Steven D. Greydanus beats the stuffing out of King Arthur

The Decent Films critic showed up at the Arts and Faith Conversation ranting about the latest big screen Arthur…

What a travesty.

Give Troy this much: It made an attempt to hit basic plot points from the Trojan war story. This King Arthur includes one (1) plot point from Arthur’s career — his crucial victory over the Saxons at Mount Badon — but beyond that it’s pretty much a bust. Compared to King Arthur, First Knight was a slavish staging of Malory.

What’s the point of calling your film King Arthur and then basing it on a wholely original fictional plotline (involving the rescue of a Roman family from enemy territory) bearing no relation whatsoever either to anything in the Arthurian canon or to historical events?

What possesses a screenwriter to believe that he can take legendary and mythical figures whose deeds have been celebrated for centuries, and rather than retelling or reimagining their story substitute his own original plot, and that’s going to be just as good and just as interesting? Because it isn’t.

(Come to think of it, I know where I’ve seen this plotline before: Fuqua’s own Tears of the Sun, with Bruce Willis in the King Arthur role: A stoic war leader is ordered to foray into hostile territory to escort designated civilians to safety, and winds up rebelling against his commanding authority. I’ll have to give this some more thought.)

What’s the point of contriving to have a character in your story named Lancelot, and then not developing any sort of triangle between Lancelot, Guinevere, and Arthur? Why call the character Lancelot, and give him absolutely nothing in common with the established character by that name, including his central dramatic function?

Why name another knight Galahad who is no relation to Lancelot? For that matter, why have Galahad, Lancelot, Gawaine, and Bors, but not Cai? Having Arthur’s foster brother in the story could only have helped the character and the drama. For example, had it been Arthur’s brother rather than another knight who is killed at a key juncture, it would have made Arthur’s climactic battle with the knight’s killer much more personal and potentially affecting. (Again, Troy did this better, with Hector’s killing of Patroclus. Not to mention the climactic battle between Achilles and Hector was ten times the spectacle and drama of Arthur’s battle with the heavy here.)

And then there’s the theological angle. I must admit I was caught off-guard by a contemporary action film mounting a rehabilitation campaign for the founder of Pelagianism. True, it doesn’t go much into the nature of the heresy, except to vaguely (and dubiously) connect Pelagius’s exaggerated regard for free will with the film’s own celebration of “freedom” and in particular tolerance and respect for those of other faiths. By contrast, orthodox or institutional Christian belief is identified with imprisoning pagans in underground dungeons to starve to death listening to psychotic monks intoning the liturgy for the salvation of their souls. Uh huh.

The film makes a big deal about Arthur’s appreciation of Pelagian teaching, so that it can pull the rug out from under him and show how sadly misguided he is for his belief and loyalty to Rome and the Church. Repeatedly we’re told that Arthur has believed in or been loyal to “a Rome that doesn’t exist.” So Arthur is a Christian — the one good Christian in the film — but he’s a misguided and conflicted Christian, a Christian with an identity crisis. “I belong to this land,” Guenevere taunts him. “Do you belong anywhere, Arthur?” Of course he has no reply; he’d like to say he belongs in and to Rome, but of course that would be a Rome that doesn’t exist.

So I find the film prejudicial to Christianity and Catholicism on top of its other problems, which include a boring climactic battle scene.

 

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  • Neville

    Read the book “Gilliam on Gilliam.” It will change the way you view the man. For instance, he was a good ole’ Christian until he was 18 when he left the church b/c it was too “predictable.” He wanted mystery, the church he attended had no room for mystery. Also, it’s interesting that his best friend growing up was a P.K. You’ll never watch “Brazil,” or “12 Monkeys” or “The Fisher King” the same way I again after checking out the book..I promise. Very interesting read.

  • Levi Nunnink

    A large part of me agrees with Gilliam but I also understand why Christians attack people who blaspheme. (And let’s face it, the humor Gilliam and Co. engage in is often blasphemous)

    I think if someone made a movie about my wife depicting her as a pr*stitute – even if in fun – I would be very angry. Therefore, it seems silly when people mock Jesus (the person Christians pray to every day, the person who has redeemed their lives, the person they should love more than any other) and act like Christians are idiots when offended.

    Nevertheless, such reaction from Christians is wrong. Didn’t Jesus say to expect such a thing? And like Gilliam says, it can do no harm to the faith. We need to become more like Jesus under the mocking of the Roman soldiers than Peter swinging a sword.


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