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What good is it if a man gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?
This and many other themes involving faith, religion, and the coexistance of man are at the heart of Ridley Scott's film epic, Kingdom of Heaven. Upon first viewing the original theatrical version of the film, I noticed many of these themes attempting to surface but unfortunately failing to ever fully develop. Instead of a grand, multi-layered epic, the film was nothing more than an extremely well shot Crusader action flick, which is expected with Ridley Scott directing. Luckily, Scott openly voiced his disapproval of the cut, paving way for a special edition director's cut of the film. Not only does the film fill in many of the missing pieces regarding the plot and characters, it also reveals depth not found in the original.
The Crusades were a time a great religious unrest, for Christians, Jews and Muslims throughout Europe and the Middle East. The holy city of Jerusalem changed hands numerous times between the forces of Christ and those of Allah. Much blood was shed over a city whose only importance lied in the buildings and landmarks inside of it, not the people residing there. For the Christians, fighting for the cause would result in forgiveness of all sins and a place in heaven, while the Muslims looked forward to life in Paradise for their martydom. So they would fight, some to cleanse their sins, others because of a thirst for battle, and few for just reasons such as defending the lives of their people. The hero of Kingdom of Heaven, Balian, happens to fall in the later.
A man whose life had been marked with sin and death, Balian follows the path of his aging father and travels to Jerusalem in search of redemption after being knighted the Baron of Ibelin. When he arrives in the holy city, he is surprised to find it a den of hatred, hypocrisy and violence. Balian attempts to connect with God on the very site of Jesus' crucifiction, one of the holy places constantly fought over. Instead of finding forgiveness through this place, Balian instead chooses to start a new life; one where his heart and actions will instead bring him redemption.
The story that progresses follows Balian as he deals with the responsibilities given to him by his late father, the threat of war, love, and the fight for his soul. Numerous characters cross paths with our hero, including a beautiful yet conflicted queen, her war hungry husband, an aged knight, a sick king, and the leader of the Muslims himself. Many of the characters live lives of hypocrasy, professing a faith in God, yet using his name to gain wealth, power, and war. A select few, including the noble king, provide Balian with guidance and hope that the people of Jerusalem are still worth saving. The people around him force Balian to look inside himself and search for the true meaing of salvation and faith. As the story grows closer and closer to it's climax, Balian rises up to fulfill his destiny and defend Jerusalem.
Balian leads a small group of soldiers and anyone in the city capable of fighting in defense against Saladin and his army of thousands. The leader instills courage and hope in the lives of those fighting and those they are fighting for as the battle prepares to commence. The soldiers fight with added strength and bravery to complete a seemingly impossible task of defeating the Muslims. When Balian realizes complete victory is out of the question, he pushes the men to fight for terms. They do so and make one last stand, hoping to procure the safety of the people in Jerusalem. Unlike the newly crowned king of Jerusalem and his hatred of anyone opposed to his so-called "Christianity," Saladin offers instead to grant all inside the city the gift of life, hoping to secure the peace that had reigned under Kind Baldwin.
In the end, the Muslims reclaim the holy city and the Christians of Jerusalem embark peacefully to other lands. Balian gives up his title along with Queen Sybilla and returns to his hometown. He may never get over the loss of his wife and child, but Balian now holds peace, knowing the man he has become is a defining example of knighthood.
Today, a great lesson can be learned from this film. The Crusades may be long gone, but the hostility and intolerance among Christian and Muslim still remains. Instead of the followers of each making a stand and learning to peacefully coexist with their fellow humans, many continue to persecute the other for not follow his or her beliefs. It seems that the hypocrisy that ruled during the Medival Ages still exists today. Religion is the word that represents the Christian faith as a whole today, instead of the words faith and love, and the Islamic faith has come to be known for its radical violence. If both sides could learn to be loving examples to one another, maybe their existence would be one of peace. However, until this happens, wars will continue to break out, hatred will never die and bodies will continue to pile up. There is still hope that rests in the lives of those like Balian, living examples of courage, faith and love. We may never again see A kingdom of heaven, but that doesn't mean those few can't make a stand. One person may not be able to change the world, but there's no reason one can't touch the lives of those around them.
A king may move a man, but he is still in control of his soul.
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