Thursday, May 19, 2005

kingdom of heaven

Our faith was strong in th' Orient,
It ruled in all of Asia,
In Moorish lands and Africa.
But now for us these lands are gone
'Twould even grieve the hardest stone...
Four sisters of our Church you find,
They're of the patriarchic kind:
Constantinople, Alexandria,
Jerusalem, Antiochia.
But they've been forfeited and sacked
And soon the head will be attacked.

- taken from "The Ship of Fools", written by Sebastian Brant

I thought King Baldwin IV (picture above) was rather cool behind that silver mask. I was trying to spot one particular scene that I had come across in the trailer where he faces Saladin in a showdown, and he sort of cocks his head to one side knowingly. Didn't see it in the movie...rats =p

Oh yeah...I'm of course talking about
Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven ("KoH"), certainly one of the movies that I had been anticipating this year. I wasn't expecting it to pass the scissors of our parochial censorship board, so it was quite a pleasant surprise when I found out that the movie was on its way to our Malaysian silver screens.

Anyway, I had the privilege of catching KoH last night, with a pretty big rombongan too...16 of us in total! Surprisingly, everyone was early for the
(I had to think awhile to verify this) VERY FIRST TIME!

KoH is reminiscent of a typical Ridley Scott epic. Felt it didn't quite live up to the standards of Gladiator but I still thought the movie was special in its own way. The sets were pretty impressive and Saladin's assault on Kerak did bring back memories of the seige of Minas Tirith back in LOTR: Return of the King =)

Still, watching KoH inevitably brings out the skeletons from the closets of Christian-Muslim relations. There will always be questions hanging over the validity of the reasons behind the Crusades, whether or not they were seen to be unnecessary aggression in the name of extending God's kingdom and converting nations to Christianity, or whether they were a necessary defence against the advancing Muslim armies in the Middle East and Eastern Europe regions.

One of the more provocative questions raised by the KoH is the relationship between God's will and human agency, and whether the former can be discerned in the latter. In the movie, both Christian and Muslim sides claimed to be fighting for God. Calls for bloodshed were attributed to fulfilling "God's will". The phrase "God wants it!!" still rings in my head. Bearing their respective crosses and crescent moons were people fighting alike; in the service of something they held dear, a purpose much greater than themselves that even warranted the giving of their lives in martyrdom.

But were their actions all within God's will?

Christianity Today ran quite an extensive coverage on KoH two weeks back. Pretty good stuff, I should add. One of the articles [1] depicted a frank conversation between a Christian and a Muslim about the possible impact of KoH on Christian-Muslim relations. In one part, the Christian writer asked his Muslim friend, Haq, whether he thought KoH would actually aggravate relationships between Christians and Muslims. I like Haq's response. He said,

"No, I don't. The movie shows how complex people's motives are, that that may express their conviction in religious terms, but they're doing so with base political and economic motives. You say you're doing something for God when you're really doing it for yourself. I think this movie will force people to see that what they thought was an act of religious faith on their part was not really religious at all."

A scene from the movie also comes to mind where Guy de Lusignan insists that God wants the Christians to massacre the Muslim legions. King Baldwin IV refuses to comply in light of the delicate truce hanging between the Christians and Muslims, and goes to the extent of hanging Templar Knights who have disobeyed his orders to restrain from conflict. Balian (the Orlando Bloom character) thinks the harsh punishment to be odd since "they are dying for doing what the pope would tell them to do." He gets a reply from one of his acquaintances, "Yes, but not Christ, I think."

It was the lines like these that endeared me to the movie for its promotion of some of the values that we as Christians treasure. They certainly provided the saving grace to a beautifully crafted movie otherwise distracted by religious and political idealogies.


[1] Steven Gertz, "Whose Side Is God On?", Christianity Today, posted 10 May 2005.

(Note: The article has since been removed from the Christianity Today site, but I've got a hardcopy if anyone's interested)


Sivin Kit said...

the show was better than I expected .. and there were quite a number of interesting dialogue like the one you quoted. It's a good conversation starter.

::christine:: said...

A very heart wrenching movie, [esp for a girl like me! :P] with all the war scenes, but i admire the chivalry of the knights which is, well.. quite lost in our culture today :P

Some questionable elements, but i think it was about a topic close to my heart- how far is going too far out for God?

I really like the scene where Balian plays chess with King Baldwin IV.

"You cannot stand before God and say that I was told to do this or that, or that virtue was inconvenient."

King Baldwin IV is so cool. :)

jv. said...

ooohh yeah...that was one of my favourite scenes in the movie too. I think the area of personal accountability was played out not only in that scene, but also in the one where Balian had to decide whether to have Guy de Lusignan killed off and he marrying Sybilla and hence becoming king after King Baldwin Sybilla's words, "the lesser evil, to do a greater good". Sure, if Balian had said "yes", Jerusalem might have had a better king and survived the onslaught of Saladin's armies. But lesser evil or not, he would still have been held responsible for that deed.