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Friday, May 14, 2010

Poetic license

I really like movies and I also like history, so when I get the chance to see an historical movie, I'm happy, even knowing that there are likely to be inaccuracies in the storyline. I had a post a few days ago on the movie Agora, about Hypatia, and some concerns have been raised about its accuracy vis-à-vis the part Christians play in it. I guess I understand the concerns, but I think they're overblown. Movies like Agora aren't documentaries, they may tweak history a bit for dramatic effect but they don't exist for the purposes of education - they're entertainment. It can be hard enough to make history come alive and matter to people, so I guess I believe we should consider ourselves lucky to get an historical movie that's interesting. Hopefully, whatever inaccuracies exist will be addressed in reviews and maybe they'll even spur people to do some historical research of their own (call me an optimist :). For example, here are a few movies that are in some senses historically inaccurate, yet still worth a watch .....

Clive is Arthur

* King Arthur was a 2004 film starring Clive Owen as the main character. Interestingly, it also mentions St. Germanus of Auxerre, bishop of Auxerre in Gaul, and Pelagius, a monk who denied the idea of original sin and free will dependent on grace - he was eventually declared a heretic. The movie was kind of fun, though it has its share of inaccuracies and liberties taken with history in respect to Pelagianism, the dates events took place, who Arthur was really, the weapons and armor used, etc. - the Wikipedia page has quite a bit on this aspect of the film. My post - King Arthur, student of Pelagius :)

* Luther was a 2003 movie about Martin Luther which starred Joseph Fiennes. I liked this film very much - especially the way the Luther of the movie felt about Jesus/God (and of course his rejection of indulgences :) - but it has omissions (doesn't mention he was ok with polygamy or that he spoke vehemently against the Jews) and the Wikipedia page for the film has a long list of the inaccuracies therein. My post - Luther

Joseph is Luther

* Becket is a 1964 movie about St. Thomas Becket, starring Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole. I checked it out recently from the library and it was entertaining. It tells about how Becket became a martyr by supporting the church against the King of England. It won an Academy Award, but was full of inaccuracies, though :) - the Wikipedia page makes note of them. My post - Becket

* Alexander Nevsky was a 1938 Russian movie directed by Sergei Eisenstein and with music by Sergei Prokofiev, about St. Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod. I saw the movie when I was in college. Did it contain inaccuracies? Well, it was a propaganda film requested by Stalin to raise anti-German/Nazi feeling (the Teutonic bishops had swastikas on their miters!), so you might say it was slanted, yet it's a classic. Here's part of my past post about this film .....

[...] it describes a 13th century conflict between the Russian (and Eastern Orthodox) people of Novgorod and the Catholic Teutonic Knights, ending in an epic battle on a frozen lake. The story would be interesting enough if it were fiction, but it's based on real events during the Baltic Crusades.

The Crusades were “armed pilgrimages” called and blessed by the Pope, originally to reclaim Jerusalem and its surrounding territory in the Middle East, both considered “holy land,” for the Catholic Church. The enemies in these Crusades were supposed to be non-Christian, primarily followers of Islam. As the balances of power shifted in the 12th century, the Eastern Orthodox Church, based in Constantinople and the seat of the Christian Byzantine Empire, became a focus of the Crusades as well ... the motivation of the combatants—primarily knights and princes—was more related to acquisition of land and power than holiness, although the granting to Crusaders of eternal salvation by the Pope was a meaningful incentive. - The Baltic Crusade

The Teutonic Knights, founded in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade, took over most of the crusading and missionary work of the Baltic Crusades after the fall of Acre in 1291. With the help of Sweden, the Knights planned a joint campaign against the city of Novgorod, and that's when Alexander Nevsky joins the story.

Alexander (1220-1263) was the son of Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich of Novgorod and to him fell the task of defending the city. The Swedes, who were encouraged to invade both by a gain of the fur trade in the region and by a papal bull advocating the religious conversion of those Orthodox, disembarked on the banks of the Neva river in July 1240. The twenty year old prince Alexander took his small army and, with a surprise attack, completely routed the Swedes. The battle saved Russia from a full-scale invasion from the North and Alexander was thus given the name of “Nevsky”.

In the spring of 1241, Novgorod was again threatened, this time by the Teutonic Knights. Alexander gathered a rag-tag army and on April 5, 1242, faced and defeated the cavalry of the Knights on the ice of Lake Chudskoye/Peipsi - the German invasion was derailed.

Alexander’s victory was a significant event in the history of the Middle Ages. Russian foot soldiers had surrounded and defeated an army of knights, mounted on horseback and clad in thick armor, long before they learned how foot soldiers could prevail over mounted knights in Western Europe. Nevsky's great victory against the Teutonic Order apparently involved only a few knights killed rather than the hundreds claimed by the Russian chroniclers; decisive medieval and early modern battles were won and lost with small forces to modern eyes. The cultural value of the victory greatly outshone its strategic value, at the time and ever since. - Wikipedia

Alexander faced other problems, including vassalage to the Tartars, but he managed to maintain for his Russia the religious, if not political, freedom that he'd defended from the Swedes and the Germans. For these reasons, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Alexander in 1547.

- the bad guys - the Teutonic Knights


Blogger Liam said...

I really want to see Alexander Nevskii. I'd like to see Luther eventually, though I have very mixed feelings about Luther himself. He was obviously right about indulgences, but he had a very dark view of human nature. If you don't like Augustine, you really wouldn't like Luther.

Don't forget his instructions to the German princes to crush the peasant revolt with extreme brutality.

9:47 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

A wee dude! :)

Yeah, the movie left out much of the negative of Luther - it did show the violence and gave him some blame for it, if I remember correctly. He had a great sermon in the movie too ....

Terrible. Unforgiving.
That's how I saw God.
Punishing us in this life,
committing us to Purgatory
after death,
sentencing sinners to burn in hell
for all eternity.
But I was wrong.
Those who see God as angry...
do not see Him rightly...
but look upon a curtain
as if a dark storm cloud
has been drawn across His face.
If we truly believe
that Christ is our Savior...
then we have a God of love,
and to see God in faith
is to look upon
His friendly heart.
So when the devil throws
your sins in your face
and declares that you deserve
death and hell, tell him this...
"I admit that I deserve
death and hell. What of it?
"For I know One who suffered
and made satisfaction in my behalf.
"His name is Jesus Christ,
Son of God.
Where He is,
there I shall be also."

12:42 PM  

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