Friday, May 13, 2005

Kingdom of Devon

Wouldn't make a very interesting film, unless it was a return to the Goodies' story about the bunfight at the OK Tea rooms (what do you mean you haven't seen it? never mind...)

Anyway, Ridley Scott's film Kingdom of Heaven - sort of a cross between Magnficent Seven and Zulu with a bit of the Gladiator charm thrown in.

Certainly, it wasn't schlock post 9-11 malarky I'd kind of expected from everyones favourite transatlantic Teessider movie maker. OK, so the film centres on the classic existential hero, he's autonomous, has no links to anyone, comes to a place - a new world (!) - where old structures and forms of feudal Europe don't apply and a man by his own industry may make himself - the Western elements of the film, more or less. Nicely unspoken is the fact that he can only do this because he is the bastard child of a baron who gives him an army and position, but that is easily forgotten as he repeatedly proves himself in bravery, virtue and honour throughout the film.

The Zulu bit is the end, which I will sort of spoil for anyone who doesn't know the result of the crusades. The crusaders lose, big style. But through bravery, ingenuity and resilience, Bloom's character wins a reprieve for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and they are allowed to evacuate the city peacefully. The Zulu element. Against the odds,a nd for no good reason, men stand their ground, and risk death. By being prepared to die, they prove themselves to be human, and (the important bit) gain the recognition of the Other - the Zulus or the Muslims - they win, er, respect.

The film is ideologically anti-ideology - religious fanatics are nut-jobs and idiots, no sympathetic character actually believes in God, and Bloom's triumph comes from an appeal to the lives of the people, to nation rather than religion. This, though, is just anotehr ideology. Bloom is bound by an oath to defend the people, just as the defenders of Rorke's drift are bound by orders to hold their ground. They cannot explain why, indeed, both films make a virtue of the pointlessness (as does Saving Private Ryan) of the heroism. That is, the ideology of duty beyond reason, you will because you must, is all the more powerful than any rationale to go to war.

Thuswise Bloom's character 'knights' all the men in the city, drawing them into the bounds of duty and obedience, because that will make them better fighters. They will fight for their own existence as honourable entities, for their aspirations to honour and duty, not for God. Theirs is a Modern battle, as a supposed modern audience we are supposed to sympathise. We are not supposed to like the idea of the Templar bloodlust for religion or personal glory and ambition - fine feudal traits though they are - we are supposed to enjoy dutiful heroism.

This argument is a work in process, I know where it is going, it may take more time to hammer it into sense, but I can see the shape there. I'll try another quick analogy - think Fraser's Flashman books - there is an enjoyment there because of the success of Victorian ideology. Flashman thinks himself a cad and a bounder, he doesn't want to be a military hero, but the Victorian structures are such that they make him one against his will. That is the central joke. The absence of fanatcism contains the servitude of a fanaticism.


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