While Ridley Scott’s epic is getting the same dismissal as the other most recent pre-industrial sword-orgies Troy and Alexander, I feel it is a disservice to the subject matter to lump it with its pseudo-contemporaries (i.e. all before the Renaissance, as history is taught these days). Considering the current global condition, any film daring to touch upon the age old sibling rivalry of the children of Abraham deserves to be appreciated for its candor and for its delicacy. Plus, I mean, come on, it’s Ridley Scott, he knows how to do it up nice. It should be seen on the big screen if possible.
The Kingdom of Heaven is the scrabbly outpost of Jerusalem, changing hands over centuries with Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. This particular tale is told of 1184, toward the end of a Christian occupation and beginning of a Muslim one. The exposition, considering the cultures of all involved, is a little pedantic and dry, with beautiful scenery and some difficulty engaging the audience. Once we get the mounds of backstory under our belt, and meet the beautifully-souled leper-king, the story gets moving, and Orlando Bloom is given more to do than just react becomingly.
What becomes evident is that everyone values this place with a deep religious fervor; that fervor is expressed in different ways, all of them necessarily divisive. Perhaps, to an outsider like myself to this level of zeal, it seems obvious – maybe it’s the writing and the whole movie is clunking down the obvious road with bells on. But the Utopian ideals espoused by our protagonists have no place in a world so determined to remain riven by the details of their faiths.
Intolerance and unjust acts in the name of one’s holy focus abound, motiveless but always with an end that defies the standards being touted. In order to live a life of peace, one must (according to these precepts, on both sides) live a life of war. No one seems to see when it works a different way (such as Bloom’s Fresh Start farm just outside the city), or when mercy begets more mercy. Peace is merely an abstract concept now, (I mean 1184) something to dream about but never actually achieve.
It’s heartbreaking to step outside the narrative and look how little has changed over 821 years. Now we have electricity, running water, cell phones, Mini Coopers, and poly-knit slacks, but we still hate each other because we worship differently. Zealotry leaves out any sense of the actual people or souls that it should involve. Little of the characters’ motivation seems godly (or allah-ly) but more like a grab for real estate, cheapening even their holy excuses. Even Bloom’s relatively emotionally uninvolved character does what he does for fiercely personal reasons.
It’s a long, fairly preachy set up to watch some interesting battles, but the real pleasure is in the spectacle. Bloom is a fetching lead, who looks good squinting purposefully over a battlefield, but his character was written so thinly I could not appreciate his role in this climactic moment for Jerusalem.
MPAA Rating R-strong violent epic warfare
Release date 5/6/05
Time in minutes 145
Director Ridley Scott
Studio 20th Century Fox