Kingdom of Heaven is a medieval movie directed from the director Ridley Scott, at 2005. Starring Orlando Bloom and Eva Green, the film takes place at Medieval Times during the aftermath of the first Crusade. We are going to review the story of the movie, to analyze the symbolisms of Ridley Scott, to see the real history behind the myth and to experience faith, through this marvelous movie.
So, the story starts at 1184 AD, in France. Jerusalem was under Crusader control for around 100 years. Although the success of the Europeans to conquer the Holy Land, the situation of the people actually living in Europe, is abysmal. Famine and poverty, like the plague, scours the earth.
Our main protagonist is Balian, a simple blacksmith, who has just lost his wife. His wife’s brother, a priest, a genuinely bad man, tries his best to throw his brother out of the village, due to Balian’s wife commiting suicide, therefore bringing same to the family name. Balian, without him knowing it, is the bastard son of a knight, the brother of the local lord. Balian, having lost his whole world (his wife was pregnant) griefs. Although he has the sympathy of the local lord and bishop, his brother is after his property, as the greedy man he is potraited to be. Although the movie doesn’t refer to it, we can theorize, that there is the possibility of the priest killing his sister, because he is eager to cut her head, in order to prove she committed suicide.
There is a simple problem with this depiction of Europe though, and it is with the true historical background. It is true that the Western world has been through difficult times, but the usual depiction of medieval villages and towns, full of plague, sickness, and death, is far from reality. Historical records show that Europe was an alive society, a mostly happy society, full of events, with Universities and schools. It’s easy to realize why the director wants to depict Europe like that (for the sake of contrast with the Kingdom of Jerusalem) but it usually wrongs the image of Medieval Europe.
It’s easy to understand that the Catholic Church is on the receiving end of the director’s criticism. Balian’s brother in law, although he is a priest, steals, tries to make Balian a bad man like him and tempt him into sin, lies to his bishop and other things. On the other hand, good men, like the bishop and Godfrey, had enough of the Church. They decided to serve the people and not the Pope. That can be seen to the words of the Bishop, when he asks himself “Is that what Jesus would do?”. The lord of the village, brother to Godfrey seems to care a bit less, when he exchanges his opinions on theological matters (“a knight is a knight, a monk, a monk”), showing his simplistic way of thinking, due to lacking of care.
It’s very true and this depiction of Catholic Christianity, reflects the theology of the Western Europe, during this era. Secularism ruled the Catholics and not faith. Headless people in Hell, the possession of the devil in case of a weird attitude, or witchcraft when the Catholics could not understand something, all situations of poor theological understanding of the writtings of the Church Fathers. And that is not remotely close to true faith and belief. Later in the movie, this difference between those two worlds, the religion of the West under the logic of one man (the Pope), and the faith of the East, can be easily seen for one to make the necessary comparisons between them.
Trying to find Redemption
There are two figures in the movie, trying to find redemption for their souls. First, Godfrey, the knight returning from the Holy Land, seeking forgiveness and redemption to the eyes of his son. From him, we learn the backstory of both Balian and Godfrey. Although the efforts of Godfrey to take his son with him, Balian chooses to stay only to follow not by choice, but by need for redemption. Although his attitude towards harshness, he is driven at last to murder his priest-brother, when he said that she cut her head (maybe he realized that her own brother killed her?). He did not just killed a simple man, he killed his brother and a man of the cloth. He knew that he would be persecuted.
The movie doesn’t make it clear, but Balian, does not really care (at the beginning of his journey at least) of finding his father. He wants to find redemption and forgiveness, not even for his own sins, but the sins of his wife. We can say, that, Balian starts from religion, to lose it soon after his arrival at the Holy Lands and try to be reborn as a knight, again into faith. Either way, the script around these sequences was masterful.
It is common in movies to see the main protagonists learn to fight with ease. And in this movie, it seems to be the same case. Although, if we pay attention, Balian is a seasoned warrior, he has been in wars, so he knows the basics of at least defending himself. That’s why he is able to stand against the German warrior of Godfrey. The things he learns from them, is fighting as a knight, not to generally fight to just survive. The characters of Godfrey’s group of soldiers, are quite interesting (for me the German was the most fun) and it was a shame to kill them that quickly.
