“The Last Duel”, or upstream
In the 2020s, why do we care again about the French story of the 14th century?
It’s better to ask this question differently: How did a French story from the late 14th century find its way back to life in the 2020s?
Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Judy Cuomo and Ben Affleck, The Last Duel is based on a real historical event: 1384 , Normandy had the last trial by duel in recorded history. The two knights, fully armed, fought to the death in the presence of the king and nobles to carry the fate of the three. The one who wins will receive justice and victory blessed by God, and the one who loses will not only pay his life, but also be deprived of his title and identity, and become a sinner. The cause of this duel is full of drama: Jean de Carrouges and squire Jacques Le Gris were friends, but they became enemies due to their interests. And Jean de Carrouges’ wife Marguerite de Carrouges suddenly accused the latter of rape, the two sides completely broke. The principle of a duel trial is actually to decide the truth and fate by force: if Jean wins, it proves that Marguerite told the truth, and Jacques committed rape; if Jacques wins, Margerite will be burned at the stake for the “false accusation”. punish.
From the very beginning, the film gives us the impression of a historical film. For example, in “The Kingdom of Heaven”, Ridley Scott once again showed his dexterity in historical subjects. Scenes, music, costumes, and language all create an unparalleled sense of immersion. On the soundtrack, medieval modalities and special instruments transport the audience instantly into 14th-century Normandy. In the ambush in the forest, when the knights rectified the swordsmen, there were also bards singing, and the bard’s dress completely restored the image of the medieval French poet Rutebeuf. Medieval chain mail, the horse-backed hedge between knights with one spear and one giant shield, and even the costumes of passers-by or the Palais de Justice in Paris are perfectly restored.
Any medieval culture lover will be amazed by the film’s excellent production and the extraordinary sense of substitution it creates, and audiences unfamiliar with the Middle Ages can also appreciate the era style paintings displayed in this film without any barriers: lords and ladies They are beautifully dressed, as if they were characters from a manuscript illustration. But farmers, tenants and small traders struggled to survive in poverty, disease and war. In the lord’s castle, handsome men and beautiful women read the Kama Sutra in Latin, and sexual customs were extremely open; but Catholic culture and overall misogyny also oppressed all women. The city was rainy and muddy, but in the castle, the candles were burning and the fire was burning. The charm of the contradictions of the Middle Ages is therefore vividly expressed in this film – it is backward and refined, barbaric and civilized, open and repressed, rigid but occasionally carnival.
The Last Duel tells a fairly modern story with a medieval aesthetic. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon teamed up again after “Genius Catcher” to distill a modern story based on “The Last Duel”. The structure of this film inherits the story structure of Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s “In the Bamboo Forest”: the same story is told three times from three subjective perspectives, and the narratives of the three main characters are contradictory, thus achieving a dramatic effect of unpredictable truth. In the story of Jean de Carrouges, he is a knight who abides by justice and morality, but because of the conspiracy and betrayal of Jacques Le Gris, he has fallen into poverty and indifference. After his wife was raped, out of justice in his heart, he regained the lost reputation for his family, himself and his wife. But in the narrative of Jaques Le Gris, he is an amorous knight, a wise staff, handsome, intelligent, and sensible, so he has naturally won the favor of the lord; while Jean de Carrouges is ignorant, self-righteous and envied Blindfolded fool, his many attempts to repair friendships were mercilessly broken by him. In his opinion, Marguerite secretly offered to her, and her love was secretly promised, so she was just an adulterer along the way. He also maintained his innocence during the subsequent trial. Even at the moment of life-and-death duel, he still believes that what he is doing is not violence, but love.
Both sides’ accounts of the event are so sincere and self-consistent that at every point of view, the audience can’t help but believe the main character – when both sides disagree, whose narrative is the truth? It wasn’t until the final chapter, when the perspective of Marguerite de Carrouges unfolded, that all the seemingly contradictory plots made sense. It turned out that his husband was not a noble knight who was benevolent and courageous, but a macho control freak who married her for dowry and heirs. He is arrogant and inflexible. He can’t even manage the manor and farmland, but he is obsessed with the glory, crown and military exploits in his mouth. The tenderness between husband and wife is also a side of the husband’s words. In fact, he is worried that she has not been pregnant for many years. In order to conceive a man, he is a husband and wife, but he does not admit that infertility may be his own problem. Even the duel is not about justice for the wife, but only for personal vengeance by pushing her to the possible stake. As for Jaques Le Gris, who claims to be in love with her, he is not a handsome and affectionate knight, but a silent rapist who threatened her with her life after unspeakable violence against her in order to avenge her husband. In Jaques’ eyes, the shoe that was gently taken off under the stairs in order to seduce him, but it fell into a panic while fleeing. The same story is retold with the same lines, but the flirtation turns into a stern rejection, and the refusal turns into a heart-rending cry of despair and tears. So far, the hypocrisy, absurdity and absurdity of the two male protagonists have been revealed. Behind the medieval knight dispute, Tuqiong dagger reveals a kind of feminism that is almost out of place: of course, this is the film of Red, who made “The Kingdom of Heaven”. Leigh Scott, but it’s also Ridley Scott from The Last of Us and Alien. The perspectives of the three characters seem to be equally divided, but there is a hidden mystery: Marguerite’s narrative appears as the final narrative, which almost has the effect of closing the coffin. Under the guidance of the director’s various skills, the audience can’t help but believe that this is the truth of the incident.
The Last Duel travels downstream in an upstream fashion, turning a medieval dispute into an ancient rendition of gender oppression. The two male protagonists reflect the two sides of medieval chivalry – the brave warrior and the romantic lover. The former fights everywhere, plunders martial arts, and builds kingdoms; the latter is the representative of absolutely pure love, and can even sacrifice his life for love. But “The Last Duel” calls out the repressed female voice in a straightforward and clear way, and exposes the hypocrisy and violence of both masculinities. So, when the audience’s eyes finally returned to the duel arena, the light of the sword and the shadow of the sword, life and death and glory are no longer important, and the story of the Middle Ages has finally become a contemporary story. When a man is betting on a woman’s life and death for the sake of reputation, the voice of a woman will also tear off the man’s mask. When the man got the supreme glory and cheers in the swordsmanship, the whole story was just a long sigh for this woman who could never help herself.