Films Review: Kingdom of Heaven
Many contemporary Christians are not familiar with the religious Crusades. The film Kingdom of Heaven under the direction of Ridley Scott is set during the period of the Crusades. It tells the story of a French blacksmith going to assist the Kingdom of Jerusalem to defend itself from Ayyubid Muslim, who intends to reclaim the Kingdom of Jerusalem from Christians resulting in the Battle of Hattin. The script used in the film is a fictionalized depiction of the life of Balian of Ibelin, who was a crucial noble in the crusader state of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the 12th century. This essay presents a review of the movie Kingdom of Heaven.
The film is set during the Crusades that took place in the Middle Ages. During this time, there were religious wars happening in lands around Jerusalem. Balian, a blacksmith, loses his faith in God after the death of his wife. A crusader by the name Godfrey of Ibelin comes to the village after fighting in wars in the East and informs Balian that he is his father. Godfrey then requests Balian to accompany him to the Holy Land in order to fight Muslims who are trying to reclaim Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, Balian falls in love, after which he is made the leader of Jerusalem. In his position as a leader, Balian makes use of all his skill and courage to protect the city of Jerusalem against an extremely big Muslim army under the leadership of Sallahudin. Jerusalem is experiencing peace between Christians and Muslims, which is attributed to the presence of three crucial people including the Christian King Baldwin IV, who is good; Tiberius, who is the advisor of the King; and Sallahudin, who is the Muslim leader (Aberth, 2005). Balian is made a knight by Godfrey, who instructs Balian to offer protection to people who are helpless, uphold peace, and devote his efforts toward ensuring that Christians and Muslims live in peace in order for earth to have a Kingdom of Heaven. Unluckily, King Baldwin becomes very sickly and subsequently succumbs to death. A number of crusaders attempt to end the peace that had existed for some time and try to ignite war between Christians and Muslims. Owing to the fact that the peaceful existence of Christians and Muslims is under threat, Balian is compelled to safeguard Jerusalem against the Muslim army led by Sallahudin.
Kingdom of Heaven has been criticized on grounds that it distorted history. In this regard, Tyerman (2006) argued that, despite the fact the film is based on a true story, the historical facts have been altered in the film. Kingdom of Heaven depicts the Knights Templar as a group of religious fanatics who are attempting to provoke war and blow apart the ceasefire between Muslims and Christians, something that Tyerman (2006) considers absolute fabrication of the historical facts. Tyerman (2006) stresses that Knights Templar refrained from attacking caravans; this is because the Knights Templar was established mainly to offer protection to travelers who were being regularly attacked by the Muslim army. As a matter of fact, it was the killing of Christian pilgrims by Muslims that played a significant role in causing the religious Crusades. Another historical inaccuracy in the film relates to the central character, Balian. In this regard, Kingdom of Heaven has been criticized on grounds that, despite the fact that Balian played a crucial role in defending Jerusalem during the period of the Crusades, his role and character are distorted in the film. First, Balian is depicted as being a blacksmith, which he was not. Second, the film depicts that Balian’s wife committed suicide, which was not the case. In addition, Balian grew up in the Holy Land, and did not travel there upon the request of his father. In addition, the film depicts Balian to be questioning the existence of God; however, historical records point out that Balian was a devout Christian. There are other points in the film that are historically incorrect. Aberth (2005) came to the defense of the film by claiming that Kingdom of Heaven, similarly to other historical epic films, has some liberties with regard to historical facts. Another historically inaccurate plot line in the film relates to the romantic relationship between Sybilla and Balian, which did not take place in their real lives. The main characters depicted in the film are real historical figures; however, fictional accounts have been incorporated in the film script primarily for creative purposes.
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Tyerman (2006) criticized Kingdom of Heaven on theological grounds by claiming that the theology in the film is absolutely wrong. For instance, the film depicts a monk stating that killing an infidel is the path to heaven and is not committing murder. Neither these words nor the implied concept appears in the Christian Bible; nevertheless, it is supported by the Islamic Jihad doctrine. Another scene in the film portrays Muslims bowing down in prayer, after which Balian says, “You allow them to pray”, and a Knight responds by saying, “as long as they pay taxes.” It is a fact that Crusaders were not in need of the supplementary taxes from Muslims in order to permit them conduct their prayers (Tyerman, 2006). This is outlined in the Islamic practice and doctrine of the Jizya, in which Muslim governments requires Christians and Jews to pay taxes, something that is still practiced even in the modern days.
Regardless of the numerous historical and theological errors in the film, Kingdom of Heaven has received vast praise from a cinematic perspective. Aberth (2005) considered the film as grand moviemaking characterized by epic battles. In addition, the costumes and sets are impressive. There is no doubt that violence has been overly depicted in the film; however, the graphic scores significantly with regard to its realistic depictions. It can be argued that the graphic depiction of violence in the film is purposeful and aims to portray the obscenities associated with war. In addition, Kingdom of Heaven has received praise for focusing on the themes of the value of human life, peaceful coexistence, using one’s head and heart in making in the world a better place, strong condemnation of violence and ecumenical kinship, which are considered a timely message in the world that is still faced with religious conflicts (Aberth, 2005).
Kingdom of Heaven scores poorly with regard to historical and theological accuracy, which is proved by many critics. Nevertheless, it is imperative to acknowledge that historical epic films usually make use of fictionalized accounts mainly for creative purposes, which is the case with the film. Despite the theological and historical inaccuracies in the film, Kingdom of Heaven delivers a timely message associated with value of human life, peaceful coexistence, using one’s head and heart in making in the world a better place, strong condemnation of violence and ecumenical kinship, which are crucial given the current state of the world that is characterized by religious conflicts.
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Aberth, J. (2005). Kingdom of Heaven. Directed and produced by Ridley Scott; written by William Monahan. United States. 2005; color; 145 minutes. Distributed by Twentieth‐Century Fox (Scott Free Productions). The American Historical Review, 110 (4), 1235-1236.
Tyerman, C. (2006). God’s war: A new history of the Crusades. New York, NY: Penguin.