The next scene, where Godfrey refuses to let Balian be arrested, is followed by a short battle. All the battle sequences of the movie are great. This is a rather small battle between 20 men, roughly, but still it creates the same dynamic with a huge scale battle. The movement of the camera, the light and the setting in general, makes the movie, one with the greatest fighting scenes of all time. During the fight we get a first glimpse of the role of the Hospitaller, which is the guardian of Godfrey (and his physician) and the guardian of Balian. This character may be the most complicated and interesting during the whole movie, due to his anonymity. A small note, a con of the movie, is that it rushes the story of Balian going to Jerusalem and in result we don’t get enough scenes of father and son bonding.
Knight of the Kingdom of conscious
Godfrey, in his last moments makes Balian a knight. This is the actual beginning of the story. Like he says to the end of the movie, that being a knight makes you a better fighter, that is ecxactly what we are seeing right here. Balian is tasked to protect not only the kingdom of Jerusalem, but also support the dream of Baldwin, the king of Jerusalem. Baldwin was known as the leper king, due to his health situation, trying to mantain the peace between his realm and Salahuddin’s. The two kings are the different sides of the same coin. They wish no war, but prosperity. Baldwin, although young (not even 30 years old) he is wise and quickly becomes not only the mentor, but a friend to Balian. We also meet characters like Tiberias and Balian’s nemesis Guy de Lusignan and his accomplise, Raynald of Châtillon.
Guy is married to Sibylla, Baldwin’s sister. Of course it’s a political marriage and that’s why soon she cheats on her husband with Balian. Guy and Raynald do their best to start a war with Salahuddin, due to their fanatisism and their lust for power. Baldwin, does his best to mantain order, although as we will later see, it will not be enough. The good thing of the movie is that there is no confusing politics, and politics as they are, actually matter very little to the plot of the story. I mean, of course we see Tiberias struggling with the merchants that Raynald is attacking, but the important aspect of the movie is how the characters are experience faith and what their attitude on religion is, either it’s good or bad.
For the people
The movie wants to show that Balian will never become an arrogant noble, but he also cannot be a perfect knight, because perfection doesn’t exist. At the scenes of Ibelin, it shows his will to help a dusty small village and transform it into a fertile prosperous land. But the road to become the perfect knight stops when he sleeps with Sibylla. Although it is a beautiful and emotional romantic story, it becomes a roadblock to the path of Balian, because later we will see him struggling with his priorities. Which is more important, Sibylla or Jerusalem?
Happiness though, will not last. Raynald attacks yet again a defenseless Muslim caravan and now Salahuddin is marching on Kerak (Raynald’s fortress). Balian arrives just in time to save the people. In the following battle of course they lose, due to their number dissadvantage, but they stall long enough for the army of Jerusalem to arrive. The connections that various parts of the movies have with each other, are extremely well written and they add to the continuity of the story.
The Muslim that Balian had as “hostage” was Imad, a Muslim general and right hand of Salahuddin. Due to the generosity that Balian showed him in the desert, back when Balian was still travelling to the Holy Lands, he spares Balian and his men. Also, the relationship of Baldwin and Salahuddin is written perfectly, they never where enemies and they admire each other. Salahuddin’s words about him (“You lived next to a great king, you learned nothing from him?”) or the consern for Baldwin’s health (“I will send my physicians”) shows that they are more friends than enemies.
No to a king, dooming a Kingdom
Later, we see Baldwin dying and he needs someone to defend the kingdom of Jerusalem, not against the Saracens, but against the Templars. Baldwin and Tiberias want Guy and Raynald dead for their treachery and Balian to marry Sibylla and rule at her side. At everyone’s surprise Balian says no, quoting back to Baldwin his own words, that the soul of man belongs to the man only. This is crucial for the story. The denial of Balian brings the chain of events that led to the fall of Jerusalem. He thinks that agreeing to a man’s death, he will lose his soul. That’s why he says to Tiberias that “this is a kingdom of conscious or nothing” and also denies Sibylla’s touch. This actually implies that he does not believe in the greater good theory.
At last, Baldwin the leper dies, and the kingdom is passed to the young king. Sibylla and Guy, having agreed upon a diplomatic alliance in order to save the kingdom from a bloodbath from Guy’s side, they rule as regents. Soon they learn that the young king has leprosy too, and Sibylla, not wanting to see her son in a mask like her brother before him, he kills him, unleashing hell upon the kingdom. This very action, her desperation, gave Guy the power he wanted. After that, Raynald of Châtillon will attack and kill Salahuddin’s sister and then the new king, will kill Salahuddin’s emissaries to Jerusalem. The war had began.
