It’s not often that I leave a movie screening so conflicted about a movie that I debate myself the whole way home. But that is exactly what happened when I left The Last Duel yesterday. I cranked up some of my favorite tunes and sang along between figuring out just how I felt about the movie.
On one hand, it’s an interesting story and one that most people haven’t heard before, and one that will bring in a certain audience. I love historical movies and period pieces. The movie doesn’t hide the fact it’s based on a true story and masks the revenge against the wrong against a woman as chivalry. It doesn’t come with a trigger warning – but probably should for survivors of sexual assault, because it’s not just portrayed once in the film, but multiple times. The movie doesn’t hide any part of the story but tells it in a way that could cause issues for viewers.
A Story in Three Parts
Based on the 2004 novel of the same name by author Eric Jager, The Last Duel tells the story of the last legal duel in Medieval France. Taking place in 1386, it tells the story of Marguerite de Carrouges, her husband Jean de Carrouges, and Jacques Le Gris – the squire who assaulted her. But much like a book, the story is told in chapters.
Each of the chapters tells the story from the position of one of the different characters, Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite all get their chance to tell the story. Each chapter only shows the parts that they tell differently, and it shows they see it happen. It also allows the actors to portray each version differently, and the characters often paint themselves in a better light than you would expect reality to be. This way of storytelling is not only interesting but probably was a creative challenge for the actors as they had to reshoot the scenes again and again telling a different story.
Focusing on the Truth – But Who’s?
The “chapters” of the movie and story are the stories and the truths of each character. Their version of reality vs what the outside world sees. Even the truths change by who is telling them. But one part of the movie did focus on reality as the truth. They didn’t demonize the victim or pose it as Marguerite was misrepresenting what happened, as we often see play out in the news and in life around us. It made it very clear which truth they believe and gave her a full section of the movie to tell her side of the story as well.
I will say, it was good to see that the movie not only allowed Marguerite a voice but showed other women who went through similar situations. It allowed her to speak her truth, battle with what was happening to her after as well as show what happened to her after the duel. After all, a woman speaking out in the 14th century is about as common as it is today. While women are no longer considered property, more often than not their voices are ignored or dismissed in these situations.
The Glaring Issue of the Movie
Because the movie is telling the same story three times, through different eyes the viewers will not only get to witness the assault once – but twice. There were very few differences in the two versions that would have changed the viewer’s mind if it was assault or not. But instead, the movie shows a violent rape and sexual assault of a woman twice on the full screen. Aren’t we past the point where we have to victimize women and use the abuse of their bodies to carry a tale? Since the premise of rape was already told in the movie description and revealed in the trailer – couldn’t this be implied instead? Watching the assault once was more than enough. Keep in mind, the assault is only one of the issues people may have with the movie from violence, animals getting injured, sex and orgies.
The idea of chivalry is tossed out the window when we see just how selfish the reasons for the duel actually are, and what else is at risk. But maybe that is the point of the movie? To upset people? To get them talking about victim-blaming, how people perceive things differently and how women are still fighting the same issues over 700 years later? Overall, I’m still conflicted on how I feel about the movie – and think it will have a harder sell for a lot of audiences.
The Last Duel will be in theaters everywhere on October 15th.
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About THE LAST DUEL:
From 20th Century Studios comes “The Last Duel,” visionary filmmaker Ridley Scott’s gripping tale of betrayal and vengeance set against the brutality of 14th century France. The historical epic is a cinematic and thought-provoking drama that explores the ubiquitous power of men, the frailty of justice and the strength and courage of one woman willing to stand alone in the service of truth. Based on actual events, the film unravels long-held assumptions about France’s last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals. When Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite, is viciously assaulted by Le Gris, a charge he denies, she refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God’s hands.
Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck