Sunday, 27 September 2015

A Hero's Journey: Kingdom of Heaven

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster

    Kingdom of Heaven is a 2005 historical epic directed by Ridley Scott. The story revolves around the exploits of the Frenchman Balian (Orlando Bloom), who travels to the Holy Land in 1184 in an attempt to find forgiveness after the passing of his wife. While in the kingdom of Jerusalem, Balian is swept up in the politics of the time and must make a new life for himself in the years building up to the Third Crusade.

    I looked into studying the director's cut version rather than the theatrical release as this was the version Scott himself considered the true version (McCusker, 2006) of his creation. As demonstrated by the extended edition of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott has developed a talent for the director's cut.

    It is a classic hero's journey of travelling to a distant land, experiencing a new world and staring down a strange and fearsome opponent with our hero eventually emerging from the ordeal all the wiser.

Elements present

  1. Call to Adventure: Balian was approached by Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), who asks him to join him on a journey to Jerusalem.  
  2. Refusal of the Call: Spending much of the first part depressed, Balian turns down Godfrey's request.
  3. Supernatural Aid: Godfrey of Ibelin
  4. Crossing the Threshold: Godfrey's party is attacked by soldiers sent for Balian who sought to arrest him for a murder he committed just before leaving his village.
  5. The Belly of the Whale: Messina, where Balian encounters Muslims and crusader knights.
  6. Road of Trials: Balian learns what it means to be a nobleman in the Holy Land, gathering allies and enemies.
  7. Meeting the Goddess: Baldwin IV (Edward Norton), king of Jerusalem
  8. Woman as Temptress: Sibyila (Eva Green), who makes her affections for Balian clear despite being married to the Templar Guy de Lusignan (Martin Csokas).
  9. Atonement with the Father: Baldwin IV's respect for Balian becomes so great that on his deathbed, the king suggests executing Guy de Lusignan and giving Balian Sibyila's hand in marriage for the sake of Jerusalem's integrity
  10. Apotheosis: Guy de Lusignan, who drunk with power commits atrocity after atrocity to provoke the Saracens. His recklessness ends up giving Balian command of the city.
  11. The Ultimate Boon: The response to Balian knighting every able-bodied man in Jerusalem gives him confidence to see to the defense of the city
  12. Refusal of Return: Tiberias (Jeremy Irons) elects to evacuate to Cyprus, Balian turns his offer down.
  13. Magic Flight: Saladin's (Ghassan Massoud) assault on Jerusalem 
  14. Rescue from Without: Saladin, who after three days of besieging Jerusalem offers everyone freedom to leave the city unharmed.
  15. Crossing the Return Threshold: The journey back to France
  16. Master of Two Worlds: Balian is a respected blacksmith and a hero.
  17. Freedom To Live: Balian and Sibyila, who live happily in France. Balian has recovered from his depression.

The Worlds

  1. Separation: France
  2. Initiation: The Holy Land
  3. Return: The Holy Land, France
    After watching the film I came to realise that the film possessed a few twists to the classic Hero's Journey formula that did leave me thinking a little. The most significant being that the person who rescues Balian from his struggles in the Siege is Saladin himself, the city's assailant. In regards to the apotheosis moment I wondered who had changed the most, Initially it appeared to be Hospitalier, as like Ben Kenobi he gave his life to embolden Balian. But then I realised: After Baldwin's death, Guy de Lusignan went completely off-the-rails. He went out of his way to provoke Saladin by killing Muslims, and after decapitating a messenger rather aggressively murmurs "I am Jeruselem" to himself,  a line Baldwin had said to Reynald de Chatillion earlier on after the former punished the latter for provoking Saladin into attacking Kerak des Chevaliers. But while other stories do this to make the villain more of a threat to the hero, the consequences of Guy's decisions are the inverse: Balian becomes commander of the city while Guy ends up a trophy prisoner paraded by Saladin. 


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