Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Thief of Bagdad
Last night I re-visited a movie that I haven't seen since I was in college: Raoul Walsh's The Thief of Bagdad from 1924. I was initially skeptical about including this film on the sword and sorcery list, but the main ingredients are accounted for and I stand by the decision.
The story tells of an athletic young thief named Ahmed who falls in love with a beautiful princess and ultimately wins her through his cunning and courage.
The moral of the story is told in the stars with the first shot of the film. Literally, the words "Happiness Must Be Earned" come together from celestial points of light in the deep blue night sky as the wise Imam speaks to the child before him. The film also closes on this same scene, as if the whole film were the unfolding of the Imam's story to the boy. It's also mentioned during the tale when the Imam tells Ahmed that "Allah hath made thy soul to yearn for happiness, but thou must earn it." This is an ironic task for the thief who proclaims early in the film "What I want - I take. My reward is here. Paradise is a fool's dream and Allah is a myth!" The Imam goes on to tell him of a magic chest that he must obtain if he's to have the princess. With that he says "Go now. Control thy destiny!"
To obtain the chest and rescue the princess from betrothal to one of three other suitors, Ahmed must face a series of trials including the valley of fire, dragons, the ocean, and sea monsters. But in the end he prevails and uses the magic he has earned to save the princess from the evil Mongol prince who has seized control of Bagdad and taken the princess against her will.
Ultimately, this is a story about the conversion of Ahmed from a streetwise rogue to a man of faith through his love for the princess. His "what I want - I take" philosophy works in a world that's empty of the divine. But when he sees the princess, it's not enough. He becomes aware of something greater that must be earned. His earlier statement that "Paradise is a fools dream and Allah is a myth" seems to be reversed by the princess who is, herself, paradise and the work of Allah. And for perhaps the first time, Ahmed feels he has a destiny beyond stealing and avoiding punishment.