Skip to comments.Kingdom of Heaven : Propaganda or History?
Posted on 05/22/2005 2:59:15 PM PDT by CaptIsaacDavis
Kingdom of Heaven: Propaganda or History? by James F. Burke New Republican Archive
After the anti-Christian Left was blind-sided by the popularity of Mel Gibsons Passion of the Christ, key influencers in the media complex were eager to promote the release of Ridley Scotts Kingdom of Heaven. Indeed, one finds the loudest praise for the film coming from the pages of the most radical left-wing papers and journals here in the U.S. and, of course, in Europe. Why then is turnout so high here in the U.S.? Viewers hoping for a more positive (or at least less anti-Christian) take on the Crusades are not going to find it in this film, and should probably go rent Cecile B. DeMilles equally fantastical The Crusades (1935).
Scott, of course, was the director Gladiator and the pathetic propaganda piece titled 1492: The Conquest of Paradise. Now, in a movie that takes a distinctly revisionist approach to the Crusades, Scott has delivered a film that positively glorifies anti-Roman Catholic mythologies and, worst of all, one of historys most brutal, savage, and expansionistic dictators in the Moslem world. Anything to make a point in this historical parallel to what many in the Arab world see as Americas and Britains current "crusade" to build a Kingdom of Democracy in Iraq. The imagined open market and multi-cultural democracy that Jerusalem was supposedly fighting for under the leadership of Orlando Blooms character in this film didnt last long and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (portrayed as Jesus promised "Kingdom of Heaven") was abandoned (in a fictionalized ending) by Bloom in one of the films final scenes. The propaganda point of the film couldnt have made clearer with that last bit of historical revisionism get out!, and dont even think about fighting crusading Moslems anymore.
Lets pierce the veil of the films anti-Catholic and pro-Moslem propaganda a bit further. First, it is telling that the film chose to depict, of all the battles of the Crusades, one of spectacular defeat for the Crusaders. This choice reflected the contemporary penchant for Hollywoods insiders to finance films glorifying destroyers of Western civilizations, from "Attila" to Saladin. Gone in Kingdom of Heaven is any positive depiction or explanation of how the military orders emerged (to defend innocent pilgrims from attacks), or why the crusades even took place (to respond to invasions by Moslems, of the Byzantine Empire in particular, with a military counter-offensive and program to establish Latin Kingdoms as buffer states [where the focus on Jerusalem was a convenient way to rally men and women to come to the broader defense of Constantinoples sphere of influence against the Turks, Persians, and others]).
There is also very little in this film explaining the religious fervor of crusaders, such as why they went into battle with such a huge cross in one scene (historically a monument containing a piece of the "True Cross" that Christ was crucified on). In contrast, we have in this Hollywood version of history, the anti-"hero" of the film (Balian, played by Orlando Bloom) becoming involved in the crusade in order to seek salvation for the films "re-imagined" murder of a priest and suicide of his wife (neither of which happened to the real world Balian of Ibelin). Some crusader of the sort only Hollywood could invent, and get away with without massive protests. It only gets worse when the "hero" is shown building a veritable commune comprised of believers and non-believers on his lands, and then leading the defense of Jerusalem with barely a word of Christ uttered. On top of it all, the historical Balian is shown making common men knights, when in the real world, only young boys of noble birth and others of wealth were so knighted for the defense of Jerusalem. Therein lay a key element of Scotts "Democratic Realism." Ill explain more of that phrase later.
As part of the films ridiculous (some scenes are hard not to laugh at) propaganda glorifying Moslems, there is even a scene that purports to claim that the locals launched a "Jihad" only in response to an unprovoked attack on a caravan by supposedly renegade Knights. In the real world, it was the governor (ruler) of Mosul (Zengi) in the 1120s (60 years! before the events shown in the film take place) who was the first (in that era) local Moslem leader to call for a holy war as part of a gambit to expand his lands by taking Edessa.
