Sunday, May 08, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

We saw Sir Ridley Scott's latest opus Friday night, and we all liked it. It wasn't quite the classic that Gladiator was, but it was very, very good. One thing I liked about it was that, despite the silly hoopla surrounding the movie, it actually was a very complicated look at how people can drive large historical events. The movie was not about politics, at least today's politics. It was about how the interactions among historical actors and the choices they make determine the outcomes of large events. This theme is far away from the "great historical forces" theory that says individuals cannot influence the outcome of events. I especially liked that the movie emphasized the individual moral choices that each of the characters faced. By this emphasis, Mr. Scott was able to present complicated moral issues in a challenging way, instead of the lectures that occupy most Hollywood movies involving "moral" issues. Mr. Scott is one of the few big directors out there who makes movies that are serious in this way.

And one note about the Professor of Islam quoted in the above-linked "Variety" article. Apparently, the good professor accused the movie of "teaching people to hate Muslims." I hope that the man was misquoted; otherwise, for a professor at a major university he shows a stunning inability to watch a movie. The chief bad guy/guys in Kingdom were a rogue sect of Christian knight-warriors and their fanatical leaders. In contrast, the Muslims in the movie get a very positive treatment, especially Saladin. In my book, this is pretty reasonable, because the Muslim world of that period was well-advanced in comparison to Europe. But the point is that the Muslims in the movie aren't even really the bad guys, so why would this teach people to hate today's Muslims? There's no logic there. If anything, the movie should do the opposite and show people that maybe Saladin and his boys weren't so bad after all. The professor's criticism is silly and insulting to the extent that it relies on the assumption that Americans are such drooling morons that they will see dead Muslims on the screen and decide that the movie-maker must be instructing them to do likewise.

Obviously this movie had the potential to be controversial given its subject matter and the war we are in, but inflamed, nonsensical rhetoric isn't going to help matter any. It's especially disappointing given the interesting moral issues and problems that the movie presents. In this case, for once the movie is more complicated than its simple-minded critics claim it to be.


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