The Angel of the Kingdom
Balian, in another New Testament reference, goes out in the desert, trying to find his purpose (like Jesus did before his ministry). There, we see upclose the internal conflict of our protagonist. After casting a stone, a bush catches fire from a sparkle. Balian no longer believes in miracles, no more believes in religion and all that because he feels the burden of conscious on his soul. The mysterious hospitaller, who arrives there, says that because Balian cannot hear God, that does not mean He doesn’t exist. He tries to prepare him for the challenges to come. First the kingdom of Jerusalem, and then the matters of his emotions. The weird from all of this, isn’t what he says, but the fact that he disappears, giving again the impression of a guardian angel.
Later, Guy will send assassins after Balian, almost killing him (maybe they did?). But then again, the hospitaller, out of nowhere appears and touches Balian in the forehead. At the next scene, we see the war council and Balian arrives, just in time to speak against the decision to move out of Jerusalem, for strategical reasons. So, the hospitaller, healed (or resurrected?) the wounded Balian. More questions are raised when the hospitaller dies at the Battle of Hattin (we see his head on a spike). The character of hospitaller, was marvelous, because it was written to be mysterious. He does not even have a name (he is literally called Hospitaller at IMDB).
So, is he an angel? Is he a saint? Is he just a human? We will never know, and that is what makes this movie great.
Protecting the Kingdom of Jerusalem
After Hattin, Balian is left alone to defend the city. Tiberias, his close friend left him alone, thinking that he is forsaken by God. Balian starts the preparations. He fights for terms and the people, not for victory. The thing is, that, not everyone want the city to be saved. This Catholic bishop, tripping into the “laws” wants to defend the city by the pope’s law, with anointed knights and by going against the burning the bodies, because “they will not be resurrected at the Second Coming of the Lord”. Even in danger, he prefers his catholic logic, his idiotic views that he does not believe them himself, putting aside the protection of his people. After the last battle, he also suggests convert to Islam, due to cowardness.
As for the siege battle, it’s epic and chaotic, two crucial aspects for a successful war movie. First, let’s talk about the good staff. The fact that the preparations actually help, it’s a good thing (rocks painted in white, pointing the distance from the city). The tactics from both sides are solid, for example throwing fire at the siege tower, the hooks to bring down the towers (which is fictional but epic) and from the Muslim side, the fact that once they are up the walls, they put a flag. That’s how the Turks took Constantinople, because this flag, broke the spirit of the defenders. That’s why Balian runs to bring the flag down.
Although, not everything is right. The bombardment of the city is epic, but, if no one could have that many of trebuchets. Also, the rapid fire of Salahuddin’s army could destroy the city in an hour. At last, a fictional thing is about the siege towers. They are too many, and not historically accurate at their design. Overall, it’s a great fight.
“I am Salahuddin. Salahuddin!”
After a bloody siege, Balian decides to give up the city, after Salahuddin realizes himself, that his army will break if he continues the siege, having the war to continue even further. During negotiations Balian says something critical to the plot, because it shows us the conflict in him: “I will burn the city and everything in it, that drives men mad”. This is a contradiction with everything we heard at his first speech that “No one has a claim! Everyone has a claim!”. Balian spirit is broken, but his will to save his people make him willing to risk it all.
Salahuddin respects the bravery of the knight that defied the odds and he almost broke his army. He ensures Balian that everyone will have safe passage to the sea. In the question of Balian that why he has to do that, he answers “I’m not these men! I am Salahuddin”.
It is crucial to realize that there are no bad guys to this movie. The real enemy is fanatism. It does not follow the pattern of Christians good and Muslims bad, or the other way around. Every side has its bad guys and good guys. Guy of Lusignan and Raynald of Châtillon, have their counterparts at the side of Salahuddin. Salahuddin, like Balian, like Baldwin the leper, they did not want war, but peace, a kingdom of heaven, a kingdom of conscious.
Salahuddin defeated at last the kingdom of Jerusalem, but he did not laid waste to the city. He respected the Christian faith. When he entered the palace, while other fanatics destroyed the Christian documents, Salahuddin picked up a cross from the ground, and when he entered the Church of the Sepulcher, which became a mosque, he did not step on the cross on the ground. The point that was made, it’s that Salahuddin made war because he was provoked not because he wanted to.
What is Jerusalem Worth?
