Sunday, May 08, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

(Another too-long movie review. A few spoilers.)

I'm not entirely sure what I think of "Kingdom of Heaven." I'm not entirely sure I have anything worth saying on the subject. The music was lovely, the action very bloody, the I guess it was hard to get completely drawn into the story itself, perhaps because some of the maneuvering (of armies and men and such) was a bit confusing. And then there was the whole spiritual wishy-washiness that left me feeling mixed. I'm not sure if it was that last one or perhaps the fact that the movie just generally felt unfocused, constantly on the move, rarely stopping to delve deeper into anything. Perhaps I am just slow or nit-picky, but that's how it felt to me.

There were good things, too. A deep sense of honor. Many characters reiterated the importance of a good life over spiritual pomp and circumstance. One character said something about how a good life is about of living right and "defending the helpless." I leaned over to my sister and whispered, "That's in the Bible!" Because it is. There's more than one verse that says that that's what true righteousness is all about. James 1:27, for instance. That doesn't mean living right by any god's definition; but finding out who the true god is and what he wants. I think it was even partly the repetitive "what God wants is here and here" type comments (pointing to the head and heart), that partly contributed to the slightly sugary, unreal feel of the movie. Don't get me wrong--I basically agree with that statement--but how many knights in the crusades went around saying stuff like that, and in that slightly peace-and-flowers way? I don't know; maybe they did. It just didn't ring very true to me.

Even if the knights did go around saying stuff like that, it doesn't prove much. Anyone can go around spouting pretty-sounding platitudes--many do. But how am I to know it isn't just more pomp and circumstance if you don't prove it to me? As James also says, "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do" (2:18).

I don't mean that the characters were all corrupt exactly; it just didn't feel like they rose above the sort of obvious and popular morality we mostly believe in today, at least in our country. Maybe I'm being too hard on them; I do love seeing good choices in tough situations--perhaps I aspire to it--and maybe it's too much to expect that every movie should have that quality. But the thing is few enough movies do have that quality these days, and I miss it sorely. There's not much I respect more or find more beautiful than a person willing to put someone else's needs and desires before their own. Self-sacrifice is to me one of, if not the, most beautiful thing on earth--or heaven, I think.

There was one example of this I did appreciate, and that was, appropriately, from the main character, Balian. "It is a kingdom of conscience or not at all," he says when refusing to have a man killed so he can marry his wife, take the kingdom, and prevent more warfare. (A sticky enough choice that I'm not entirely sure what was the right choice, what with the husband being a bloodthirsty man who would only cause more death and bloodshed, but Balian's intent was good, and that's important.) ...Evidently sleeping with the man's wife didn't count--just so long as he didn't kill him. *sigh*

My sister had a different take on things, saying that they were at least "searching," and it is true enough that at least two of the main characters were searching for forgiveness and perhaps even for God. It's just didn't feel like they found him; more as though they concluded he didn't matter or couldn't be known--a thing too many people think today, unfortunately--and probably have throughout history and time. And the truth is, I would certainly rather watch this kind of movie than the revenge flicks that seem so popular these days. But I would still rather watch a movie that feels more authentic, that delves deeper and tries a little harder to face the hard issues, that perhaps rings a little truer. There are a few out there; they're just harder to find.

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