The battles shown in the film represent events that take place during the struggle of Saladin, who started out as Vizier of Egypt in 1167, to expand his empire through successive wars of conquest directed, at first, against other Muslim lands. Of course, the imperial ambitions of Saladin are not provided as context in this film. The film compresses fictionalized history into events that appear related, but were not. The films depiction of events leading up to Saladins assault on Jerusalem bore little resemblance to what actually happened in 1185-1187. In the film there is no King Baldwin V, who was aged 7 in real life when he took the throne in 1185 after being selected by Raymond of Tripoli to succeed him as regent following Guys dismissal as regent (little of these twists and turns are shown). History records that after the young boy king (Baldwin V) died suddenly, Sybilla, the sister of the long dead leper king Baldwin IV (shown in the film [played by Edward Norton] as older than the real world young teenager that he was when he died, with Raymond of Tripoli stepping in as regent until the boy king matured) and wife of Guy, seized power by having herself crowned Queen and then crowned Guy of Lusignan (played by Alexander Siddig) as King of Jerusalem. Historically, Raymond of Tripoli was an opponent of the coup by Guy and Sybilla.
At this point in the film, Reynald of Chatillon is properly shown causing havoc with a raid on a caravan, but the film doesnt explain at all why Reynald was such a fire-brand (in real life he had spent no less than 16 years in one of Nur ad-Dins [the predecessor to Saladin] dungeons). The film shows Saladin beheading Reynald, but contrived a propagandistic reason (the made up murder by the good guys of a relative of his in a field) rather than explaining that Reynald had previously run a fleet of war galleys that had raided ships heading for Mecca (that is, the execution was more murder for the glory of Islam). Saladins attack, in historical terms, had less to do with Reynalds raid, where Reynald had been involved in similar raids for years, than with Saladins attempt to get revenge for the naval attacks and exploit the chaotic situation in Jerusalem following the coup by Sybilla and Guy. Jerusalem was only one of a host of major targets in Saladins campaign to expand his empire to include all of Palestine it was an expansionistic invasion, not merely targeted revenge, as Scott tries to spin it.
The decision to march out into the desert towards Saladins army is also twisted around for the film. First off, at least one biography of a soldier who was there, recorded that Guy and Raymond both favored a defensive strategy, while it was the Master of the Temple (Templars) who favored a march toward the enemy with the True Cross to bring them victory. The latter is correctly shown, but what is not explained in the film is that the Kings courage and commitment had long been challenged by those questioning why he had not sought to stop Saladins rise earlier. The King also under-estimated the determination of some of Saladins forces and the cowardice of some of his own forces (who would scatter and break for the top of a hill at a decisive moment in the battle).
The decision to march out to meet the enemy was taken on the morning on July 3, 1187. The clash of armies occurred at the Horns of Hattin. King Guy survived as a prisoner on film and in real life. The film is accurate in showing Saladin executing Reynald of Chatillon. What the film leaves out is the execution of every Knight who had surrendered, and the sale of all the others captured into slavery. Nor does the film show how Balian of Ibelin managed to escape the carnage of the battle on horse. Historical accounts indicate Balian then sent a note to Saladin asking for safe conduct back into Jerusalem and leave the next day with his wife. In the end, Balian received an escort from Saladins troops to help his family escape before returning to defend the city, effectively with Saladins approval.
The final assault on Jerusalem started two months after the slaughter at Hattin. The film does accurately show that the only way Balian was able to negotiate their survival was by threatening to destroy all the Moslem holy places. However, Scott then goes to the absurd length of imagining Saladin as some sort of gracious winner after a reference to what happened when Christian crusaders managed to take the city from Moslem defenders many years earlier. That comment was a veiled reference to historical propaganda from Moslem and other sources that the crusaders killed all they attacked in the city a couple of generations before. That they did, but it was only those defenders surviving a storming of the city (the "die-hard" defenders), who were put to the sword under the laws of war in those days for what typically befalls all of those who remain when a city must be taken "by force" (as opposed to a negotiated surrender). In the real world, Balian was forced to ransom each and every person in the city: 10 dinars for every man, and much less for women and children. When the defenders couldnt come up with enough ransom, Balian walked out with only a third of those in the city (of roughly 20,000). Those left behind were not killed or looted as Saladin had done with many other cities and forts, but only because the city had not been taken by force (it was surrendered). While several thousand of those who remained were later ransomed or released, many thousands were sold off into slavery. In the end, Saladin had his empire expanded to cover most of Palestine (ever so briefly), while Christians and Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem (with the Byzantines negotiating to control Christian holy places).
