Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I am a fan of any movie that involves a group of people going on a mission. We know that the unknown that they walk into will be full of danger and not everyone will make it out alive. However, there will always be one person who lives to tell the tale.
This time the quest takes place in Europe during the time of the Black Death which claimed nearly a third of Europe's population.
The late 1300s were not a fun time to be alive. Aside from the general lack of sanitation, the illiteracy, the bad food and the absence of anything resembling television, they had the Black Death or bubonic plague to worry about.
The disease attacked without warning and often whole villages were decimated by the sickness that was carried by mites and fleas on rats. It spread rapidly and presented itself as boils on the neck and under the arms.
This was also a time of great paranoia where it seemed that even God was unable to stop the deaths. It's not totally beyond understanding that some would following anyone, even the Devil, if it meant a chance for life. Many who were believed to be witches or in league with evil were routinely burned at the stake because of superstition.
Animals such as cats were seen as familiars to these witches and were killed in great numbers. Unfortunately this had the effect of increasing the rat population (and rats like to live around humans because we make it easy for them to thrive) and thus the number of plague victims.
This is how our tale begins. A knight called Ulric (Sean Bean) on an errand for a Bishop has come to a monastery looking for a guide to lead him and his men to a village that is rumored to be unaffected by plague. Bean is always good in these period pieces. He is part Richard Sharpe and part Boromir and it is his character's faith that anchors this tale.
There has been talk that these villagers have forsaken God in favor of a demon or a necromancer (one who can raise the dead). Whispers of cannibalism and human sacrifice have reached the ears of those beyond the village. What else can good god-fearing church men like the Bishop do but send a group of soldiers to investigate this claim?
A young monk volunteers to lead these soldiers to the village they seek. He is our naive eyes and ears to understanding the world outside his sheltered monastery.
Along with their swords, the soldiers also bring with them torture devices in case the villagers are not too keen on divulging their secrets willingly. It was very common for people to be tortured and burned at the stake if they were suspected of doing evil and could be accused on the slightest of evidence. Even your words could damn you.
I found this to be a really interesting tale of faith and how powerful a motivating force it can be. These men witness and participate in some pretty horrendous events but they can justify it through their belief in a higher being. They would rather die horrible deaths than renounce their beliefs.
As Ulric says when he is challenged by the monk for killing a woman believed to be a witch, "Killing witches IS God's work." Ulric believes he spared that woman's suffering that would have come from being burned alive. I can't argue with his mercy.
The film makes terrific use of the landscape and scenery. The pale of death hangs over everything and the director gets full use out of the setting. I was reminded of the novel 'Heart of Darkness' where things get worse the further and further the main characters travel into the dead land.
There is genuine mystery here too. What exactly IS going on in this village? How have they been able to avoid the Black Death that is claiming lives in villages all around them? It is a strange oasis of calm in an otherwise sick and dying land.
If I was one of the mercenaries and I had to evaluate all that I had experienced, I might reach the same mistaken opinions as they do.
The movie is visceral and violent. The fight scenes are realistically brutal. As I said at the beginning, not everyone is going to come out of this alive.
This is a different tale of the middle ages than I had ever seen before. It's very progressive in it's thinking but does a good job presenting it's message.
What is more dangerous - faith in God or not believing that anything like heaven or hell even exists? I don't know the answer to that question but I know that evil lurks in the heart of all men and how they justify it's expression is immaterial. Neither side comes out of this movie as a good example to be followed. I appreciated the ambiguity I was left with and that is a rare thing to take from any movie.
Posted by Kal at 12:35 AM