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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Out of the Frying Pan,
Into the Fire

The 13th Warrior on IMDb

Plot Overview

boy misses the draftvolunteers neededthree men on
camelsIn the European Dark Ages, ad 922, Ahmad ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas) is an Arab aristocrat living a life of ease as a poet in beautiful Baghdad. An unhealthy interest in a beautiful married woman results in the Caliph sending him on a concocted diplomatic mission to the far northern land of the Tossuk Vlad. On his way there he encounters a band of Northmen preparing for a funeral and attaches him­self to them—he's an ambassador. A herald arrives from their home­land with a plea for help. The unname­able (“No loquato”) creatures of the mist have been raiding their villages and they require thirteen warriors as reinforcements. Twelve volunteer, but the thirteenth must be other than a Northman. Guess who gets conscripted? Though by no means a seasoned warrior, he quits him­self well in the ensuing battles.


Islam symbol

The Last SupperYou would think that a movie about a Muslim ambassador spreading Islam to the pagans would have little relevance to Christians who for their part would perk up at a movie about their own gospel spread to the heathen … but not so fast. Compare, for example, Donald Barthelme's short story about converting the Aztecs:

Cortés and Montezuma are walking down by the docks. “I especially like the Holy Ghost. Qua idea,” says Montezuma. “The other God, the Father, is also—” “One God, three Persons,” Cortés corrects gently. “That the Son should be sacrificed,” Montezuma continues, “seems to me wrong. It seems to me He should be sacrificed to. Further­more,” Montezuma stops and taps Cortés meaning­fully on the chest with a brown fore­finger, “where is the mother?” (46)

Cortés understands more or less God the Father. Although Muslims don't refer to God as Father, Ahmad does so in this movie. Further­more, he recites the creation story, “In the beginning the Earth was void, and the spirit of God—” from the Torah, recognizing God as Creator. And the Viking Herger the Joyous (Dennis Storhøi) confirms, “In your land one God may be enough, but here we have need of many.”

Montezuma's idea is that the Son should be sacrificed to, and Ahmad's is that “There is only one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” Both need to be navigated around, the one as well as the other.

Montezuma “especially like[s] the Holy Ghost.” For Christians, (Gal. 5:22-23) “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long­suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” This movie could serve as a primer for that last listed fruit: “temperance: against [which] there is no law.”

prayingWebster defines “temperance 1: moderation in action, thought, or feeling: restraint. 2: habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions; specif: moderation in or abstinence from the use of intoxicating drink.” As a Christian ethic temperance1 is expressed as being (1Cor. 9:24-25) “temperate in all things.” Ahmad was temperate in action when his Arabian steed was of modest size compared to the Vikings' bruisers, they navigated a fair piece from land, he fashioned the unwieldy broad­sword they handed him into a proper scimitar, and he helped them construct a “presentable” fence around the village. He was moderate in thought and feeling when he prayed before battle, “But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well.” In literature similar restraint in prayer is contemplated by St. John of Kronstadt: (552)

    Be moderate in all religious works, for moderation, even in virtue, correspondingly to your powers, according to circumstances of time, place, and previous labour, is prudent and wise.  It is well, for instance, to pray with a pure heart, but as soon as there is no correspondence between the prayer and your powers (energy), with the various circumstances of place and time, with your preceding labours, then it ceases to be a virtue.  There­fore the apostle Peter says, (2Peter 1:5) “add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;” (that is, do not be carried away by the heart only); (2Pet. 1:6) “And to knowledge temperance.”

There's a disturbing trend in modern Bible translations to substitute the term self-control for temperance as if only in potential vices one need be moderate. Webster defines, “self-control : restraint exercised over one's own impulses, emotions, or desires.” In this movie they exercised self-control regulating their breathing while traversing an under­water passage­way. That's all well and good, but Herger also exercised self-control to pull his punches in an unequal joust to make a point (“Deception is the point!”) by delaying the kill. That brought objection from Ahmad (“You could have killed him at will,”) of an action contrary to a fruit of the spirit “against [which] there is no law.”

There's a scene in which Ahmad retches upon viewing an abomination. The new translations would have him exercise self-control. But the spirit doesn't enjoin that. (Jer. 6:15) “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: there­fore they shall fall.”

When the English language was younger, temperance meant only temperance1. With Prohibition came temperance2, much discussed until its usage supplanted the first in usual speech. Bible translators to stick with the familiar no longer translated the Greek word as temperance but as self-control. Here the Vikings practiced temperance2 by not drinking the night before battle. The pertinent Bible passage is, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” The foolish, dominant king, i.e. the modern translations, is bettered by the poor but reliable KJV whose words have declined in usage over time as when the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Its dated but sanctified vocabulary, never­theless, makes ordinary speech sound unclean by comparison, like listening to the talk of some­one who's just got out of prison. One does better to learn the KJV's good old vocabulary than to rely on foolish updates.

There's a poignant comparison available here. Ahmad's claw scars were treated by Olga (Maria Bonnevie) whose touch seemed to provide him comfort. They slept bundled together in a large communal room where, although the gentle­man wouldn't say, they slept chaste, i.e. temperate. Self-control in this context would involve not crying out in their passion, which would have scandalized the straight peasants and defamed their guest. It's possible God can use a movie such as this one to remind us, Psalm 50:21, which side the bread is buttered on, and that he expects us to get it together, Psalm 50:22-23.

Production Values

” (1999) was directed by John McTiernan, with reshoots by Michael Crichton. Its screenplay was written by William Wisher and Warren Lewis, based on Michael Crichton's novel, Eaters of the Dead. In the novel the scary beasties were Neanderthals; in the movie they resembled American Indians in furry costumes. It stars Antonio Banderas and Dennis Storhøi. Banderas was excellent. The other actors did okay with their limited screen time, which kept character development from getting in the way of the action.

MPAA rated it R for bloody battles and carnage. The lighting was very dark to shoot the necessary night fighting, the long nights of the far north, and the cave scenes, all illuminated with torches at best. It was shot on location at Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The sets, costumes, score (by Jerry Goldsmith), and cinema­tog­raphy are primo. The languages were handled deftly and art­fully. Runtime is 1¾ hours.

Review Conclusion w/a Christian's Recommendation

This flick should appeal to adventure aficionados and Antonio Banderas fans. Don't let the unfamiliar religions put you off, because at least one of our Christian fruits of the Spirit is well illustrated though­out. I pretty much enjoyed it.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action-packed. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Don't watch this movie alone. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise noted, scripture is quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Barthelme, Donald. Great Days. Copyright © 1970-79 by Donald Barthelme. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, second printing 1979. Print.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch. My Life in Christ. or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and Peace in God: Extracts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt (Arch­priest John Iliytch Sergieff). Trans­lated with the author's sanction, from the Fourth and Supplemental Edition by E.E. Goulaeff. St. Peters­burg. Jordans­ville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2000. Print.

Webster's Ninth New College Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts, Merriam-Webster, 1983. Print.