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[Wednesday, March 05, 2003]


Back to the movies

The first comment-worthy movie I've seen in awhile is called Destiny, and is a Franco-Egyptian costume drama about Averroes (ibn Rushd), the 12th-century Muslim philosopher, theologian, logician, and commentator on Aristotle. Logicians don't get their own movies very much, so this was an event not to be missed.

Obviously, of course, not much action comes out of ratiocination and writing, so the plot is driven by Averroes' opposition to fanaticism and fundamentalism. Subtlety is not the order of the day here: the fanatics are glass-eyed thugs in green who mutter things like "Every throat I cut brings me closer to Paradise"; they are led by a sinister Emir who supposedly only removes his creepy executioner's-style hood once a year, although we see his face several times.

But, of course, such people actually exist, which is what gives the movie its teeth. In the movie, the fundies are secretly in league with the looming Spaniards, which I'm not sure I buy.

Averroes' household is a paradigm of moderation and tolerance: the Caliph's sons rub elbows with dancing-girls and Frankish students. The philosopher's wife and daughter take part in conversation as equals. They eat good food, they sing and dance, they study; they enjoy life. Averroes tries to talk reason to an increasingly megalomaniacal ("I am Andalusia!") and fundie-appeasing Caliph ("These barbarians are destroying our culture!"), but to little avail. Death threats, arson and exile loom for our hero.

The history seems decent. Small quibbles: I'm not sure there was an Inquisition in the formal sense in the 12th century, as alluded to in the opening scene; I'm also not sure there was still a Caliphate of Cordoba, in the strict sense. Large quibble: why aren't there any Jews in this movie? At all? Maimonides was a contemporary of Averroes, and was influenced by him, though I have no clue if they ever met. Regardless of that, since we see him with a Christian student it's not difficult to imagine Jewish students as well, and whatever about that there would certainly be Jews in the economic and political life of an Andalusian city, and yet unless there were a few making 'rhubarb' noises in a crowd scene I didn't see any. Given that Destiny comes (in part) from a country where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are considered (at least by the government-run media; general opinion, of which I know little, may be completely otherwise) prime-time entertainment, I suppose mere absence is better than caricature.

On a more blessedly irrelevant-to-the-current-situation note, I also discover here that one of Averroes' translators into Latin was Hermannus Alemannus, better known to English-speakers as Herman the German, one of my father's favourite medieval names - along with Robert the Bugger.

posted 3:26 PM |