If you want an antidote to the tired old clichés and superficial treatment of important events in European history, and the role faith played in it, by the mainstream film industry, then Arn: The Knight Templar (2007) might be a refreshing break from the usual Hollywood fare. A Swedish film that broke the record of the most expensive Scandinavian film ever can compete with any big Hollywood production with excellently executed battle scenes, costumes and on-location shooting.
The movie is based on the first two novels of Jan Guillo’s historical fiction Crusade trilogy, combining real historical events in twelfth century Sweden and in the Holy Land with fictional characters and occurrences. Arn Magnussen the main character is a deeply thoughtful and devout character whose journey of faith and love is made complicated by political intrigues between rival families fighting for control in the remerging Kingdom of Sweden and vindictive and proud crusaders in the Holy Land. Arn grows up in a monastery were his natural talent for swordsmanship is discovered and nurtured by a former crusader and Knight Templar. He is instructed in both the arts of war and scholarship and upon reaching majority decides to leave the monastery to rejoin his family and the world. His upbringing has made Arn into a model of the devout and chivalrous European knight who only kills when necessary and devotes his life to the defense of family, faith and the innocent.
Instead of making Arn into an ahistorical skeptic and cynic as movies like The Kingdom of Heaven do, Arn remains faithful to the end, recognizing honor even in his enemies (he becomes friends with archenemy Saladin) and malice in supposed friends. The medieval Church also gets a fair treatment. Contrary to the famous doubts of the returning crusader in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Arn remains a believer and sees the goodness of God in his own life. Arn is not a swashbuckling adventurer, one rather gets the impression that every kill he makes fills him with regret and that he longs for the cool forests of his and his beloved’s homeland, while fighting the Saracens in the dusty plains of Palestine.
The Knights Templar are not a secretive sect, fanatical in their “Islamophobic” hatred (modern understanding), but a devoted group of soldiers and clerics dedicated to defense of faith and honor. Neither the Templars nor the Church are immune to corruption and power struggles between families fighting for influence, and neither Arn nor his beloved, confined to a convent controlled by a vindictive mother superior, member of a rival family, blames the Church or God for their plight. Contrary to many moderns they are able to distinguish between the Church as a spiritual hospital for the soul and the corrupt and fallen nature of many in positions of leadership within it. This perhaps is the lesson we moderns can take from the excellent film, while still satisfying our taste for sword fights and romance.
Books mentioned in this essay as well as other related works may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.