Arn: The Knight Templaris a fictional story, not based on real peoples’ stories as documented by historical record and/or the Catholic Church, but set in the real period and circumstances of The Crusades.
The story begins in then-Catholic Sweden with Arn as a pre-teen boy sent to live in a monastery with monks, as Brendan was sent in his formative years to the Abbey of Kells in The Secret Of Kells. Also like Brendan, Arn is not permitted to leave monastery grounds, but the plot of the movie depends on the fact that he manages to illicitly spend a short time outside the walls of the monastery near the beginning of the story.
In this case, however, unlike Brendan, Arn does not voluntarily embark on a holy quest shortly after visiting the outside world, but he meets a young woman about his age and they discover they have feelings for one another. Perhaps unlike Brendan (who may have been orphaned in a Viking raid or who may have had more of an active part in his destiny) Arn had been “promised to God” by parents who were afraid for his survival when he was very sick, and by sending him to live at the monastery, were determined to make the boy fulfil _their_ promise when he was well. (I know of a similar situation in Buddhist Thailand where a woman promised her son to Buddha when he was sick. He now has to become a monk at some point, even though, at the present time, he is a grown man with a girlfriend and a business. The girlfriend stands to acquire the business when he adopts the monastic life.)
While Brendan encounters a girl of the fairy-folk whose role is not sexual and whose presence may not even be physical, Arn’s attraction is more earthly. He sees and becomes attracted to an ordinary flesh-and-blood girl with a lot of physical beauty (she is blonde and graceful) and hears her singing. (Fittingly to Catholic sensibilties, her name turns out to be Cecelia, after the patron saint of music and purported inventor of the organ.)
Unlike in Brendan’s case, or for that matter, the afore-mentioned situation concerning this Buddhist family in Thailand, the older Superior priest at the monastery, having been acquainted with Arn’s disposition growing up, sees that there is a problem with the parents’ having promised someone to God, regardless of his willingness to fulfil the promise or his suitability for monastic life.
Arn’s questionable suitability for the religious life is aptly portrayed by his love of swordplay and, shortly after his admittance to the monastery, his eagerness to aqcuire the training in archery and fencing from an older French-speaking monk he discovers to be skilled in these arts. One major criticism I have with this movie is that, especially in these early scenes, someone will speak a foreign language, and the words will be subtitled in English. Then they will abruptly switch from whatever language they are speaking after a line or two, and then segue into highly-accented English. I know this is meant to be “artistic” or “evocative” but it still bugs me. The old priest decides that Arn should be released from his promise and go home. However, when Arn returns to the home of his birth, he discovers that a rival clan threatens his family’s property rights, and the dispute will be decided by a trial by combat, or duel. Arn offers to fight in his father’s place. What people don’t know is that he learned swordfighting technique and not just literacy in the monastery, and he soon defeats his opponent by cutting his hand off. His notoriety spreads, and Arn meets the young woman again, and she becomes infatuated with him, and they end up doing more than just admiring each other. They become betrothed, and hope to marry soon, because she is with child. While surely this alone was a common enough situation in those times, Cecilia makes the mistake of confiding in her sister with this (then considered scandalous) information. Because of the desperate economic times (perhaps the country’s economy is stretched thin because of participation in the Crusades, a far-off foreign war?) Cecila’s family is feeling the pinch, too, and Cecila’s sister informs her that their father can only afford a wedding for _one_ of them, and that now she will never leave the family home because of Cecilia’s good fortune. (Why she is so desperate to leave home when married life for most women involves much of the same sort of drudgery associated with expected chores in the parental home, and how she previously had hopes to get married when she has no man on the scene is not made clear).
To assure her father’s favor (at least financially), and, likely, out of jealousy, Cecilia’s sister went to the local convent and informed the Mother Superior that Cecelia has gotten pregnant out of wedlock, and embellished the existing situation of sin with a falsehood of her own: she claimed that Arn had had “carnal knowledge” of her on the same night immediately before impregnating her sister. (The truth of the matter, as shown in a visual sequence immediately after her time in the Mother Superior’s office, was that she had come into Arn’s bedroom, and attempted to seduce him, but he had resisted her advances and run away.)
However, only she and Arn know the truth of what happened that night, and the ecclesiastical authorities believe the sister’s false witness. Owing to the fact that unlike in the USA, and in the modern secular nations of the present day, “separation of church and state” is not an idea that has yet taken hold in the civilized world. In that time and place, the Catholic Church and its organizations have a great deal of control over civil government and, at least in this instance, peoples’ personal lives. Apparently, the story doesn’t stay with the Mother Superior, but makes its way to the (male) church hierarchy of that area. The result is that Arn gets “read out from the altar” (something which is thankfully no longer practiced in the church) and this story about his presumed private conduct becomes public knowledge. Arn is now considered a pervert by the church and his community (the Sexual Revolution and the reputation for having a liberal attitude towards sexuality apparently hasn’t yet come to Sweden) and the ecclesiastical authorities determine to physically and socially separate the previously betrothed lovers whom, under other circumstances, they might have merely pushed quickly into a marriage of convenience. Cecelia is taken to the convent and dressed in the habit of a postulant nun (apparently, the belief is that a “bad girl” can be reformed by being placed among presumed “good girls” and physically kept from future occasions of sin). She has the baby at the convent.
One of the other women living the life of a postulant nun in the convent is a woman who apparently comes from the royal family of Sweden, and is able to convey news about the whereabouts and welfare of her son after he is taken away from her shortly after the birth. Though her bona fides are initially dubious, people do later come to take this other woman out of the convent, and drape her with a cloak bearing Sweden’s royal crest. The child is adopted by another family who do not tell him of his origin, but do let her know that he is doing fine.
In the meantime, Arn gets sent back to the monastery, but they tell him that with his particular skill set, he would be more useful in the Holy Land than serving his penance in the monastery. The Superior of the Monastery and the brother who taught him fencing present him with a sword inscribed with “In Hoc Signo Vinces”. The Brother who taught him fencing and archery informs him that he is really a member of the Knights Templar, and says that Arn is offered membership in the Templars, too. (Apparently the legendary Shaolin Monks were not the only fighting clergy). Arn effectively gets drafted. Though his obligation to fight in the Crusades seems like an almost-certain death sentence on the face of it, Arn catches a break when he rids a mountain passage of some dangerous bandits, just as some Arab soldiers are coming to the area. Though Arn explains to them that the Knights Templars are obliged to simply keep the area clear of bandits and the Arabs merely happened to be in the right place at the right time, they consider it as a chivalric gesture (for they are glad to be rid of the bandits) which leads to a response in kind of their own; a parley and potential modus vivendi of limited war.
Meanwhile, back in Sweden, the Mother Superior dies, and Cecelia becomes a surprising dark horse candidate for the job, although, as even she points out, she hasn’t even and doesn’t want to take vows. Though this latter is surprising to the Catholic point of view, (I don’t know if it were ever that someone who was not _technically_ a nun was offered the position of Abbess or permitted to become one) it is not uncommon for a “dark horse” candidate to get elected to the leadership of a monastery, or even to the Papacy, because it effectively puts the “prize” out of reach for those who may be contending for it, and helps keep the peace in such organizations as convents and monasteries. Perhaps because of this technicality, she is permitted to return to “the world” and re-encounter’s her illegitimate child’s adoptive father, and eventually gets the opportunity to see her son again, now that he is a teenager. But she soon feels that she is a “third wheel” in her son’s adoptive family’s household.
Cecelia is about to go back to the convent when Arn returns safely but scarred from the Crusades, and they meet and embrace. They end up building a house together, and it seems like they will live happily ever after, but trouble rears its ugly head again in the form of renewed clan rivalry that threatens to enmesh them. As each clan musters troops in armor, (the rival Sverker clan apparently has the Danes on their side as well) it seems as if Arn must go to war again, this time in his own home country and for the immediate cause of protecting his wife and property. Unfortunately, this time he is not so lucky, but at least gets the comfort of dying in Cecelia’s arms.
There are a couple of instances within this very long movie where the story seems to draw to a natural conclusion, only to have a change of scene and a new plot development and scenario presented.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply