Monday, February 12, 2018

Lingering Questions: King Arthur Legend Of the Sword

When Arthur is first brought to meet Sir Bedivere (pictured above), Bedivere wears this little green hat and peels an egg; why? We know that the head symbolizes our thoughts, because our thoughts originate in our head, so anything on our head (hair, hats, etc) can communicate what or how a character thinks. Green symbolizes new life, new hope; food (the egg he peels) symbolizes that which we are "taking in," we are going to digest and "go over" in review and mediation; eggs in particular symbolize new life and birth (as in, "the born king") but Bedivere also peels the egg, suggesting that he intends to "peel away" the layers of Arthur and get to know who he is beneath the surface, which is the opposite of what Vortigern did with his nephew: after Arthur pulled the sword, Vortigern had Arthur's coffers robbed and the brothel burned and his friends and family arrested; in other words, Vortigern only needed--and wanted--to know Arthur on the surface, whereas Bedivere intends on examining Arthur on level of his deeper character instead of making judgment calls based on what Bedivere sees and artificially learns about Arthur. So, when Arthur meets Bedivere, Bedivere thinks that having found--and saved--Arthur is the new life the Resistance needed, and the born king can finally lead them to victory over Vortigern.
Please note the interesting jacket we see Bedivere wearing in this image: brown and gold. Brown symbolizes dirt, because we are either "dirty" like dirt (as in corrupt, or sexually promiscuous) or we are humble, lowering ourselves to the level of dirt in spite of how great we might truly be. We know Bedivere occupied a high-level in Uther's government--we see him and Goosefat Bill advising the king after Mordred's failed attack on Camelot--and this is the meaning of the gold we see in Bedivere's jacket pictured above: Bedivere was in a high position in the king's army and esteem, so in spite of Bedivere having occupied such an important position, Bedivere is also a humble man, which is why Arthur comes to trust him (for example, when The Mage arrives, Bedivere trusts her and trusts the dream Merlin sent Bedivere so Bedivere would recognize The Mage when she appeared; rather than distrust the future of the Resistance to her, Bedivere does trust her).
So, this Christmas, everyone I love received a copy of King Arthur Legend Of the Sword,.... if they didn't receive a copy of it, they know where they stand with me. After my sister saw it, which she loved, she had some very good questions which I failed to cover in any of the posts I have made on the film, which are numerous, so I decided to attempt to get some kind of a post up with my favorite film of 2017. Her first question: why did Vortigern (Jude Law) let The Mage return to Arthur in exchange for Excalibur? Didn't Voritgern know how powerful The Mage was?
Why is there not a relationship developed between The Mage and Arthur? Originally, Astrid Berges-Frisby was cast to portray Guinevere, the legendary queen to King Arthur, but during filming, Charlie Hunnam (Arthur) and director/writer Guy Ritchie confirmed that they mutually decided to drop the romantic angle between Arthur and The Mage/Guinevere. This article goes so far as to suggest that The Mage and Guinevere are two entirely separate characters. So, which is it? We will probably never know, unless a miracle allows Ritchie to go ahead and make the other five reported storylines of the King Arthur Legend Of the Sword narrative he originally intended. Prior to opening, KA was projected to make $25 million against a production budget of $175 million (plus another $100 million for advertising and promotions); unfortunately, it only made $15 million opening weekend, and even after home movie release, has grossed around $142 million (this doesn't tally in, however, all the copies of the film I purchased for gifts for Christmas,....) so, while there were at least 5 more planned films in the sequence, none of them are going to be made now, unless, however, Sherlock Holmes 3 and Aladdin are major box office successes, in which case, it's possible that Ritchie could use his sway at that point to take another stab at the KA story.
So, back to The Mage.
