“I Am Not Those Men”: Distinctive Character and Morality in “Kingdom of Heaven”
James Walpole/ October 29, 2018
SPOILER ALERT: This post contains major spoilers for the ending of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.
One of my favorite scenes in all of film comes from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.
The Christian lord Balian has organized a (so far) successful defense of Crusader-held Jerusalem against the much larger Muslim forces of Saladin. But he knows that the fight will ultimately go badly for the city’s defenders, so he meets Muslim general Saladin in a truce to discuss terms:
“I am not those men. I am Saladin.”
With this response, Balian (and the audience) can know with a good deal of confidence that Saladin will keep his word. He won’t harm Jerusalem’s inhabitants if they surrender.
In the bloody, treacherous world of the Crusades, you could trust almost no one. But Saladin’s reputation as a relatively compassionate and honorable leader was firm. His character was so well-formed that the idea of his treachery was unbelievable. And so in the movie, the Christians and Muslims both avoid further death.
“Everyone else is doing it/has done it/will do it” is one of the most common excuses for treachery and immorality and all sorts of evil, from the Crusaders to now. So what if we had (movie version) Saladin’s response?
Temptation to lie like everyone else? “I am not those men.”
Temptation to engage in casual racism or sexism? “I am not those men.”
Temptation to shirk duty or quit? “I am not those men.”
Temptation to hurt or bully the weak? “I am not those men.”
We should remember that we are not the same as the people who choose evil. We are ourselves. And we should all want to develop the sort of character that will allow us to say (movie version) Saladin’s words with conviction in our own contexts.