Political Film Society - Newsletter #227 - June 1, 20055

June 1, 2005


Kingdom of HeavenDirected by Ridley Scott, Kingdom of Heaven is an epic movie that begins in France during the year 1184 (though filmed in Spain). Titles say that the Christians have been in control of Jerusalem for almost a hundred years. (Muslim control began in 638, with Christians and Jews allowed free access to holy sites, but Pope Urban II's effort to launch the Second Crusade led to a Christian victory during 1099 in which more than 70,000 civilians perished.) When the movie starts, Balian (played by Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith, is depressed because his mother and brother are dead. But his father, Godfrey of Ibelin (played by Liam Neesom), soon arrives, declares that he has retired from a comfortable position in Jerusalem, and reveals that he is Balian's father. He urges Balian to take his place and trains him in swordplay. Earlier, when Balian's mother was dying, a priest yanked off the cross around her neck. When Balian now spots that cross around a priest's neck, he kills him, and soon a posse is after him for the murder. A fight ensues between the posse and Balian's entourage, wherein Godfrey dies, and Balian decides to seek redemption in the Holy Land along with other apparent misfits and renegades. Upon his arrival, Balian learns that the Holy City is peacefully governed by ailing King Baldwin IV (played by Edward Norton), who along with his chief adviser (played by Jeremy Irons) allows Moslems and Jews to coexist with Christians and repudiates war hawks within his army, particularly Raynald of Châtillon (played by Brendan Gleeson). Balian rides outside the city to claim his inheritance, a village of some size with a multireligious population. Meanwhile, Kurdish General Salah Al-Din (played by Ghassan Massoud) is preparing an army of some 600,000 to retake possession of Jerusalem by force. War results.


After Baldwin IV dies, his successor, Guy of Lusignan (played by Martin Csokas), leads the Christian army to some distance from Jerusalem in the Battle of Hattin of 1187, but they are routed principally because they do not heed Balian's advice not to go beyond sources of water. Balian stays as commander of the Jerusalem garrison, and he puts up an amazing defense three months later, so ultimately Salah Al-Din proposes generous terms of surrender--that all Christians will be offered safe conduct to Christian countries. Balian accepts. After Salah Al-Din enters the city, he encounters a cross lying on the ground, whereupon he places the Christian symbol to a place of honor on a table. Meanwhile, Balian returns home to France and sees King Richard of England pass by en route to the Third Crusade. Titles at the end indicate that Richard's crusade ended in a draw after three years and declare that the Holy Land is still being contested today, nearly one thousand years later. Several themes permeate the often-muffled dialog. The major point is that members of the three religions have lived together in peace in the past. Secondly, Kingdom of Heaven seemingly tries to point out, through the cross repositioning example, that Salah Al-Din created a more harmonious environment than many of the Christian crusaders; in fact, after his military triumph, he allowed Christians to take pilgrimages to the Holy Land under the terms of the Treaty of Ramla of 1192. A third theme is that Christian religious leaders legitimated much of the bigotry, declaring the Christian equivalent of a jihad, in the belief that their faith must prevail at any human cost rather than seeking the peace that Jesus of Nazareth preached instead. The film clearly helps Americans to better understand how those in the Arab world perceive of American action in Iraq as yet another example of crusader intrusion into the region that is provoking a counterreaction.  MH