It’s important for a story to give closure. Many games or movies fail to that aspect, but Kingdom of Heaven, leave no open issues. Guy is punished, he gets what he deserved by the man he despised the most. He is not killed, but he is left alive, to live with himself and his failures. “If you rise, rise a knight”. Balian’s call is for Guy to change his heart. Imad, the Muslim commander and the right hand of Salahuddin, will stay in Jerusalem. He meets for a last time Balian, giving back his horse, giving a closure to their weird but true friendship. He also reminds Balian of God: “If God doesn’t love you, how did you achieve all the things you have done?”.
Later on, Balian will find Sibylla walking, like the rest of the people. He realizes that she gave up on being a queen and they walk together, holding hands. Also, even now, Balian is a man of the people. Instead of riding, he prefers walking.
At the end scene we see Richard king of England, arriving at France, seeking “Balian, the defender of Jerusalem”. At the beginning Balian denies the proposition, saying “I’m just a blacksmith”. Although, at the end we see Balian riding away with Sibylla, probably at Jerusalem. And this is what Jerusalem’s worth is. The kingdom of heaven means a lot more than just city. It is a symbol of hope, a symbol of fullness, a symbol of God’s presence. Salahuddin’s description of Jerusalem is on point. It means nothing, like any other city. And everything, because it is the most special city, but in a spiritual way.
The Real Balian
The truth is that the whole story of Kingdom of Heaven, although the historical core, it’s mostly fictional. Balian was not born at France, but at Ibelin. He, indeed, was a close friend to Baldwin the IV the leper, but also an advisor to Guy of Lusignan. He had no affairs with Sibylla, the wife of Guy, but he was married to a Byzantine princess, Maria Comnena and fought at the battle of Hattin (where the Crusaders were crushed by the Arabs). The historical Balian, was against the decision of Guy to go against Salahuddin, due to the lack of water supplies, but followed his king. He was respected by Salahuddin, so he let him free after the slaughter of Hattin, but he made him swear that he will leave the city, after his family was secured.
Back in Jerusalem, the people wanted Balian, the only nobleman left alive after Hattin, to stay and protect the city. Although his doubts, the Orthodox Patriarch Heraklios, who has no connection to the bishop of the movie, gave him his blessing to stay and protect. The movie is great at depicting the whole siege, except the mistakes written above. After around 15 days of the bloody siege, Balian surrendered the city. The real dialogue between Salahuddin and Balian, was very much alike the movie. The only difference is that the real Balian wanted to destroy the city, not because it was driving mean mad, but because he did not want to see the center of the Christian world, given back to the Muslims.
The Reason Why
The choice behind Balian, was obviously made, because he was the only Christian commander left alive after Hattin. Guy was captured and the majority of the army was destroyed. Although, Ridley Scott, doesn’t want to talk about a historical event, or how Salahuddin took Jerusalem. The whole point of the movie is the conflict of the meanings of religion and faith. He wants to point out the differences between the West Medieval world, with the papal dominance and tyranny over Europe, and the Eastern World, the Arabic Golden Age, that Salahuddin brought.
East and West has always been in dissociation, in cultural and religion matters. At the age of 1054 AD, the Roman Church with the pope, decided to create their own political church, the Catholic Church. That’s why the bishop at Jerusalem is called Patriarch, an Orthodox term. The western Europe had been into the darkness of the pope for hundreds of years, where in the East, the Arabs, and the Byzantines, were exceeding at art, theology, culture and music. That’s the main difference that the director wants to point out, the West versus the East, religion against faith. Many of the viewers, were mad at the fact that Balian was so far from the real Balian, or the depiction of Europe to be so grump and dark. But that is the magic of storytelling. It’s not about the history, but about the message that someone wants to deliver.
Rating of Kingdom of Heaven
It’s fun to watch and has a lot deep message. If someone searches more into the stories of the characters, or if he tries to see the symbolisms behind the story, it is easy to realize the mastery of the director, hiding his messages to spots into the movie, to be revealed by the viewer, like the guardian angel monk.
In general, the story of Balian can easily take an 8 out of 10. It’s solid, without many plot holes. The whole depiction of the world takes an 7 out of 10, because, it doesn’t use an imaginary world, but still depicts the real world at a certain time. And because of that, it has many flaws, at that sector. At last, in terms of action and character development, we can give a 9 out of 10, because you care about everyone, and the movie keeps you interested throughout this three-hour journey.
P.S. I am sorry for the length of the article, but it was a 3 hour movie, and secondly, I have excluded immense details, that originally wanted to include. So, I hope you liked it and found it helpful. Let us know what you think!