Balian himself did not reject the crusades and go home to return to a life as a blacksmith. That much was more propaganda from Scott, in what appeared to be a transparent attempt to convince Americans to just give up on fighting in the Middle East. In real life, Balian stayed on in the Holy Land, and became embroiled in intrigues in 1190 (three years after events portrayed in the film) over who would rule the Kingdom of Jerusalem from re-captured Acre. That is, he didnt let Britains King Richard (The Lionheart) pass him bye, but was, in fact, present in Palestine when Richard and his army, along with a French army and other crusaders, re-took Acre from Saladin.
Apparently much of the effort to build a historical context in this film was left on the cutting room floor in order to reduce it down to 135 minutes. However, based on what was left in, the "directors cut" isnt likely to improve things.
Viewers of this modern Hollywood propaganda spectacle were effectively sucker-punched, much like the Wachowski Brothers did to fans of The Matrix trilogy. In both cases, Christian allegories were used to draw viewers in to watch "revolutionary virtual" portrayals of the complete and utter annihilation of a Christian/Western civilization. In the Matrix, false Christ allegories were used to push Marxist pedagogy and promote hero worship for Nihilist terrorists and revolutionaries rejecting American civilization for an Eastern one, as well as independence for a Marxist "Zion" run by a Politburo-like committee. Here, in Kingdom of Heaven, the polyglot defenders of Jerusalem fight with pseudo-democratic fury to merely escape the clutches of a righteous (or so the film tries to portray) Moslem army.
With the films release on the horizon, the Liberal media had swung into action to spin the movies story-line into a Socialist Realist attack on Western Christianity. Among the most factually challenged efforts was A&Es "Movie Real" exploration of the films historical context, which aired only days before the film hit the theaters on Friday, May 6, 2005. A&Es producers spewed the following propaganda: 1) that the Catholic Church supposedly inspired the crusades in order to divert attention away from warfare between Christians (clearly implying that Christianity itself is a war-generating religion); (2) that the sacking of Jerusalem in the 12th century purportedly incited "Jihad" (the A&E spectacle clearly tries to wrap in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a repeat of this pattern of Western Christian invasions, with "jihad" shown as a righteous retaliation); and (3) that Saladin was a "great" leader (spun by A&E into a righteous defender of Muslim lands, when dictator and butcher on a par with Saddam Hussein is a more reasonable description).
Kingdom of Heaven is the king of so much historical revisionism, much like 1492: Conquest of Paradise before it, that Mr. Scott can rightly be called the leader of a new school of "Democratic Realism" in film. For those who have ever studied Soviet film and propaganda techniques, the term should be familiar as this authors knock on the Bolshevik concept of Socialist Realism. Here, instead of re-writing history to promote "socialist ardor" and revolutionary cultural destruction of socialisms enemies, Mr. Scott has a particular penchant for re-writing history to advance his peculiar left-wing take on democracy. In both "Realisms," the Roman Catholic Church takes many of the punches. Indeed, this author was struck by the parallels in terms of propaganda techniques between this film and the Stalin-edited Soviet WW2 film titled Alexander Nevsky. In the latter case, Knights Templar crusaders were shown fighting in Nazi-era German helmets. Here, in Kingdom of Heaven, the films producers, lacking much historical evidence of battle flags for Saladins army, had the determined foes of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller marching behind flags that included some remarkably similar to those flown by insurgents in Iraq (check out the black flags in particular). The A&E propaganda show about the film did much to make that propaganda link more explicit. That having been said, dont get me going on some of the ridiculous special effects. Snowflakes floating upwards. Like history turned on its head. Get real.
Nice article, but can we have a real link please?
