Films are very instrumental in relating stories because they provide vivid images of what can only be imagined when reading newspapers or books, or hearing stories over the radio. A film’s greatest asset is that it moves and in doing so, scenes are presented with such realism that they elicit larger audience involvement and emotional response (Daley, 1980). They transform what was then intangible to something the senses could actually capture and into something that the common people can comprehend and appreciate with lesser burden, coupled with the experience of actually being entertained.
History being a topic of some Hollywood films is no longer new, given that such films are regarded to have much more substance and depth than most mainstream Hollywood projects. History-based films not only present stories of the past but they make people analyze and understand what was happening then that made what is happening now. The challenge in these films, however, lies in the integrity of the script. The audience would always question the truth behind the story and how it coincides with reality, as well as the equality of accounts when it tackles various contrasting groups, say of the religious genre.
But let this not blind us from seeing the essence of the film. This History or “his story” film most importantly encapsulates the lives of noble men who have been in constant battle with various ideologies of culture and religion, but have emerged victorious in the end. It is in the lives and valor of these individuals, and how they intertwined with the ways of hundreds of those which surrounded them, shall we be looking into to illustrate how one’s culture and religion affects one’s concept of faith, sense of purpose, good and evil, and eventually salvation.
Summary of the Film: It is a Kingdom of Conscience or nothing at all The Kingdom of Heaven is a 2005 film directed by Ridley Scott and written by William Monahan. It stars Orlando Bloom depicting a French village blacksmith, Balian of Ibelin, who, after experiencing several life-changing events such as the death of his wife and the discovery that he is the illegitimate son of Sir Godfrey (a legendary knight who has returned home after serving in the East), decided to aid in the defense of the holy city of Jerusalem from Muslim reclamation. The crusade was then viewed by many as a way to erase all sin and achieve salvation.
Balian, having several issues of his own, went to Jerusalem not only to absolve his wife for the sin of suicide that she committed after the death of their child, but also to search for God and understand his plans for him in this lifetime. Balian and Godfrey arrives in Jerusalem during the 12th century at a time between the 2nd and 3rd crusades, in which the city is enjoying an unstable state of peace. Both Christian and Muslim forces are temporarily in retreat as a result of connecting efforts of the wise Christian monarch King Baldwin IV, his second-in-command Tiberias, and Muslim leader Saladin.
Christians and Muslims were at ease in having each other worship in the holy city and exercise their religious customs. There was already cultural trade, an exchange and adaptation of several ways of life such as in food and clothing. What triggered the great onslaught were the wrongdoings of several Christian fanatics in the form of templars whose selfish motives of totally controlling the Holy Land for greater wealth and power led to cases of abuse and killings of innocent Muslims.
At the same time, several Muslim factions are pressuring Saladin to reclaim Jerusalem. King Baldwin succumbed to leprosy, and was succeeded by Guy de Lusignan, his sister Sibylla’s husband, who supports anti-Muslim activities. Guy provoked a war in his attempt to annihilate the Muslims and claim the Kingdom for the Christians but due to several disadvantages in number and preparations, the Christian Knights lost to Saladin. After several days of battle, Balian eventually surrenders the city to Saladin in order to spare the people from further bloodshed and loss.
Throughout the film, Balian struggles to make a Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Ideology and Film: A kaleidoscope of ideas conveyed and understood Ideology is defined by Bordwell (2009) as “a relatively coherent system of values, beliefs, or ideas shared by some social group and often taken by members of that group as natural or inherently true. ” It is our guide in seeing through things- our framework in observing, analyzing and interacting with the elements of the world, providing us a way by which to interpret the meanings and significance of these things.
Our prejudices and preferences with regards to race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, greed, love, desire, etc. as well as our ideals, values and concepts of what is right and wrong are all integrated in our ideologies. Ideologies can also be dictated by our cultural upbringing and religion. We approach interpreting films with the guidance of a set of beliefs we have acquired and choose to maintain, such that different kinds of viewers interpret the same film differently.
Film making is a large human enterprise, and undeniably, therefore, it is not exempt from the ideological inputs of various elements that are necessary for its creation. It is not just a constant ideological expression of the filmmaker. It can be a neutral showcase of ideological standpoints and values reflecting the “social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture” (Giannetti, 1999). And because films almost always depict human lives and interactions, it follows then that films also depict a sea of diverse ideologies.
As furthered by Comolli and Narboni (1971), a film is an “ideological product of the system which produces it”. In fact, it is in the nature of this system to turn cinema into an instrument of ideology. Culture of Violence versus Religion: Interplay of Ideologies To fully understand literature, one must view it alongside its historical context and such is also the case for films. This film was set in medieval Europe during a time when violence was a way of life, as strengthened by a dialogue in the film: Balian:“I have done murder”
Godfrey:”Haven’t we all? ” During these times of knights and monarchs, colonization for land expansions and wealth and resource accumulation was so rampant that it became ordinary. The breakdown of the Carolingian Empire in the late 9th century, combined with the relative stabilization of local European borders after the Christianization of the Vikings, Slavs, and Magyars, had produced a large class of armed warriors whose energies were misplaced fighting one another and terrorizing the local populace (Riley-Smith, 2002).
The church, being a powerful entity at that time sought for ways to divert such violence and violent people who were very much aware of how they accumulated sin through their killings and abuses also sought desperately for ways to erase their sins and spare themselves from the feared punishment of hell. These factors were contributory to the birth of a very ambiguous Christian endeavor – the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of religiously sanctioned military campaigns waged by much of Latin Christian Europe, with the ultimate goal of recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule (Riley-Smith, 2002).
This was very attractive to most people especially God-fearing men seeking for forgiveness because it promises an irresistible way to avoid eternal damnation. It was believed that for as long as you “fight for the Kingdom of God”, you will be spared. Desperation and devastation are two things that can usually cloud a person’s decision, and these, for me, primarily drove Balian to join the crusades. He was devastated after the loss of his beloved wife, therefore can be considered as being in a state of confusion and uncertainty that he desires for enlightenment.
He was also desperate to absolve his wife of the sin of suicide and to seek for a better life. But does this noble personal cause as well as the ultimate desire to spread salvation justify the ways by which the crusades achieve its goal? Religion as Justification This inquiry brings us to the ideology of consequantialism which is best represented by the aphorism “the end justifies the means. ” Consequentialism refers to those moral theories which states that the outcomes of a particular action must be taken into considerations before any valid moral judgment about that action is made (Mackie, 1190).
Followers of consequentialism include the famous Machiavelli, the author of The Prince which urges leaders to be consequentialists especially in the improvement of one’s economy. The film is filled with murder, robbery and other immoralities which were publicly acknowledged as an essential part of achieving a greater good. To kill an infidel is not murder but a path to heaven, so as the movie says. But how would killing people of other religions erase sins of say killing people of other kingdoms, when what happened in both cases is still murder. Yes there were knights who were fighting for God and there are others who are just blood thirsty.
Who are these people to believe that by the sword they would achieve salvation? Crusading was believed to be an act of God but does extreme faith in God excuse all manner of brutality? Is it really true that sometimes it is acceptable to “do a little evil to achieve a greater good? ” Such questions are faced not only by men in the past but also of modern men in this current society. It shows how difficult it is to decide what is appropriate based on the dictates of one’s culture or the whispers of our conscience which is the main machinery of religion and of righteous living.
For example, most ideologies of men would dictate that murder is wrong. But society is in turmoil over certain situations such as abortion and in euthanasia. We often think that it is not good for people to suffer, so some justify killing an unborn baby because of the possibility that it may be handicapped or to spare it from being born to a broken family or into poverty. Others justify killing an elderly or people of grave illnesses if it helps them escape more suffering and avoid being an inconvenience to the family.
No matter how noble one’s cause may be, ethical questions usually arise and such questions will always be rooted to our ideologies, our foundations of what we think is justifiable or not. But did the early Christians, especially the crusaders question the morality of the crusades? No. Early Christian ideological beliefs are easily accepted without any doubts because of recurrent usage such that they are regarded as the ‘obvious’. Simply put, ideology transforms historically and culturally bound ideas as well as politically constructed ones into something free of biases, as if they are universal and absolute.
This concept can also be seen in many parts of the film, where religion was affected by the judgment and bias of a particular culture. It is in man’s nature to favor things that would benefit him or things that would be to his advantage such that religion, something impartial and sacred is now interpreted based on his judgment. Even issues of morality are placed in the hands of people who claim to be in the side of God and who blindly justifies things, branding them to be “God’s will”. Even religious leaders distort the preaching and interpret some too literally.
We see such concept being embodied by the character of Guy and his co-conspirator Raynald of Chatillon in their massacre of innocent Muslims with the aid of the Templars. Guy was more interested in fortune than salvation -in power, land and fortune. They would always declare that what they do is what God wants, but does God really have inclination towards cruelty? Crusades, originally conceived as having a divine goal somehow got tainted because of internal conflicts among Christian kingdoms and political powers. It was no longer a quest for faith and some of the crusade expeditions were diverted from their original aim.
What does this say of men? Clearly, despite the fact that we declare that we are siding with God, we are serving Him according to human doctrine. A doctrine is human if it differs in any way from God’s teachings, whether in the results or how these results were achieved. If God gives us a command and we do a different work, we are pursuing human teaching. Also, if we do something else despite of God’s instructions on how to do it, we are still pursuing human teaching. Religion in most cases was used to justify waging war against other cultures. But who are they to be certain that it is indeed God’s will?
There have been many lunatics. The film simply reminds us that true Holiness is in right action and what God desires is already in our heart and mind. We just have to listen to our conscience. Concept of Reciprocity In the film we also experienced situations were the aphorism “you reap what you sow” is evident. Positively speaking, religion teaches us to do good things so as to be rewarded by the Divine. With this we see noblemen such as Balian and Godfrey striving to live a life guided by conscience- sparing the lives of enemies, respecting other religious beliefs and empowering others.
As a result we see Muslims reciprocating their good deeds. There was mutual respect. In some parts, Balian was also spared of his life by a Muslim Knight whom he encountered and allowed to escape in previous meetings. In the film’s ending, we saw Saladin the great Sultan refusing to step on the crucifixes, and later picking up a cross and putting it back on the table, which may be interpreted as a sign of respect for differences. The concept of reciprocity is embedded in one’s ideologies that it never fails to urge us to do well to those who do us good.
Unfortunately, the concept of reciprocity also resulted to a culture of revenge. Killings brought fort more killings because culture dictates the need to get even. There is a strong sense of brotherhood among people with the same culture or religion that an act of violence committed to a few results to an uproar among the others. It is in this manner that war propagates itself. So despite the guidance of religion, one cannot just brush aside the call of his cultural duties as a part of a society/group. Development of Self and Society
But despite all the negativities present, we should not be despaired because the film also proposed a chance for Peace and Personal Development. Many critics said that the film was neutral in the sense that it was neither pro- nor anti-Islamic, neither pro- nor anti-Christian. It was largely history and despite the artistic license, it presented facts as they occurred. The ending seems to be suggesting that most Christians and Muslims might be able to live peacefully within each other’s borders so long as the extremists are controlled.
It shows the possibility of the triumph of dialogue and negotiations over war- of a chance of peace despite troubled times. It can also be noted that the film was actually not entirely about the crusades but how the individual struggled to develop himself. We see men of different sorts, some struggling to gain power over others unmindful of theological issues, and there are others in quest of a noble purpose in life – whose ideologies and morality are constantly challenged by external forces.
But because God sides with him and his intentions are good, he triumphs in the long run. This film portrays ideologies in a manner which does not dictate to us which faction to favor or not. It merely shows the existence of two contrasting dominant ideologies of Islam and Christianity, mixed with how humans insert their society’s cultural ideologies to put meaning into every action and thought which governs their lives.
We may opt to follow the examples of the noble men, side with one sector or simply appreciate the film as it is – a historical epic/romance. I see the film as a revisiting of the past and was successful in the reawakening of issues concerning important religious events affecting current affairs. Yet the degree of its impact on us is still our decision. What can we do in this continuing rivalry? What man is a man if he does not make the world better?
Courtney from Study Moose
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