Temujin on Film

by Nathan Hamm on 12/6/2007 · 2 comments

poster john waybe the conqueror dvd.jpgAt the CACI Analyst, Dmitry Shlapentokh has an interesting article looking at the handful of Chinggis Khan movies made in Eurasia recently. While I think it is very easy to overstate his argument that interest in historical figures and events is necessarily tied to geopolitics (I found the arguments about Alexander and 300 to be a bit of a stretch), it seems to be the case with these movies. The one made in Mongolia is obviously connected to the 800th anniversary of the Mongol Empire and the growing centrality of Chinggis Khan to Mongolian identity. But the Russian and Yakut ones serve very different purposes — placing the Russians and Yakuts respectively in central roles in Eurasia.

Thus, the interest in Genghis Khan – as the producer insisted – is due not just to the dramatic aspect of the events and even the role of Asia in the future (here, he pointed to China’s rise) but also to the fact that the Mongols had laid the foundation of the Russian state as a multi-cultural and multi-confessional state. Finally, there was another hint why Genghis Khan could be of interest and appreciation to present-day Russians. The movie started with the beginning of Genghis Khan, when he and those close to him fell in the abyss of ignonmity. The young Genghis Khan was captured and enslaved, and his beautiful wife was raped. He seemed to be destined to absolute obscurity. Still, he rose literally from the ashes; and by the end of his life and his successors’ lives, the Mongols controlled the biggest land mass empire in human history. The same, as implied by Bagrov, one could see as Russia’s future. From the collapse of the USSR, Russia today is rising to be once again a major force in Eurasia.

A producers in Yakutia, an ethnic Yakut, had offered a new vision of Genghis Khan in his own movie. The movie acknowledges that Russia is the legitimate successor of the empire of Genghis Khan. Still, Russia rather plays a role of “younger brother.” Genghis Kahn’s empire in this interpretation was predominately a Turkic state, and the Turkic people did not pass the torch to Russians. They dominated the Eurasian space in the past and dominate it in the present; and Yakuts, who are presented here as a Turkic people, should belong to the rulers of Eurasia/Russia.

Of course, none of these likely hold a candle to the awesome badness of The Conqueror.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Jay Kay December 7, 2007 at 5:55 am

And perhaps we’d be giving Dick Powell’s much-aligned “The Conqueror” undue importance by suggesting that the carcinogenic nuclear testing site in Escalante Desert, St. George, Utah, where the film was shot, was a metaphor for the inherent doomed destiny of all ’emperors of the East’, or all world dominators for that matter. The cast and crew seemed to drop off in droves in later years having got a double dose of radioactivity when 60 tons of dirt were shipped to Hollywood for the studio takes as well.

Or perhaps we can view the film as the curse of messing with Temujin’s legacy by unworthy hands (or dodgey film-makers!) in an echo of the oft-told story of Soviet archeologists discovering a fey warning in Timur’s tomb concerning Russia’s erstwhile enemy Hitler. Politicians, historiographers and bad film makers, be warned!

KZBlog December 9, 2007 at 11:00 am

and then he missed the chinese produced TV serial recently released here in Kazakhstan that felt like a soap opera of Temuzhin’s life, and many Kazakhs felt deliberately made slights at the barbaric nomads even though Chinghis Khan was the hero.

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