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Film / King David

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"Mark this above all: Be guided by the instincts of your own heart, no matter what the prophets tell you, for it is through the heart, and the heart alone, that God speaks to man."

King David is a 1985 Biblical film about the second king of Israel, David. It was directed by Bruce Beresford and stars Richard Gere, Edward Woodward, Alice Krige, Dennis Quilley, Niall Buggley, George Eastman, and Christopher Malcolm. It was filmed in Matera and Craco in Italy and at Pinewood Studios in England.

Designated as future king by the prophet Samuel, the young David defeats the menacing giant Goliath with his sling. However, King Saul, jealous of the new hero, wants to take his life.

Tropes in King David:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Of the First and Second Books of Samuel plus a bit from the First Book of Kings and the Psalms. Though it can also come across as Compressed Adaptation.
  • Adaptational Villainy: To make David's affair with Bathsheba seem more sympathetic, Bathsheba tells David that her husband Uriah beats her. This is not stated at all in the Bible, where Uriah is described as an honorable man.
  • Affably Evil: King Saul who was actually a righteous king at first, but let his jealousy of David and his envy towards David turn him antagonistic.
  • Asshole Victim: Uriah is turned into one by David's Uriah Gambit. The film keeps the scene where Nathan the prophet chews out David for killing him, which seems at odds with the film's depiction of Uriah as a mean guy.
  • Artistic License – History: The Star of David wasn't around during the time of David. The hexagram's use as a symbol in Judaism originates in roughly the 3rd century, over 1000 years after his death.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: David when he is crowned King of Israel. We don't see the actual crowning, but we do see his ecstatic dance (wearing only a loincloth) before the Ark of the Covenant during a procession, shortly after being crowned.
  • Bible Times: One of the first "Bible punk" films, where God is notable by his absence.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: The outlawed David manages to sneak into a cave while Saul is sleeping. He could have killed him, but just steals his sword, and the next morning shows this to him and his army to prove he is no enemy. He then throws it down, as he was standing on higher ground.
  • BFS: The sword of Goliath, which David later uses for himself. It's partially Goliath's undoing that he drops his shield, which had already deflected David's first stones, to draw and swing his sword with both hands.
  • Chase Fight: Absalom makes his getaway when his army is routed, and David's general Joab chases after him. Both are riding chariots and shoot arrows or throw spears at each other. When one of his horses is injured, Absalom then cuts the other free and rides away on it, but his voluminous hair is caught on tree branches, allowing Joab to finish him off.
  • The Chosen One: David, like Saul before him, was anointed King by the Prophet Samuel.
  • Civil War: Prince Absalom, David's favorite son, comes to rebel against his father, declaring himself king.
  • Combat by Champion: David and Goliath.
  • Cool Sword: The sword of Goliath is depicted as a huge khopesh.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Saul by the Philistines at the battle of Mt. Gilboa. He insisted on meeting them on the field even though his army was greatly outnumbered.
    • Absalom's rebellion falls apart in one ambush.
  • David Versus Goliath: Of course.
  • Death by Irony: Jonathan is killed by a Philistine with a sling.
  • Death Seeker: Saul in his last battle.
  • Death Wail:
    • When Saul finds Jonathan's body on the battlefield.
    • When David learns that Saul and Jonathan are dead. Done in a montage with the above so that his and Saul's screams blend together.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The part of the Bible where Saul first falls out of favor with God when he doesn't wipe out the Amalekites isn't sanitized. The Prophet Samuel goes to Saul where he finds him holding the King of Amalek prisoner at his feet, discussing a treaty. Samuel lectures Saul about following God's orders and chops off the King of Amalek's head himself. In fairness, the King of Amalek was not a nice guy and Saul spared him for personal gain, not out of mercy.
    • David's polygamy.
    • In a bit not in the Bible, Saul and Jonathan watch David consummate his marriage with the princess Michal through the curtains of their bed.
  • Demythification:
    • A curious case of the film not being clear whether this is in effect or it's just a invokedSpecial Effect Failure, regarding Goliath's size. Camera angles and sound design (clanking armor etc.) are played up for all they're worth to make him feel like a lumbering giant towering over the young David, but once Goliath is killed, other people are seen in the frame with them and he just appears to be a somewhat tall man. No one at the scene actually calls attention to Goliath's height being exceptional, though as the enemy champion he is The Dreaded. Years later, the Philistine king does refer to David's God "delivering him from the giant" when talking with the adult David, but it's entirely possible he's referring to how the tale grew in the telling.
    • Also downplayed in a Rule of Drama way, with David not taking out Goliath with one stone immediately as in the Bible, instead having two stones deflected by Goliath's shield and having to dodge a thrown spear.
  • Driven to Suicide: Saul falls on his sword.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • The prophet Nathan is first seen as the prophet Samuel's apprentice, long before he first appears in the Biblical text.
    • Bathsheba similarly appears in the crowd when David is dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Enemy Mine: David is forced to seek shelter with the Philistines. His only condition is he won't fight for them against Israel.
  • Exact Words:
    • David hides among the priests of the Ark of the Covenant, but one of them betrays his location to Saul. The High Priest later tells Saul that said priest is longer with them - because he had personally slain him.
