May 23, 2008


Yes, the Mongol is none other than Genghis Khan (called "Temujin" throughout the film). This is an epic, almost mythical portrayal of the famous uniter of the Mongol tribes and world conquerer. However, the scenes of rugged sweeping landscapes; incredibly skilled, full-tilt horseback riding; and bloody battle scenes (reminiscent of "300") never dwarf the simple relationships and iron-clad customs that rule the day. First among Temujin's bonds is with the wife of his youth, Borte. One word to describe her? Moxie. She's as tough as the wife-queen in "300." Mongols pick their own wives when they are boys, but Borte kind of picked Temujin. She is a shrewd tribeswoman, negotiator and counselor to Temujin, who comes and goes in her life because Mongol leaders are constantly out and about settling old scores, challenging and maintaining shifting balances of power by alliances and by the sword.
It's a brutal world, but there is genuine affection among men who are related or consider themselves related. Temujin seems to need Borte more than any of the men in his life, however, and even causes a small war to get her back when she is abducted. And Mongols "never go to war over a woman." The curious thing here is that even though Mongol life seems to be ruled by customs (Temujin's father even drinks from a cup he knows is poisoned because the customs--in this case, accepting a cup offered you by another tribe--are sacrosanct, and if he were to change them "the world would turn upside down"), but they are often reinterpreted in the light of another custom, or higher custom. The customs are few, but tricky. For example: "Mongols don't kill children." So you wait till the kid grows up, and then you kill him. "Never let your enemy live." But Temujin lets his enemy live by calling him "brother." One shouldn't show weakness, yet by being kind at the right time, you can win people's loyalty. "Never betray your Khan (tribal leader)," but when some men kill their Khan who was a sworn enemy of Temujin, Temujin kills them for this deed. Loyalty seems to be fickle, but the custom is: "Mongols have the right to choose new a new master." Some customs trump other customs, and without any Mongol lawyers, you could wind up on the wrong end of a spear by blindly keeping every custom. Temujin later turns the Mongol customs into laws which he enforces: "I will make them obey, even if I have to kill half of them." Forgiveness is often mentioned, but is hardly ever practiced.
This kind of tribal mentality is probably what we are seeing in Afghanistan today. Compared to our monolithic legal system, it seems arbitrary and fluid, but it probably works well--utilitarianly speaking--in an undeveloped, non-industrial society with a harsh climate and inhospitable terrain where survival is always in the balance.
More than once, Temujin is shown praying to the Mongol god Tegri of the Blue Sky. Thunder means he is angry, and the Mongols fear thunder. The dramatic use of thunderstorms in the movie almost makes thunder a character. It made me think of three distinct approaches to thunder: religious/awful-fearful, scientific, religious/awful-glorious!
Temujin gains a friend, Jamukha, while still an adolescent. Again, it is very curious how the terms of their friendship play out. Jamukha saves Temujin more often than the reverse, but Temujin shows him very little gratitude or loyalty. Yet Jamukha is not insulted by this, nor is he a sap. These are power games. Both Temujin and Jamukha know they are born leaders, and as Borte puts it: "you can't boil two rams' heads in one pot." "Mongolia" isn't big enough for both of them. Although friends and "blood brothers," they each instinctively know and accept that only one can gain the ascendency--neither can play second fiddle. This ascendency is won just as often through keen psychological insight into the other, as with force. (It is said that Kissinger wouldn't play chess with Brezhnev because chess reveals too much how another thinks.)
When Temujin asks a shaman to prophesy his future, the shaman simply tells him: "You know your future." So, are leaders truly born? Are they rare, gifted individuals who truly care for the common good? People who "do what they have to do" to make their world a better place? Or are they ambitious, ruthless tyrants who gain fear and respect because they dare to do what no one else has the stomach or conscience for? Do their admirers all suffer from Stockholm Syndrome or a vicarious desire to be as heartless as they? What kind of leader was Temujin?
Mongol culture is simple and rich--their carpets, jewelry, long hair and exotic, flowing coats are more beautiful than our contrived fashions, and you know that their meaning is directly connected with something less mediated than ours. When you see the ruddy faces of the children, the sleeping under the stars, the cooking on fires, everything looks so darn healthy, so darn hardy, so right--as though this is the way human beings were made to live, in a seamless unity of an engaged, kinetic body driven by a sage, brave soul.