Of all the characters of 2017, she is definitely my favorite: Ritchie provides for us what I would deem the "quintessential woman of power and personal success," that is to say, she's the exact opposite of what feminists think a woman should be, but what I believe God created woman to become. So, if she's so awesome, why isn't there a relationship? I think it's to Arthur's credit that he doesn't get romantically involved with her,... or any woman we see. He grew up in a brothel, so he grew up seeing what happens to men and woman who engage in sexual relations outside of marriage and, in short, Arthur doesn't want to become that kind of man, or a woman he loves to become that kind of woman. At one point in the montage of Arthur growing up in the brothel, we see him numerous times watching a man beating one of the women who raised him, and either Arthur not being able to do anything about it, or Arthur himself also being beaten, until the end of that montage when a "customer" goes to strike Arthur and, instead of being beaten by the man, Arthur--the young man now, with his own strength--is able to stop the man's fist in mid-air before it hits Arthur's face. This is significant for at least two reasons. First, Arthur isn't growing up with the attitude that women are commodities, even though the women in the brothel have made themselves exactly that; secondly, it foreshadows how Arthur will stop Vortigern from beating him. In the final battle of Vortigern against Arthur, Arthur has been knocked down and can't get up; he has a vision of his father giving Arthur Excalibur and when Vortigern is about to strike the death blow to Arthur, Arthur is able to stand and block the blow: if Vortigern killed Arthur in that scene, it would have also been killing England, because Arthur was the rightful heir, so in the brothel scene, when Arthur defends the girls by stopping that "customer," it symbolizes the prostitute (a woman of child-bearing age) as England, the motherland which gave birth to Arthur, and Arthur rising up to defend it against those parasites who want to pillage England for their own gains, like Vortigern. So, in not treating The Mage as one of the prostitutes he grew up with, Arthur creates a vision of a "new England" which will not be bound to the sexual slavery the old England was bound to under Vortigern, rather, The Mage symbolizes spiritual freedom and advancement instead of prostitutes' slavery to being sex slaves.
Vortigern believed he had successfully killed all the Mages: if he didn't kill them during "the purges" he disguised while Uther was still alive, Vortigern killed them after he took the throne; when Arthur goes to the the "Darklands" so he can understand why he keeps looking away when his father dies, Arthur picks up the arm bone of a skeleton wearing a Mage bracelet, verifying the purge Vortigern staged against all Mages who didn't support himself and Mordred in their coup against Uther. Knowing Arthur grew up in a brothel, Vortigern just assumes The Mage is Arthur's whore and nothing else, certainly not the power behind the new king. This is where Guy Ritchie stands out against other film makers: we can ask "Why? Why didn't Vortigern realize a Mage was still living?" and Ritchie wants us to ask that, because if we don't, the film is nearly pointless.
When Arthur is brought to the hide-out from which the Resistance has been operating, and he first meets Sir Bedivere, and meets Goosefat Bill for the second time, Goosefat--who Arthur had turned over to Black Legs earlier in the film--wants to teach Arthur a lesson and slap him around a bit. Seeing that he is going to have to possibly fight Goosefat, Arthur tells Goosefat not to bother taking Goosefat's ring off; Goosefat takes his ring off, then hits in the face, and comments to Arthur, "Now that would have hurt much more had I left the ring on." What does that mean? A ring symbolizes a covenant, a promise, a vow; so to whom has Goosefat made a vow? King Uther Pendragon, to be loyal to him,.... and, consequently, to Uther's heir, i.e., Arthur. Goosefat isn't completely reconciled to the idea that the "Born King" has been living in a brothel, and aided the Black Legs in turning Goosefat in when Arthur could have hid him (from Goosefat's perspective). So, Goosefat taking his ring off before hitting Arthur (basically for revenge in turning him in earlier in the film) is a sign that he's "suspending" his oath (the ring) to Uther to be loyal to Uther and Uther's heir, which is why, after hitting Arthur, Goosefat comments, "That would have hurt a lot more if I had left the ring on," but it's more that it would have hurt Goosefat more, not Arthur, because that would have been a sign of Goosefat hitting and physically assaulting his king (Arthur) and not honoring Uther to him he would have made a vow of loyalty. In other words, Goosefat realizes that down the road, if Arthur is crowned king in the near future, Arthur could have Goosefat put to death for having recognized that he was Uther's heir (Arthur pulled the sword) and still roughed him up anyway.
Voritgern is arrogant, and that's why he doesn't believe there possibly could be any Mages left after he set out to destroy them all; we saw the same arrogance with Hillary Clinton and her 2016 campaign, the arrogance she had that she was above the law and no one could possibly bring her down. Arrogance is the reason Ritchie has his Arthur grow up on the streets: when the prostitutes first find Arthur and have his hair cut, we know that hair symbolizes our thoughts, and the beautiful, golden hair of the young prince is shaved right off; why? So Arthur won't think of himself as being royalty (his "golden curls" are "gold" and "gold" symbolizes royalty because gold is the only gift worthy of royalty, so he thinks of himself as being royal).
Why does the Sea Witch (the creature granting Vortigern power when he rings the bell after he has killed someone) demand the blood of someone he loves as her price for power? For at least two reasons: first, forcing Vortigern to sacrifice someone he loves means he's putting power over love;  similarly, the other reason is that Vortigern puts his appetites over the person's love for him. For example, when Vortigern takes his wife to the sacrificial spot, she calls him "my love" and pleads for him to tell her what is wrong so she can help him; with his loving wife out of the way, Vortigern will continue making evil decisions, rather than allow himself to be stopped by someone who genuinely loves him and wants what is truly best for him (this is like God giving us the Ten Commandments to keep us from sin, so we don't self-sabotage ourselves in making bad decisions). In choosing power, Vortigern choose self-hatred, because he all ready hates himself, and refuses to allow anyone to love him: remember, he asks Maid Maggie, "Do the people love me?" and she has to take a really circuitous path to give him the answer he wants to hear. No one loves you, Vortigern, especially you, you know you are unlovable, that's why you want power instead of love: so you can take revenge on people for not loving you in spite of you intentionally making yourself unloveable. Because love is the power that is the greatest power there is ("God is love") by removing the person who Vortigern loves, and who loves him, the Sea Witch insures her own power over Vortigern's soul because no one will be able to reach Vortigern and convince him to be converted.
Arthur does, however, develop incredible confidence, and confidence is different from arrogance because confidence comes from knowing who you are because of what you have accomplished, whereas arrogance is thinking better of yourself than you really are in spite of what you have failed to accomplish. Remember: when Arthur sits in the jail cell after having pulled the sword and Vortigern asks him, "What would you have become, had you inherited the advantages of your father's kingdom?" we know what the answer is: Arthur would have become Vortigern. Every bit as conceited, manipulative and power-hungry as his uncle, not having been properly humbled would have made Arthur a man of the appetites rather than a man who cared about others more than himself.
After the failed assassination attempt of Vortigern, when Goosefat Bill shoots an arrow and kills Mercia and Back Lack is wounded then dies, Vortigern sits beside Back Lack attempting to find information about who tried to kill him and Back Lack's son, Blue, bursts in and acts like he doesn't know Back Lack at all, to which Vortigern comments, "I wish I had a son." Why does Vortigern say this? Does he not love his daughter? Women, if you will recall, symbolize the motherland: older women, beyond child-bearing years, are the symbol of the traditions and customs of the culture of that land; women who are capable of bearing children symbolize the motherland itself, the land which gave birth to the hero and helped shape his value and how he identifies himself; girls, not at the age of child-bearing, symbolize the future of the motherland. Now, when Voritgern kills his wife, Vortigern kills that part of the motherland which gave birth to himself, and we see this in the dramatic changes of the landscape that take place between the death of Uther and when Arthur is grown and his uncle Vortigern has altered English society and the landscape so it's drape and dark. When Vortigern killed his wife, he also killed the future of the English economy; how? Men symbolize the active principle of the means of economic production. Older men, again symbolize the Founding Fathers, whereas men still in their prime are the economy while boys are the future of that economy. What does Vortigern do with all the boys of England? He sells them into slavery. What does Vortigern do when his brother's son, his nephew, Arthur, appears from nowhere? He tries to have him put to death. Vortigern doesn't want a son: Vortigern admires the traits he sees in others (like Blue's quick thinking and survival skills that Vortigern knows he himself doesn't possess) and Vortigern certainly admires the way Arthur thrived in the gutter and made such a cozy position of leadership for himself, because Vortigern couldn't have done that either. So why does Vortigern say he wishes he had a son, when all he does is put the Sons of England (the young boys for whom he is responsible as their king) and the son of his brother to death? This is typical of someone who doesn't know what he wants. However, there is another reason why Vortigern has a daughter and not a son: socialism. Capitalism is going to be represented by the vitality of a man (think of X-Men's Wolverine prior to the film Logan coming out: his ability to regenerate made Wolverine an excellent example of capitalism's ability to re-generate and grow); socialism, on the other hand, is about passive employees who are dependent upon the state, not individuals who make their own living. So if Vortigern had truly wanted a son, he would have become a capitalist; however, that's not what he really wanted, he wanted power, and Vortigern's inability to reconcile what he wants with reality is a symptom typical of liberals.
