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Saturday, August 14, 2010


Theatrical Poster for "Mongol"

Mongol Trailer

The other day I was watching Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan -- a movie that came out in 2007. The name Genghis Khan is etched in the collective mind as a fearful invader who raped and pillaged the land. The movie portrays Genghis Khan basically in a positive way. He is a unifier of the various Mongol tribes, the establisher of law and order, and the creator of an empire that stretched in his lifetime from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan.

The movie is based upon the only historical source about Genghis Khan's life -- The Secret History of the Mongols written around 1240 AD. Temüjin, Gengkis Khan's name before rising to power, was born around 1162 AD. At the age of 9 years, Temüjin's marriage to Börte Üjin was arranged by his father. They were married around the age of 16 or 17 years. On the way home from this marriage arrangement, his father was poisoned by the Tarters and died. Temüjin returned home to become khan in place of his father, only to have the clan desert him for being too young. He, his mother, and siblings lived in poverty for many years. Temüjin even was a slave for a few years before making allies and freeing himself.

After he married Börte, she was taken captive by a rival clan, the Merkits. He rescued her with the help of an alliance he formed. This incident led to one of the best lines in the movie between Temüjin and Jamukha, "Don't tell anyone we went to war over a woman." This line made me recall the Trojan War, which was begun when Paris took Helen captive to Troy. The Greeks went to war and conquered Troy.

Ultimately, Temüjin forms alliances with various tribes, defeats others, and finally unites the Mongols under himself, becoming Genghis Khan. In the movie, Temüjin recognizes that his people are lawless. While worshiping Tengri, the great Sky-Father, Temüjin defines a few simple laws that his mostly illiterate people can remember and follow: "Do not kill women and children," "Remember your debts," and "Do not betray your khan." Essentially, good natural law. Tengri is timeless and infinite; he is the all powerful god. In some places the worship of Tengri is monotheistic. A derivative of Tengri's name is used for the God of Abraham in Turkish. Once again, this is a remnant of natural law. 

The scene of Temüjin worshipping Tengri and coming up with laws for his people, reminded me of Zwingli's noble pagan. 

Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan is by the Russian director, Sergei Bodrov. The idea of a Russian director making a movie that portrays the Mongols in a positive light is unexpected, considering that the Mongols invaded and occupied parts of Russia. The Mongols were a historic enemy of Russia during the Middle Ages. Yet Sergei Bodrov's grandmother was a Buryat -- the largest ethnic minority group in Siberia. The Buryats are of Mongolian descent and speak a dialect of Mongolian. Sergei Bodrov wanted the Russians to have a more positive view of  Mongols. 

While the movie is as much fiction as fact and although it attempts to rehabilitate Genghis Khan perhaps more than some would think is warranted, the movie over all was an enjoyable evening's diversion.

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