The Last Duel Movie Review

Title: The Last Duel

Year: 2021

Producers: Ridley Scott, Kevin J. Walsh, Jennifer Fox, Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck

Access to film: HBO Max

The film was based a book written by a scholar who studied primary and secondary sources in order to write his book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France.

A few themes reside within the film. One being credibility. Another in the idea of agency. Women and their role in history. Another being a depiction of the Middle Ages. The film deals with the trial by combat between Sir Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris for an alleged raped of Marguerite de Carrouges. All taking place within the Middle Ages in France and became famous for being the last judicial dual within France. The man who originally wrote the story, Eric Jager, pieced together the story of the trail through legal documents and accounts. We see a push for female agency, during a period in which we know women were not granted credibility that men were. However, this film takes an artistic approach providing the three difference aspects (Marguerite, Jean, and Jacques) in which the tragic crime took place. From Jager’s study and other sources, this film attempted to place Marguerite at the center even though her narrative is silent in the historical record. However, there is an accurate depiction of the grittiness and rough in which violence of the Middle Ages was enacted and how people processed horrendous acts prior to modern law.

This film is tricky when it comes to key moments because the story is reacted through the lens of each individuals in the story as mentioned above. So within each story it is told through what is believed as what they know as true. However, the story centers on the crime against Marguerite and thus I focus pivotal moments that surround her character. I find that as a biased viewer, the final chapter of the movie The Truth as imagined by Marguerite holds significant telling. At 1:56:12 we are at the tail end of Marguerite telling Jean what Jacques did to her and him responding in anger. Marguerite expresses her desire to come forward with allegation against Jacques but acknowledges that she needs her husbands backing, Jean, in order to be believed. Jean remains angry, as he feels its an act a revenge and jealously on the life he has built rather than an aggression towards his wife. Jean doesn’t acknowledge what has happened to his wife and seeks to be with her again because “he (Jacques) cannot be the last man to have been with his wife.” This situates itself contemporary and historical context and dictates women’s agency in history and how they are portrayed, this film is no different. However, the next scene that follows shortly after at 2:05:41, highlights again the larger theme of women’s agency. In this scene Jean and Marguerite have left the trial that determined what the king of France was meant to do about the charges being pressed upon Jacques. The king decided that trial by combat what the necessary outcome. The tension is high and we see Jean briskly walked after Marguerite to then violently grab her arm so that she faces him. It is here we understand that a trial by combat only means that Marguerites life is on the line. Marguerite, now pregnant, will die if her husband (Jean) loses in the fight against Jacques. Jean argues he is fighting for her life but Marguerite counters that Jean is only fighting for pride while risking her life and their childs. Again, we come to understand the silencing of women in a historical sense as well as contemporary. The Last Duel is meant to shed light on the forgotten and silenced narrative of Marguerites perspective, and does that with a few nuances.

I think that in this instance, that I might use it in a lesson concerning middle age practices. Provided that the characterization of the dark ages is pretty historically accurate with obvious discredit to the dialogue used within the film. The film can also generate questions about women in the Middle Ages and history in general, in a discussion about archival silences. If used within this context, I think it would be important to reiterate that films take creative liberties because some dialogue cannot be accurately recorded. Or in this instance, can we truly know if the final chapter, The Truth was accurate because we don’t have Marguerite’s narrative in historical record. In addition to my usage in lesson, I might also use it in the larger discussion of archival silence as I previously mentioned. I would want students to ask: How do we address silences in the archival record? What is the role of women in the Middle Ages? Is the archival record bias? Who creates the archive? Whose narrative gets left behind and why? I think that while the film is a good piece on a historical event, it is not totally accurate, but can pose questions beyond what is viewed within the limits of the film.

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