Why does Back Lack die? We know that no one ever dies unless they are all ready dead, that is, they exhibit traits/values when alive which means those traits/values cannot be allowed to continue in the "new world" the hero forges, so the character dies as a result of their traits/values. Back Lack, however, sacrifices himself for his friends and his son, so the act of sacrificing one's self means they have fulfilled life to the fullest, they have realized the true value of love and laid down their life for it. Vortigern cutting Back Lack's  ear, however, acts an important symbol: ears are our ability to hear "on a deeper level," a spiritual message or something not clearly spoken; when Vortigern cuts off Back Lack's ear and then speaks into it, this re-iterates the symbolism of ears, and telling us clearly that there is, indeed, something else to which we should be listening; what? The same message we have been seeing throughout the film: Vortigern, as a symbol of socialism, makes his wife and daughter die for his ambition, however, Uther and Back Lack both sacrifice themselves for their sons and, in his way, Arthur sacrifices himself for England, because he doesn't want to carry Excalibur anymore, it has cost him too many friends and dear ones (which is why the Lady of the Lake has to convince him to make the sacrifice of his will to defeat Vortigern). So, the message of the film we should be "hearing" is that fathers need to sacrifice themselves (staying with the mother, working hard to provide, overcoming addictions, etc.) instead of the sons sacrificing for the fathers (abortion, growing up without a father).
My sister also wanted to know about Vortigern's wife: why didn't anyone realize she was missing after Vortigern sacrificed her to gain power to kill Uther? First, those closest to Vortigern, such as Mercia, knew Vortigern sold his soul for power and what the price for that power was (remember, we see Mercia watching Vortigern summon a fireball Vortigern holds in his hand and Mercia isn't the least bit surprised by it; we saw similar imagery in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and the Satanic rituals of Blackwood). Secondly, there is the daughter of Vortigern; why didn't she say something about her missing mom?
This is really the heart of the film, because what is Arthur continuously referred to? The born king. This is Ritchie's huge contribution to current "feminist thought," namely, that it's always been from women that men derive their power. For example, Uther is king because Uther was the first born of his mother's womb; Vortigern was born second. Had Uther sired Arthur with another woman other than the queen (pictured above) then Arthur would have been a bastard, and basically born in a brothel, as he tells Vortigern after Arthur has been arrested for pulling the sword; it's his mother's womb that gives Arthur his legitimacy and the right to rule; it's the Lady of the Lake who bound Excalibur to Uther and his line, and it is, of course, The Mage who wields the power necessary for Arthur to fight Votigern.  When Vortigern (in the "Skeletor" guise we see him in when he is in a state of possession) kills Uther's queen, how does he do it? He throws a stake through her womb, attempting to curse Arthur's legitimacy and seal Vortigern's own "authority."
Remember the "graffiti" we see on the walls of Londinium? That is the sign of the feminine, so the idea of kingship has always been intimately bound to the power of the queen.
