Arn, the Knight Templar is a Swedish movie about a real Knight Templar and his true love. Their true story is full of tragedy and adventure. Arn is like something from Hollywood’s Golden Age, when Hollywood believed – or, at least, “believed” – in the eternal verities. It is not sublime. But it is Good, through and through.
It is frank about the corruption of the Church, without being in the least anti-clerical. Indeed, it is suffused with the highest, most sublime devotion, spiritual courage, and sacrifice. It is frank about the stupidity of war and of the Christian predicament in Outremer, without being anti-war or anti-Crusades. It takes the Crusades as a normal, natural way for a society to behave, in rather the way we take the Anglo-American reaction to Hitler. It is forthright about the occasional brutality and chaos of High Medieval culture, without being anti-Medieval. The movie honors the Church, Christianity, the Crusades, chivalry, monasticism, the Templars, the High Medieval cosmopolitanism that has Swedes talking to each other in Swedish, English, Latin, French – and at the same time gives the viewer the fullness of life, including the horrible ugly bits.
There is much good acting, from almost complete unknowns. It has lots of Romance, as well as action, and family values, too, to the bitter extremities of loyalty and of feud. The love scenes are never sexy, only sweet: “you have stolen my heart, with a single glance,” says the young hero, and we totally believe it; we feel it, we remember the dizzy vertigo of finding that our life belongs suddenly to another.
The battle scenes are great, the fencing convincing, the horsemanship superb. My son, something of an expert on historical weaponry, spotted no anachronisms in the arms and armor, or for that matter the tactics or the recounting of actual historical battles. This never, ever happens; movies about the Middle Ages are always anachronistic. My son was particularly impressed that in the movie the Templars all had beards, which was a requirement of their order. They are also shown always in chain mail (and what is more, it is just the sort of chain mail that the Templars actually wore in that era), another of their requirements. All sorts of little details are correct.
Perhaps the most important of Arn’s virtues is that the whole plot hinges upon the obedience of the two protagonists to the authority of the Church, even though they know that authority is being wielded corruptly against them for secular political gain. It’s really serious obedience, too. Neither of them grumble, or make the argument that they are being treated unjustly. It is this response to authority that, above all its other virtues, recommends Arn to traditionalists. The movie is a window into a traditional Western society.
Love, tragedy, adventure, friendship, faith, fealty, loyalty, honor, valor, doom, victory, defeat, death, redemption; it’s all here. And it all happened, on this our little planet, to people not so different from us, and not so long ago.