I saw the movie recently, and I enjoyed it for its entertainment value. But it was historically challenged, to say the least.
These revisionist films always tend to portray the Catholic monks as pretentious, cowardly and distrustful. In truth they were honest, courageous and faithful men who deeply believed in Christ.
As you can see from my name, I've read a great deal about the Crusades, and the reason why they ultimately failed was never due to lack of courage and conviction, but essentially due to the severe inability to resupply the forward armies with food, arms and replacements. The supply routes and logistics were extremely difficult back then, nearly impossible to re-supply the forward armies without suffering crushing losses and casualties along the way.
What really struck me as revisionist history in this movie was the lack of Christian faith the film's 'Crusaders' displayed, and complete selfishness of their leaders. Though personal gain was a part of their leading the Crusades, it's important to note that, according to the great historian Hilaire Belloc, roughly 500,000 Crusaders and their civilian auxiliaries left Europe on the first Crusade, and most of them died from enemy attack, starvation, dehydration and disease. Only about 15,000 of the original 1/2 million crusaders survived to make it to Jerusalem, where this decimated, exhausted army of Christians conquered and ousted the Muslims and took the Holy City. Now THAT'S something more than just 'personal gain', they were traveling, surviving and fighting on the fuel of their Christian faith. The movie was a mockery of how things actually were.
The article at times starts to devlove into something written by a Star Wars fan about Lucas' latest release, but otherwise it presents a fairly concise desciption of history and the fiction of the movie.
Had this been done the other way, a pro-Christian revision on history, I'm sure that most of the enlightened nations would have banned it for being a religious attack. But since it attacks Christians, that's just fine and dandy.
It was challenging in more ways than one. Muddy plot, bad acting, and painfully awful dialogue. The battle scenes were entertaining enough, though even there I found myself suspicious of elements.
I was entertained (caveat: it's been many months since I've been to a movie), but I'd not bother watching it again.
I'll see this movie when I can rent it free of charge from the library on DVD.
I, too, am still waiting for the definitive film on Alexander the Great. In the meantime, Blockbuster carries the Richard Burton/Claire Bloom version, in color, made in the mid-fifties.
Yes, Stone's film made it clear that the Macedonian conqueror vanquished a huge Persian force. The film is worth one viewing, just for the battle scenes. Otherwise, it's a poor movie all around.
I have to admit it hurt to plunk down admission for "Alexander", knowing a chunk of it was going into Oliver Stone's pocket. But then again, I don't have 50 years to wait till the next time Hollywood decides to make a film on Alexander. (Yup, it was half a century between Richard Burton's film and Colin Farrell's.)
This History Channel has a good two hour documentary on Alexander which includes descriptions of the major battles and visits to the actual sites, including the monument to the slain Sacred Band at Chaeronea. Also includes four actors portraying the four major ancient historians who chronicled Alexander's life. Very well done. THC has run it at least twice in the past two years - when the Stone film was released, and during Ancient Conquerors Week.
I'm fascinated by the whole era of Elizabeth I and her shipbuilding program and her encouragement of privateers like Sir Francis Drake. Their raids on Spanish shipping in the New World enriched the English crown and also robbed Spain of necessary monies to finance its Army in Holland. Elizabeth built her new navy and increased her nation's prestige with this stolen Spanish coin and treasure.
I only vaguely followed the scandal about the misdiagnosis of Agent Orange cases by the government....but it certainly sounds like a tragic situation.
I'd be interested in your comments on the other historical inaccuracies in the movie "Elizabeth". All Hollywood films contain inaccuracies, some of them massive; Oliver Stone's "Alexander" was in large part fiction. Even a film based on an historical event like Mel Gibson's "Mrs. Soffel" (from the mid-80's) neglected to mention that when Mel Gibson's character escaped from prison with the warden's wife (played by Diane Keaton), he killed two people in the escape.
I remember seeing Sergeant York many years ago on a black and white TV. The whole family watched it together and enjoyed it. Those were different days back then, when daytime TV broadcast Amos and Andy, Robin Hood with Richard Greene, The Millionaire, Queen for a Day.
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