Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Kingdom Reigns.

I have high regards for Ridley Scott as a commendable director, considering his success in capturing the essence of heroism and righteousness in Maximus from the movie Gladiator. What I like about his directorial efforts in Gladiator and now, Kingdom of Heaven is his ability to make his viewers see the vulnerability of the characters in war, through an interplay with light and sound- either in silence or with the haunting voice of a female vocalist in the background; to bring out a rather surreal and dramatic effect; otherwise passed off as merely gory scenes necessarily inserted for Hollywood suspense.

In Gladiator, Commodus, the young and weak emperor of the Roman Empire asked his sister, “What is Rome?” His sister replied, “It is an idea”. In contrast, one cannot say the same about the Kingdom of God, even as seen from the eyes of Muslims or Christians in the movie Kingdom of Heaven.


"I must say your plastic surgeon did a good job on your nose, what did you say his name was?"


A quick search in Wikipedia would lead you to the historicity of the Crusades, a seemingly endless war of claim over the Holy Land of Jerusalem by both Muslims and Chrisitians in the medieval times. Though the movie was heavily fictionalized to suit the tastes of ardent epic movie-goers, there are nonetheless, fragments of the significant past being pieced together, here and there.

In case you have yet to watch the movie and at the same time has zero tolerance towards spoilers, this would be pretty much a warning to you to stop reading. Writing about the Kingdom of Heaven without making references to some of the scenes from the movie seems to be too tall an order to even an experienced writer, I supposed.

Nevertheless, one can’t help but to be further intrigued by how a powerful message can be sent across through the portrayal of characters by both sides of Islam and Christianity in the movie. In one sense, one can even say that Ridley Scott made the movie in such a way that it does not lean in favour towards one religion, but rather, created a win-win situation for both. On the other hand, one can also say that what was the initial common cause of the war between the Muslims and the Christians at the time, was dissolved- at least for a short period of time, with the divergence on the part of Balian of Ibelin’s visionary to see the Kingdom of God as not so much of a visible and physical Kingdom, established on a piece of land; but rather, a Kingdom established in the hearts and minds of God-fearing men- thus making the Christians victorious in this round of battle.

In history, Balian of Ibelin did surrender the land of Jerusalem to Saladin through peaceful negotiations with the much-revered Muslim warrior King and King Saladin did offer the services of his physician to the King while they were at war but not to the leper King as portrayed in the movie; rather; to Richard of Lionheart; the King of England who pursued efforts of claiming the Holy Land thereafter. Despite the discrepancies in the historicity revolving the Crusades, what is being emphasized here is actually the virtues of righteousness displayed by both sides. Therefore, it is highly possible that the theme that Ridley Scott has in mind for his viewers is not a religiously-charged one, but one that is of what is virtuous and morally right.

I find that the cause of pursuit by the Christians in the movie were comparatively more subtle than the Muslims- there were more scenes portraying Muslims as outwardly zealous to Islam, through constant mass prayers and the chants of Allah-hu-Akbar throughout the movie, thus making the cause of the Christians in fighting for Holy Land a seemingly politically one instead. I do not recall Balian or any of the Christian characters in the movie proclaiming that the cause of this war is “For Christ” and there was an even slight disappointment in Balian’s subdued and uninspiring pre-war speech to his fellow knights, perhaps also due to lack of clarity in proclaiming Christ as the chief end to their case of defense against the Muslims.

However, a friend pointed out that the contrasts were not necessarily superficially construed as “less zealous” per se. Islam is portrayed as a religion of victory and for victory, and this was seen through the portrayal of King Saladin himself- a mighty, strong and valiant warrior. Islamic doctrines are footed on the basis that it must be incorporated as a whole, unified system and the identity of Islam is revealed outwardly through the culture and the way of life of its believers. Therefore, a war for a political cause is deemed unIslamic, unless justified in the name of Allah. Thus, it is only natural that Muslims see the establishment of their Kingdom of Heaven lies physically in the form of the Holy Land and victory of Allah lies in the capturing of that land.

On the other hand, viewers may come across Christianity as the more feeble religion, even more so, when the ailing King himself was a leper- a castaway; had not he been born into royalty. I especially like the portrayal of such a feeble-looking King riding out to meet King Saladin in hopes that a peaceful resolution would come between them, despite of His ailing condition. He was rotting away, yet the dignity and courage that he displayed reminded me of how much the cause that he was fighting for was defending the lives of his people rather than the mere possession of Jerusalem- and how his inward expression of the Kingdom of God would later influence Balian to see that ultimately, their Kingdom of Heaven has never been robbed by the Muslims; for the Kingdom of Heaven is in the hearts and minds of men.

Therefore, even though Jerusalem was eventually surrendered to Muslims, the Christians rejoiced for now they knew where their Kingdom of Heaven actually belonged. Thus, the Muslims may have won the battle, but they have lost the war- for the war was not in essence, fought for the possession of the Holy Land but rather, for the establishment of the Kingdom of God through the transformation of the hearts of men to Christ.

Of course, the ultimate question is, can this war be justified as “God’s will” as loudly proclaimed by both Muslims and Christians in the movie? We will never know for sure. However, what is certain is this-


"The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”- Rev 11:15.
-Picture courtesy of wan loong

With that, we are assured that all shall come to pass as we await for the second coming of our Lord and shall one day, see the Kingdom of God in its full manifestation in the form of new heavens and earth.

3 Comments:

Blogger jacksons said...

I think ultimately, the kingdoms of this world are won to Christ, through His great power to conquer the hearts and minds of men. Islam glories in the peoples and lands it has conquered by the sword, but Christianity looks back in regret for the few times in history she has tried to convert people by force. Christianity has learned now, that God the Holy Spirit is working existentially with human beings, and its our job to work with him, bringing mankind to a saving fear and faith in God through Christ. But, apart from that, the kingdoms of the world still go on in this fallen world, and sometimes, war is the only way to stop evil empires like Hitler’s from victimizing all in it’s path. And so a Christian will not hesitate to pick up arms in such a situation, not to further God’s Kingdom, rather to keep the devil from advancing his.

Thus in conclusion, if the crusades were to advance God’s kingdom, it was a mistake, but if it was to stop the advance of Islam, then it would have been justified to those who felt that it had to be stopped.

11:53 AM  
Blogger snôflek said...

:) i like your review of the KOH movie. it reflected what i felt about it, and enlightened me on some areas which i didn't really notice as well.

even though it did not portray history as it was, it was tactfully done in a neutral way, so as not to offend either party. something we can learn from :)

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would Jesus say? I think he was 'caught' in between nationalist Jewish aspirations on one side and the Roman imperialism on the other... And He subverted the matanarrative of power each side takes in employing god on their side.

His political agenda is to include the outcasts, and create an alternative community that embraces both Jew and Gentile. He calls us to ultimate loyalty to YHWH, not the religious leaders of the day nor their conquerors... They are to render to God what is God's, to Caesar what is Caesar's.

3:44 PM  

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