FILM REVIEW: Kingdom of Heaven

Nancy Bassiouni

Posted Jun 19, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Kingdom of HeavenӔ

    Kingdom of HeavenӔ, written by William Monahan and directed by Ridley Scott, released on May 7, 2005, gives a balanced depiction of a sensitive yet historically pertinent Muslim-Christian conflict whose effects can still be felt today throughout the world.  This film, which runs for 2 and a half hours, is rich in historical detail with Scotts realistic depiction of medieval weaponry, the condition and appearance of Jerusalem during that time as well as the horrors of war, which at times is a bit graphic.  This is not just another crusades film, as there are many important messages for the viewer to discover throughout the film. 

  This Epic film takes place in the late 12th Century, between the 2nd and 3rd Crusades, and begins in France where a young French Blacksmith, Balian (Orlando Bloom) starts questioning his faith after the suicide death of his wife.  He then begins on a personal and spiritual journey upon the arrival of the father he never knew, Godfrey, Baron of Ibelin, (Liam Neeson) a crusading Knight seeking forgiveness of his illegitimate son, Balian.  Godfrey offers him heir to his title and the opportunity to join him on the journey to his land outside of Jerusalem in a quest to find atonement and a ғNew World.  An unexpected encounter and the battle skills his father taught him result in his winning the respect of another unlikely patron whose opinion of him will someday have enormous consequences.

    In the Holy City, Balion befriends the kind and just leprous, masked king (Edward Norton).  the king’s lieutenant, the diplomatic realist Tiberias (Jeremy Irons) and gains the admiration of king’s sister, Princess Sibylla (Eva Green).  However he also makes many enemies, including the power-hungry French Knight Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), who seeks to succeed the sickly king; the fanatical Lord Reynald of Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson), who has promised anyone who kills a Muslim entrance to heaven as well as the church’s sniveling patriarch (Jon Finch), who throws his power behind them both.

    For a change, Muslims are not depicted as the villains or dehumanized in the typical Hollywood way.  In-fact, I felt that one of the most powerful characters in the film was Salahuddin Al Ayubi, (Syrian Actor, Ghassan Massoud) the great Muslim Leader and General whoԒs example is inspirational even today towards the continuing struggle for world peace.  He is portrayed as a man of peace, pride, compassion, intelligence, dignity, humanity and yet a man of impressive strength.  He was a true diplomat who was keen in upholding Islams traditions during war and peace.  Even when attacked, he upheld Islamic traditions of hospitality, prohibiting the killing of non-combatants and advocating kindness to people of all faiths.  Many historians go as far as to identify Sallahuddin as the most important figure in Islam after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  The film refrains from the typical religious or ethnic stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims but rather, though the portrayal of Sallahuddin and his men, gives them a human side.   

    It has already been reported in the media that some conservative Christians are uneasy with the filmҒs depiction of the crusaders and that they view the film as being insulting and unfairӔ considering that those men that they view as heroes, are portrayed as warmongers, trouble makers and fanatics. 

    This is a great depiction of history with the use of both fact and fiction in a vividly visual storytelling style, which makes very complex events easy to understand.  In other words, Scott fictionalizes history and although, some of the historical facts in the movie are not 100% accurate, It does not take away from the relevance of the message this film delivers.  For example, the final battle between Salahuddins army and the Crusaders took place in Hattein which is outside of Jerusalem. Also, Even though very little is known of Balian, it seems fairly certain that he was a lord, not a blacksmith, and the real King Baldwin died a year before the film’s story begins.  Even in the only love scene, Scott is careful about editing it in such away whereas to respect the purpose and theme of the movie.

    In the movie we hear ғto kill an infidel is not murder, its a path to heavenҔ.  Interestingly enough it is said by a Christian on the path traveled by the Christian Knights, and not by Muslims.  We also see pressure building by extremists mostly on the Crusaders side to upset the fragile peace upheld by both King Baldwin and Salahuddin in the Holy Land where even today, as Scott puts it, Peace is elusiveӔ.  This film reminds us that we live in a world torn by war mostly provoked by greed, religious intolerance and a lack of humanity and virtue.  I hope that this film will help promote interfaith dialogue by emphasizing that there is no winner in war and that it is only thru tolerance and forgiveness can the establishment of a true and lasting peace come about.  Among the strong statements in the movie I found this statement made by one of Godfreys men to be profound, ғyou can not stand in front of God and say that you did what you did because you were told to do so or because virtue was not convenient at the time. 

    The movie is primarily shot in Spain and Morocco, ironically enough where the greatest era of peace among the three monotheistic religions, which lasted for over five centuries, existed under Muslim rule in Moorish Spain.  The film also highlights how it was the Christians, not the Muslims who broke the truce by attacking helpless Muslim pilgrims.  Tiberias (Jeremy Iron) raises an important point when he says, ԓI thought we were fighting for God, but we were fighting for wealth and land, I was disappointed.   

  Finally, we realize that lost faith can be regained, that nations can come together peacefully and that leaders can set an example of respecting the One God that they commonly worship with their political opponents instead of using their faiths to justify slaughter and imperialism, as Salahuddin does at the end of the movie.