Now, feminists would say, "This isn't the same thing because 'making a king' isn't the same thing as having the power yourself, and if you don't have that power yourself, then you are nothing." There is a very interesting bit of "marginalia to the film, included in the Blu-Ray special features on making Excalibur: the invented a special set of runes for the film, just to be engraved upon the blade of the sword, even though it's never interpreted, and never comes up in the film, the translation is, "Take me up, cast me away," (something close to that), because "taking" Excalibur has to be seen as a duty, not a power-move, something which comes from desire, rather, love; Excalibur is a means to achieve peace, not an end of itself. To "cast away," means you will feel the burden of the power--rather like the One Ring in The Lord Of the Rings--and if you have a good heart, you will not want to bear that power (rather like Frodo) so this is why we see Arthur do exactly this in the film: after Back Lack has died, and Arthur feels unworthy and there is too much pressure on him, we see him cast Excalibur into the lake and then run from his duty and responsibility; it's then the Lady of the Lake, a woman, tells him he is chosen and he must take the power of Excalibur for the welfare of others. Feminists, however, would behave just like Voritgern, and employ that power for themselves, rather than the greater good of society. 
There are two important facts we can deduce about Princess Catia (Vortigern's daughter). First, she doesn't obey Vortigern: when we are introduced to Maid Maggie (Annabelle Wallis) we see Voritgern tell Catia to put the bird back into its cage and Catia blatantly doesn't do it. Secondly, Catia seems to be quite fond of birds she keeps in cages. These two details help us to put together that Catia isn't afraid of her father because she knows he is a weak man: he has only the trappings of power, but because Vortigern has no power over himself, he also doesn't have any power over her (in this case, to make her obedient to his word). Like the birds in cages with which she surrounds herself, Catia, too, is caged like a bird, so she doesn't realize how dark and hard the world can be (the exact opposite of her cousin, Arthur). How does this fit in with Catia's mother's disappearance? Catia knows Vortigern killed her mother, so she doesn't show any love for Vortigern so she won't face the same fate as her mother. If she doesn't love her father, he won't love her, either, so he won't sacrifice Catia the way he sacrificed Catia's mother.
Twisted, isn't it?
In my original post, I noted that the Darklands sequence was a microcosm of the entire film: what happens to Arthur in the Darklands has all ready happened to him, or will happen to him. Because the sequence happened so quickly, I wasn't able to point by point reconstruct the events, but I was able to recognize them (like the bats picking up Arthur and carrying him from one to another was a metaphor of the guards putting Arthur on the ship that took him to Camelot, then being arrested for drawing the sword, then being "rescued" by the Resistance). I am fully confident the entire Darklands sequence can be explained in terms of other scenes of the film: for example, the first time Arthur sees the giant snake in the Darklands is equivalent to when the snake crawls out of the sleeve of The Mage; it's little on her arm, but it's a huge threat; then, when Arthur stops in the stream and a large rodent blocks his way, the snake comes and devours the rodent in one bite, which foreshadows the snake snatching up Mischief John (Vortigern's guard who tells Arthur he has to get home because it's his night to cook, and if Arthur does anything to hurt him, it will be repaid on the boy and The Mage). We know the wolves with glowing eyes symbolize the Black Legs: one, Goosefat Bill calls Mercia "Head of the wolf pack," and because when Arthur goes to Vortigern's castle, he sees the eyes of the Black Legs glowing like the eyes of the wolves in the Darklands. I don't need to explain anymore, you can figure out the rest on your own since this much has been suggested for you, however, I did want to point out that this is always the sign of excellent writing, being able to create a microcosm section of the narrative in this fashion.
What about the parts of the Darklands sequence which haven't happened yet? In a way, the parts which have all ready happened to Arthur make perfect sense because the Darklands sequence is like a dream-state, and Arthur's unconscious--which he has fought the whole film--tries communicating to him so he can remember why he looked away at the moment of his father's death. So, that part is like a dream. What about the future events? 
If you shared any of these same questions, I hope this helps: please realize, however (and this is for myself, too) that KALS is an incredible film and we will continue discovering aspects of the narrative to decode and question every time we see it. I wish you a happy and prosperous New Year, filled with God's blessings and grace! Hopefully, I can start posting again.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner