Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Films, Diplomacy, and Odd Moments of Fellow-Feeling

I got an email from an old school friend the other day who I knew back in sixth-form. She's studying economics now down near London, and planning to live there, so I probably won't see her again until we get our certificates - but it reminded me of how we actually became friends, because, in an odd way, it was all to do with Ridley Scott and Kingdom of Heaven. If it wasn't for that, we'd probably still be just nodding acquaintances.

Back in 2006, when I was a first year sixth-former, we had Theology classes once a week. The teacher was indifferent, the subject primarily to do with drawing cheerful religious posters rather than much actual work, and all in all, it was one of the lessons you set your teeth through, endure silently, and then get out a decent book on anything you want to know. But my friend in question (let's call her X), got called upon to do a presentation on Islam by the teacher, thinking it would be an enriching moment for us all.
Well, schoolkids can be horribly unmerciful. It was the September after there were the bombings in London, and you could just tell, by the bored, self-complacent looks on the faces of a few of the girls, that they were going to bombard poor X with terrible insensitive questions which had nothing to do with actual Islam. And poor X, who had come up with a really informative and entertaining Powerpoint on the subject (I couldn't produce a decent presentation to save my life on my own religion, let alone a Powerpoint) just stood there, looking nervous and embarassed and unhappy, as the teacher handed out slips of paper for us to write out anonymous questions we had for her.
And I couldn't think of anything. My mind went totally blank. Everyone else was writing busily, and I didn't have a decent question in my head. The only thing I really, really wanted to know was...
Does the portrayal of Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven tally with what Muslim historians know about him?
It was the only question I could think of, but I used it in the end, knowing it sounded stupid. Besides, what if she hadn't even seen the film? It was a ridiculously nerdy question, and I was half-tempted to just not hand in a question. But, for some reason, I let it stand.
X was very patient throughout the whole Q and A session, mostly fielding questions like 'what's the veil thing called?'
I thought she'd ignore mine. It wasn't exactly relevant, after all. But it was something I really wanted to know, and I was resigned to being a polite nuisance when, at the very end of the lesson, she said 'Who asked the Kingdom of Heaven question?'

I tentatively stuck my hand up, thinking I was going to be pilloried by the teacher for this. But X looked really, genuinely interested - and then she went on to give a wonderful explanation about the subject. It turned out she adored the movie too! it was she who first mentioned Imad al Din to me, although it was some time before I associated him with Balian's encounter in the desert. Okay, so it was off-topic, and we bored the rest of the class stiff with our medieval history swapping. But it was a real connection that day, and it began a really great friendship for the next two years.
And all through a moment's obsession! Although, in the end, it turned out to be quite ironic. A boy in my class - in fact the only boy in my class, through a freak of class planning, got rather heated when we discussed Reynaud de Chatillon. He belonged to the 'Da-Vinci Code' cult and had a deluded image of the Templars as perfect guardians of secret truths. I feel slightly guilty about shattering his illusions (just slightly, mind you); we argued about it every day for the next three months of Theology classes until I persuaded him to watch the movie.
Life's an odd thing. But it's great that even in odd moments you can find felloe sympathisers, and that's possibly one of my best memories of sixth-form.

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