Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
About Biblical problems with Roman Catholicism
What issues often separate Roman Catholics from God? Answer
Personal testimonies of former devout Roman Catholics
QUIZ—Catholicism and Protestantism.
Do you think like a Protestant or a Catholic?
GOD—How can we know there’s a God? Answer
ISLAM—What is Islam? What do muslims believe? Answer
RELIGION—Aren’t all religions basically the same? Answer
With so many denominations and religions, how can I decide which are true and which are false? Answer
BIBLE—How do we know the Bible is true? Answer
Is the Bible truth or tabloid? Answer
GOD—A skeptic asks: “Why should any one have to accept ancient hearsay as evidence for the existence of a god? If Jesus is who he said he was, then he shouldn’t have any problem personally convincing me of that fact, especially considering the penalty with which he is supposedly ready to zap anyone who doesn’t believe. In fact, I’d say, all things considered, he is a twisted monster for not doing just that.” Response
GOSPEL—Does Christianity need to develop a NEW gospel adapted to today’s world? Answer
SUFFERING—If there is a God, why does He allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
SUFFERING—Does God feel our pain? Answer
EVIL AND BAD—The Origin of bad—How did bad things come about? Answer
|Featuring||Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green|
|Director||Ridley Scott—“The Last Duel”|
|Distributor||20th Century Studios, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company|
“The Kingdom of Heaven” is not as anti-Christian as I feared and not as good an action move as I had hoped. The criticisms it has received—the miscasting of Orlando Bloom, the blatant anti-clericalism, the pretentious speeches—are, sadly, well-deserved. Aristotle famously observed that in drama “action reveals character.” Unfortunately, director Ridley Scott channels Ayn Rand and tries to reveal character through political speeches. Not surprisingly, he succeeds in revealing the viewer’s boredom instead.
The plot concerns the third of eight crusades to the Holy Lands performed in the years roughly between 1095 and 1291 A.D. The opening titles tell us that the year is exactly 1184 and that “Europe is in a state of repression and poverty.” The observant viewer can discern this even without the helpful description because everything European is dirty, shabby, and ragged. This includes not just the peasantry, but also the blasphemous priests and rapacious noblemen who, having plundered the Middle East for gold, frankincense, and myrrh, nonetheless returned looking like they’d been on a three year long drunk.
Meanwhile, everything Arabic is bed-bath-and-beyond beautiful. The Saracens have nicely coiffed hair, neatly trimmed beards, and are dressed to the nines in special dust-resistant robes with intricate embroidery. Judging by the difference in clothing, I’m confident the Catholic Church almost certainly went to war just to capture the Muslim robes. The rags the priests wear are an absolute indictment of Christian tailors.
The movie has no objectionable nudity, blasphemy, profanity, or nuance. The film plays longer than its hefty 145 minutes because (I’m guessing) Scott’s research showed that time was notoriously slower in the Middle Ages. The speeches are boring, pompous, and transparently anti-religious. The priests are poor theologians and offer spiritual guidance that one can only describe as a kind of uplifting nihilism: “I’m your priest,” one comforts Balian (Orlando Bloom). “God has abandoned you.”
This is the same priest that plunders the gold cross from Balian’s dead wife and then orders the gravediggers to chop off her head as a large cross looms behind him. Some viewers may feel enlightened by such symbolism, but Christians will notice that the only other headchopping is done by a crusader. The Prophet Mohammed instituted a scriptural basis in the Koran 500 years earlier for chopping off the heads of infidels, but Scott’s research must have concluded that it was really graveyard priests who liturgized the practice that is now such a hit with Muslim jihadists.
Besides the droll priest, there is also a bishop who has some great lines, as when he advocates jumping on the fastest horse and abandoning the people of Jerusalem to slaughter. He simpers to Balian: “It is unfortunate about the people, but,” he says, ending on a positive note, “it is God’s will.” When it’s too late to flee, he helpfully tells Balian, “Convert to Islam.Repent later.” There are various shots of monks and other clerics blessing the crusaders as they go off to do their dirty work: “To kill an infidel is not murder. It’s the path to heaven.” Whether it’s priest or crusader, massacre and the blessing of massacre is all in a day’s work. As the mad knight Reynald gleefully reflects after one of his slaughters: “I am what I am.Someone has to be!”
That “I am” speech comes dangerously close to blaspheming God’s speech in Exodus 3:14: “I am who I am.” The one relatively noble Christian, Tiberius (the name of a pagan Roman emperor), tells Balian: “The world has no need of a perfect knight.” And in that statement we can find the clearest expression of Scott’s anti-religious agenda. Christ, of course, is the “perfect knight” and look, the movie seems to say, at all the killing that’s been done in his name. In the movie’s war of words, its secular pieties are repeated ad nauseum.
The opposing idea to Reynald’s travesty of God’s speech is the Humanist commandment that Balian carved in a beam of his smithy shop: “What man is a man that does not leave the world better.” Balian’s father (Liam Neeson) tells him that he must always speak the truth, even if it costs him his life. The good king of Jerusalem, dying of leprosy, wears a silver mask and tells Balain that he will not be forgiven for wrong deeds, “Even where those who move you be kings, or men of power.” When Balian refuses to have the wicked Guy de Lusignan killed, he declares that, implicitly, Jerusalem is “a kingdom of conscience or it is nothing.” All of these speeches must be understood in the context of their antithesis: to act according to enlightened humanist principles is more rational and moral than to act according to an irrational faith.
There are two symbolic scenes at the end of the movie. In the first, during the battle for Jerusalem, we see the captured king of Jerusalem riding backwards on a donkey before the city gates wearing what looks like a dunce cap. That gratuitous anti-Jesus image will anger some Christians and cause others to roll their eyes in disbelief, but its purpose is to serve as a perfect bookend to Reynald’s speech above. Scott makes sure he mocks the Son as well as the Father. But aside from Christians, I wonder how sincere Muslims will feel about one of their prophets being mocked for laughs by the movie’s religious Muslims?
The second instance of heavy-handed symbolism occurs when Saladin picks up a fallen altar cross and sets it on a table, a gesture so ludicrous as to provide an inadvertent moment of comic relief. The battle in Jerusalem concludes with Balian leaving town while portentously pronouncing, “If this is the Kingdom of Heaven, let God do with it as he wills.”
The “Kingdom of Heaven” is not a terrible movie, although its historical assumptions are biased, incomplete, and error-ridden. For instance, there is no mention of the fact that the Muslims conquered Spain four hundred years before the crusades, They occupied Spain for nearly seven hundred years, until the fall of Granada in 1492, which might explain why the Spanish are sympathetic to Muslims. Islamic armies had even advanced into France where Charles Martel defeated them at the Battle of Tours in 733. A fair-minded observer might suggest that those wars of aggression and conquest against Christian lands might have something to do with why Christians were feeling a little cranky in 1184.
But aside from those deceptions, there is little in it to offend and less to recommend it. For those who want to see more of less, Scott is producing a 285 minute director’s cut on DVD. Fair warning: if you sit through the whole thing, your clothes may acquire that shabby look that Scott’s research has shown to be distinctly Christian.
More importantly, all the egregious anti-Christian scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor will be on full display there. One Muslim scholar who saw the full version of the film said the scenes of Muslims destroying churches would cause anti-Muslim hatred. Ridley no doubt took that sympathetic advice to heart and left those scenes out. Note: he left them out, not of sensitivity to Christian sensibilities, but out of sensitivity to Muslim ones.
My advice is to rent “Phantom of the Opera” and withhold your eight bucks from this anti-Christian plate offering. Hollywood is on a relentless crusade of its own against Christianity. Why fund more of the same?
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
Michael the Syrian, the 12th century Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, reproducing earlier contemporary sources in his famous Chronicle, summarized the prevailing conditions for Christians in Palestine, as follows:
As the Turks were ruling the lands of Syria and Palestine, they inflicted injuries on Christians who went to pray in Jerusalem, beat them, pillaged them, levied the poll tax at the gate of the town and also at Golgotha and the [Holy] Sepulchre; and in addition, every time they saw a caravan of Christians, particularly of those from Rome and the lands of Italy, they made every effort to cause their death in diverse ways. And when countless people had perished as a result, the kings and counts were seized with [religious] zeal and left Rome; troops from all these countries joined them, and they came by sea to Constantinople [First Crusade (1096-99)].”
Also, see articles (off-site): Jihad begot the Crusades
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.