    • The High Priest turns his back when David flees, so he can truthfully say that he didn't see David leave.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The High Priest.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: Attempted by Jonathan trying to reach Saul at the battle of Mt. Gilboa, but he's killed before he can, leading to his Slow-Motion Fall.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Saul, Jonathan, David and Absalom never wear helmets. Goliath does, but David nails him right in the forehead as it doesn't have a nose guard.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: David beheads Goliath with his own BFS.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Than the typical Bible-based film, avoiding strategic camera angles etc. as with typical Adam and Eve depictions, sometimes even going beyond what the source material implies. Saul and Jonathan watch David consummate his marriage to Michal from behind a veil, and the latter two are later shown in bed with Michal topless. Later, Bathsheba goes full frontal while she bathes outside, aided by a servant woman.
    • Though David wears a loincloth when he dances before the Ark, this isn't the movie being inconsistent because him dancing "naked" is a bit of invokedCommon Knowledge. Michal thought he was underdressed and thus undignified, but in context not completely nude.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Saul orders his soldiers to kill the priests of the Ark for helping David. The first man he asks refuses and gets Saul's spear through his gut. After another man complies, Saul again does this to the High Priest, who is the last to die.
  • Informed Ability: The adult David's prowess as a warrior for which he became famous while Saul was still king - meaning Richard Gere doesn't get to be in any battle scenes unlike the actors for Saul, Jonathan and Absalom. Though the trailer does show him in battle.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • After Nathan chastises David for killing Uriah.
    • When David learns that Absalom is dead.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: David and Jonathan, or at least they intended to show it. Jonathan is played by the same adult actor throughout the film, and a different actor plays young David, implying a Big Brother Mentor dynamic. Jonathan first takes the young David from Bethlehem to be Saul's musician, and later praises him after he kills Goliath. A transition later, David is now Richard Gere, and by then David and Jonathan have become comrades in Saul's army.
  • Keystone Army: After David defeats Goliath, the entire Philistine army routs and the Israelites eagerly give chase.
  • Mood Dissonance:
    • David's laments for Saul and Jonathan are given through voiceover while onscreen it's full-on celebration mode as the now-King David enters Jerusalem and starts stripping.
    • Narration states how God blessed David and made him triumph over his enemies while David is shown smashing a model for a planned Temple with Goliath's sword, in rage and despair over losing his rebellious son Absalom.
  • Mood Whiplash: After Saul and Jonathan's deaths, the movie jumps to David and the Ark of the Covenant entering Jerusalem with David dancing near-naked before the Ark in procession.
  • Mythology Gag: A distraught Saul cries: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This comes from Psalm 22 which David is traditionally credited with composing. But it was also said by Jesus when he was crucified, according to Christian scripture.
  • Naked First Impression: David first sees Bathsheba while she is bathing on her rooftop.
  • Off with His Head!: The King of Amalek, Goliath, and Absalom.
  • Politically Correct History: King David falls in love with Bathsheba and sends her husband, Uriah, to the front lines of an army to die. In the movie, Bathsheba claims that Uriah whips her to make David more sympathetic. In the actual story from The Bible, there is no mention of Uriah beating his wife, and even that wouldn't have been used to justify David's actions. The whole point of the story was that even King David was a flawed person. The film keeps a scene from the Bible in which the prophet Nathan chastises David for his sins, which leads to a Broken Aesop.
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Ark of the Covenant. The High Priest challenges the priest who betrayed David to swear before it that he had not betrayed their guest, but he can't.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: After Absalom dies, David smashes a model of the Temple complex (which Solomon would later actually build) with Goliath's sword, but stops when he sees the little model of the Ark of the Covenant. Perhaps confusingly, the scene is overlaid with narration saying how the Lord blessed David.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Absalom kills his own (half) brother after the latter rapes their sister. He slits his brother's throat in front of David who is yet unaware of this, and he pre-emptively asks his father to forgive him.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Saul leads his army from the front, but surprisingly not David after he becomes King. He leaves his battles for his general Joab to fight - and this leads to Absalom's death when Joab personally kills him despite David's orders to spare him.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • Jonathan helps David escape after his own father Saul had ordered his arrest.
    • David seeks shelter with the High Priest, and when he's forced to flee elsewhere the High Priest gives him bread that was reserved for ritual purposes, saying "May God forgive us both".
    • David is willing to forgive Absalom for killing his own brother out of revenge after he raped their sister, while the Prophet Nathan insists on following "an eye for an eye... a life for a life" to the letter. Absalom is spared but he later rebels against David...
  • Shirtless Scene: David's dance.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Averted with David not killing the man who brought him news of Saul and Jonathan's deaths like in the Bible. He almost does, but he throws away his sword and just screams in despair instead.
  • Sword and Sandal
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Jonathan saves Saul from a Philistine this way.
  • The Voiceless: Goliath only speaks in grunts, so all his lines from the Bible are given to a Hammy Herald.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Saul when he goes to great lengths to try and have David killed to secure the throne for his family.
  • The Wise Prince: Jonathan serves as the voice of reason for his father Saul. He isn't envious of David being anointed King in Saul's place - and his place in turn - because David is worthy of their love. He also helps David escape Saul's wrath when he is outlawed, but cannot join him outright because he still loves his increasingly unstable father.
    "You have Someone much greater than I to look after you. My father has no one."