temptation, a la the Sir Gawain story, but that approach, dramatically speaking, carries a risk because the subplot could morph the entire story closer to comedy and therefore destroy the coherence of the message that was to be told, which according to the promoters of the film was one where a “hero finds his destiny”.
Another approach would have been the King David story where Balain submits to the temptation and then, guilt-driven, seeks forgiveness. And seeking absolution does seem to have driven the plotline, as that was one reason Balian headed to Jerusalem in the first place.
Another possible approach would have the director to portray Sybilla as single instead of married with a child. Then, perhaps, to put in modern parlance…game on.
Don’t mean to belabor the point about adultery but I do believe that adultery has caused some problems in our society. I have been to a few homicide crime scenes that make that point very starkly and in great detail.
Plus, men who commit adultery are less likely to become brothers and much of knighthood is about a spiritual brotherhood. I am not being goody two shoes about this notion. I grew up with some serious hell raisers but even in the hinterlands, the test of a “buddy”, at least in my day, was whether or not you could trust a person with your girlfriend or wife.
And, finally, I am just not sure that it is good to promote the message that adultery is ok via this type of film, especially when 13 years old boys by the millions now think that adultery is part of the knight’s journey.
So, with that in mind, after watching Kingdom of Heaven, I was left thinking of another film. This film makes the consequences of adultery very clear, and its plotline came across as a bit a surprise because the film is directed by Adrian Lyne. The film is titled Unfaithful.
It’s highly recommended as a complement to Ridley Scott’s view of knighthood, at least in this instance. And in all likelihood, I am going to have a couple of boys I am trying to mentor watch the film at some point.
Sir Ridley on euthanasia and the Order of St. Lazarus
Yes, Sir Ridley is a brilliant filmmaker. That is a given. But after watching the director’s cut again, I just cannot resist a redux to my earlier comment. In this longer version of the story, Sibylla — the future wife of the hero Balian — poisoned her child Baldwin V because he had developed leprosy. No historical evidence exists that Sibylla murdered her child.
This infanticide (actually, filicide) sequence certainly marks a strange and noteworthy deviation from the traditional stories of knighthood, particularly when you realize that this film was marketed as a “hero will discover his destiny.”
Invariably, in this genre, at least as embodied in Western literature, a knight discovers his destiny after he overcomes various trials and ordeals. Once triumphant and the quest completed, he marries a woman who exemplifies heroic virtues. Typically, the woman represents the virtues of mother church. Such was the case in Edmund Spenser’s story of the Red Cross knight — a narrative poem that started this genre in the English language.
Keeping with the dictates of the genre, our two Hollywood knights — Sir Ridley Scott and his sidekick William Monahan– apparently infer that a mother killing her child exemplifies a heroic virtue.
I am not saying that infanticide or filicide doesn’t and didn’t happen. Not at all. I am arguing that infanticide was not part of the tradition of knighthood as depicted in this genre and memorialized by historical works. No evidence exists that euthanasia was part and parcel of a knight’s journey. Yet these two Hollywood knights portray a mother murdering her child as part of a knightly journey, as the film was marketed as such.
So let me see if I understand our Sir Ridley. A character becomes a heroic knight and wins the lady after committing adultery. And the lady wins the knight in marriage after murdering her child to “spare him” from suffering from leprosy. With the afflicted child out of the way, the newlyweds live happily ever after in France.
I don’t buy these plot devises, for either the idealized version of a knight‘s journey or on a historical level. . With a 30 second google search, it is easy to discover that there existed an order of leper knights — The Order of St. Lazarus.
So it is very easy to devise other plotlines that better reflect the more heroic traditions of the crusader knights and enrich the storyline. Just one example: in the story’s background Balian, the heroic protagonist, had lost a son and this tragedy opened the story and propelled the movement of the plot. So one could easily believe that Balian would see the dignity of Sibylla’s child, despite his leprosy, and that said child, in fact, could have filled a void in his life. And Balian could have adopted the son. Then at a bare minimum, Balian could introduce Baldwin V to the Order of St. Lazarus. And Sibylla, as a representative of the heroic virtues of mother Church, would heartily agree.
And, to take it a bit further, perhaps this act of fatherly devotion would have lead to an experience of absolution, at least in the mind of Balian who headed to Jerusalem seeking forgiveness in the first place Then all three –Balian with the new wife and adopted son — could return to France: That resolution in turn provides a dramatic balance to the beginning of the film where Balian grieves after the death of his first wife and son. A tragedy then transitions to marriage and a new life — the experience of the Holy Grail, so to speak.
So who cares, right? Just a movie. But again it comes back to the genre. The way the story unfolds in this film — and therefore in the minds of millions of teenagers who were glued to the screen watching it — the ticket to the kingdom of heaven now is gained through euthanasia and adultery. The story is totally at odds with the historical notion of a heroic knight who “finds his destiny”. The plotline represents a total inversion of the values that gave rise to the Order of St. Lazarus and presumably other military orders.