21 August 2014 | siderite
Wondrous movie, about the good old days. Sort of :)
The two hours and a half movie has a lot of good things going for it. First there is the acting, coming from people that are mostly quite unknown, but which is good even for actors in secondary roles. Stellan Skarsgård and Ben Kingsley do, as expected, a great job. Then there are the landscapes, starting from wet green Britain and ending in the Arabian desert. But of course, the best of it all is the story.
In an age where Europe is a cesspool of ignorance and filth, while the East is where the knowledge resides, the plot follows a young boy witnessing the death of his mother from an incurable disease, which I assume is appendicitis, and grows to want to become a healer. Pretending to be a Jew, he travels to the Middle East to train with a famous and wise healer, played by Kingsley. He proceeds in defeating diseases, healing friends and finding the love of his life, while religious extremism and violence stretch through the region.
Now, I have some qualms with some of the details of the story. I understand they tried to describe a larger piece of history in the span of a single movie and I also understand that drama requires brutal realism while the mechanisms of movie making require happy endings and satisfying the money people. However, there are some things that just don't sit well, like presenting Europeans as filthy barbarians using their faith only to oppress, the Arabs as either tyrants or violent zealots, while Jews are all nice, helpful and never take up weapons to hurt anyone. This kind of unilateral bias sours an otherwise quite nice and beautiful story. The repeated scenes of the Torah burning (oy vey) while tomes of medical knowledge burning in Ibn Sina's university were mere an afterthought is one of those things, too.
Bottom line: the switch from filthy barbarism to enlightened richness, from decadence to overzealous morality, from peaceful people to thieves and murderers and all back again makes for an inconsistent world. However it is a nicely presented world, with interesting well played characters in epic journeys that change their and the viewer's perspective on the world. A well done movie, I would have preferred it less biased and more focused, but one can't look a horse gift in the mouth; after all, how many new movies are there to advocate science and knowledge over special effects and cheap emotions? Good film. You should watch it.