Color me a little surprised at the strong negative reaction I had to the historical drama “The Last Duel,” director Ridley Scott‘s lavishly-costumed, epic big screen take on Eric Jager’s 2004 book (The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France).
On the surface, the film appears to offer meaningful statements about misogyny and celebrate the idea of female courage. Only after a deeper examination did I realize that it really doesn’t. Everything about this film left me unsettled in all the wrong ways. On top of that, did we really need another movie about a rape?
Set in France in the late 1300s (and based on actual events), the film tells the story about the country’s last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), two friends turned bitter rivals after Le Gris is accused of raping Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer). Defying the norms in an act of bravery, Marguerite comes forward to publicly name her attacker, although he denies it vehemently. An eventual trial by combat leaves their lives (and the truth) in the hands of fate as the two men battle to the death.
The story (co-written by Damon, Nicole Holofcener, and Ben Affleck) is told in a clunky three chapter structure, with each section focusing on the individual perspectives of the trio of main characters. All see the same events through different lenses, each one shining a light on their own version of the facts. While the screenplay does have one female writer, the movie feels like a case of women’s issues told from a male perspective. (It doesn’t capture the authentic experience in a way like last year’s “Promising Young Woman” did, for example). The story is unpleasant and unsettling in its reminder of how society’s systems have always been set up to protect men and discredit women. That alone would (and should) upset audiences, but there’s more that’s distressing here.
The major issue I have with “The Last Duel” is one that leaves a really bad taste in my mouth: Marguerite’s story of what happened is told last. Her version is referred to as “The Truth” in the final title card, giving an even greater weight to the woman’s personal account. It’s undeniably the most essential chapter, yet a film that champions itself as having feminist themes also puts its heroine’s story in the backseat while placing more importance on the action-packed, bloody fight to the death.
Shhh, dear: the men are dueling.
By: Louisa Moore
duh the name of movie is the last duel itself so yeah the emphasis will be on duel cause people want to see the duel rather than hear a women ranting about her feelings. I agree that it was unfair how the movie focused on duel but so was the history.
I think you failed to understand the significance of the last duel. That scene and De Carrouge’s triumphant walk shows that these both men made Margurrite’s tragedy about themselves. The viewer *should* feel disgusted and sad about that. First, she’s treated like a damaged property, then she has to suffer horrible trial, then she has to watch how the two men fight to protect their honor and not hers, then, yes, she remains on the background. But this is supposed to be this way because this was one of the main injustices towards women in Medieval era: remaining on the background. This is heavily criticized and I don’t know how you managed to miss this.
Interesting take, Mary. Thanks for sharing! I’m not a Medieval scholar by any means, so I very much appreciate your viewpoint.
Should we embellish Medieval history showing women had modern day rights? Why are we always trying to bury history?
putting her in the backseat is precisely the point i reckon, im not sure how would someone miss that? if not deliberately?
That’s what’s so wonderful about film criticism — every viewer can take a different meaning and have their own interpretations of a movie. I find that the most exciting thing about being a critic and film fan.
Echoing other commenters sentiments here, they clearly highlight how distressed and dismissed she is throughout the duel and more importantly throughout the celebratory parade through the town. Her account of events begins with Jean and her father arguing over the price of her marriage and after the duel she realises that despite her best efforts she still has never become anything more than possession to be paraded around.