The Theology of the Body moment? I think it is primarily the undercurrent of what John Paul II calls "the fundmental essence of human existence: the male/female difference/relationship," that permeates Temujin's life. He needs Borte and she him. Perhaps she represents the best of the Mongols, what he is fighting for, what he knows the Mongols can be. She saves his life more than once, advises him. They are equals in every way. He says a whole universe when he tells her: "You are a good wife." Of course in reality, Genghis Khan had many, many wives, but the Mongols are presented here as valuing "one man, one woman." And why is this man-woman bond so ultimate? Because it is in this bond that we are most in the image of God. It seems, according to historians, that Genghis Khan had a favorite wife in one "Kulan," even though no one was higher than Borte as the first Grand Empress.
I looked away from the battle scenes.They're so awful. I'm so tired of them. I classify ancient warfare movies as "slasher" films. And yet, the mano a mano fighting is so different from today's "incinerate your enemy through a remote device" stuff. Would we still have as great a thirst for war today if we had to do it the old-fashioned way? Perhaps. As teacher-guru, Robert McKee, says with chagrin in his screenwriting Bible, "Story": "Men love war." And I would add: "Men love to film war."
At one point, when Temujin is enslaved in a cage in the Tangut Kingdom, an old Buddhist monk, like Rahab in the Old Testament, has a premonition that Temujin will one day wipe them out. He asks for mercy for his monastery because of the many sacred books to be preserved. Temujin asks him to kill the guard for the key. The monk replies that his faith forbids him from killing. Temujin says that his faith doesn't. Instead, the monk goes on an arduous journey to find Borte. It was such a breath of fresh air to feel another kind of strength coming from this equally-committed holy man who had chosen another way.
Gene Simmons (KISS) once said: "Women don't have a clue about this world domination stuff we guys are into." I couldn't have said it better. But what does it mean now that so many women are warriors, a much rarer occurrence in the ancient world? Is there anyone left to "keep the peace?" What/who is peace for if everyone's a warrior in a perpetual war: babies, the sick and the old? (Cf. John Paul II's Letter: "Women, Teachers of Peace.")
Although Temujin has great pride in his Mongols and his family, there are all kinds of mashups going on. His mother is a "Merkit." His wife's two children are from different fathers, one a Merkit from when she was abducted. Inter-marriage not only strengthens social and politicals ties, it's biologically healthy, just as intra-marriage is biologically unhealthy. Children seem to be a great focus in Mongol life. However, a historian notes that Mongol childhood was brief and harsh--Temujin learned to ride a horse when he was three.
The language--to my ears--sounds like a mix of Chinese, Korean and Russian. It is supposedly most similar to Turkish. There is also a real Tibetan feel--the singing is that low "ohm" growl that we hear Tibetan monks do. Although fierce warriors, the Mongols are also portrayed as a smiling, laughing, good-natured people.
The pacing is perfect, the cinematography and soundtrack masterful. What a great way to learn history! Limited opening in USA, June 2008. Definitely opening in Chicago.
Further notes: 1206--Temujin was made Khan of all Mongols. At its height, Mongolia encompassed China, Tibet, Persia and much of the former USSR. Christianity made inroads into the Mongols. Genghis Kahn had a Christian wife. In the 13th century, the Crusaders and Mongols united against the Muslims.
Off the web: Free Meals for Genghis Khan Family Members.

Give me the food or I conquer you. - Here's a food oddity that the London eatery chain, restaurant Shish, hopes will put it on the map.

They are advertising free meals to descendants of that famous consumer, Genghis Khan.

But first you have to prove your relation via a DNA test.

Ananova™ reports:

The unusual promotion is to mark the Mongolian government's decision to allow citizens to have surnames for the first time since they were banned by the communists in the 1920s.

Some 50,000 Mongolians now proudly claim direct descent from and bear the name of Genghis Khan.

That's a lot of meals. The restaurant teamed up with a DNA research company to do the tests required to find descendants. No mention of where they obtained Genghis Khan DNA to test against, however they might have gotten some of the DNA sampling from the Royal family:

It is estimated that 17 million people worldwide, including the British Royal Family, Iranian Royalty, and the family of Dracula, are direct descendents [sic] of Genghis Khan.




1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:32 AM

    The voice within sang to me as a child and shows a path through the underworld, the voice said:
    For you I trade my soul, safe passage back to oneness.
    While I live, my conection is for now.
    When I pass, my conection is free.

    Timothy temujin sage gregory born 1977, glacier ntl. Monument, montana usa