“The Last Duel”: medieval harassment, chivalry and feminism
Country: USA, UK
Genre: history, drama
Year of production: 2021
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Harriet Walter, Ben Affleck
The Last Duel (original title The Last Duel) is a very powerful and detailed film from 83 year old director Ridley Scott. Remarkably, the film flopped at the US box office, grossing only $10 million. However, the audience liked the work, although the concept of presenting the material leaves some questions. Let’s take a closer look at the plot and understand the essence of the film.
The meaning of the film “The Last Duel” is that each of the three participants in the events sees and describes them in his own way. Everyone here has their own truth. If we evaluate this story from the position of the main character Margarita, then this is a feminist film about the rights of a woman: she is a person, and not a dumb thing that belongs to a man. The picture is based on real events.
Based on historical events
The film by Ridley Scott is based on the novel by Eric Jaeger. He is a professor of English, a critic and a specialist in medieval literature. Jaeger thoroughly studied historical sources, including the fundamental work of Jean Froissart “Chronicles”, dated to the 14th century.
In general, the film “The Last Duel” very accurately conveys the historical outline of the event. In short, we are talking about the conflict between two nobles – Jean de Carrouge and Jacques Le Gris. The first belonged to a noble family, the second achieved a lot himself, and managed to get closer to Count Pierre. They fought together for the glory of the king of France, but then, when Le Gris approached the overlord, a black cat ran between them.
Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouge and Adam Driver as Jacques Le Gris. Frame from the film.
Carrouge’s wife Marguerite impressed Le Gris and he decided to seduce her. However, the woman, apparently, rejected the persistent courtship, and a classic harassment occurred – Jacques simply raped the wife of his comrade. According to some reports, the rapist threw a bag of gold coins to his victim and advised him to remain silent so as not to bring shame on the family. However, Margarita rejected the money and immediately stated that she would tell her husband about everything.
Enraged, Carrouge tried to restore justice to Count Pierre, but without receiving a fair verdict, he went to the king. All in all, the situation was rather delicate. Given that feminism had not yet been heard of, a woman was something like household utensils, and was in the status of her husband’s property. Therefore, the rapist as a whole was not threatened with anything – a maximum fine.
However, Carrouge managed to crush the court, and defending his property interests, insisted on God’s judgment. According to the results of the duel, the winner was declared innocent, the woman was threatened with burning at the stake for perjury.
In the sources, the duel is described rather gray. Le Gris was knighted so that the rivals were of equal status. He fought on foot, and almost immediately managed to wound Carrouge. However, the knight Jean was an experienced fighter, so he won. It is curious, but in the chronicles it is noted that Carrouge did not kill Le Gris – the armor protected him from a mortal blow. However, the defeated knight was hanged anyway, confirming his guilt.
Frame from the film.
Regarding the event itself, the opinions of chroniclers differ. In particular, there is an opinion that Margarita simply slandered Le Gris at the instigation of her husband, who envied his exalted comrade-in-arms.
In any case, Carrouge died a few years later in one of the battles. The fate of Margarita is unknown to historians. There is a version that the woman ended her earthly journey in the monastery, unable to cope with the shame.
Curiously, this deadly duel between the nobles really turned out to be the last – more Parliament did not give permission for such fights. The author of the book believes Margarita, and in his opinion, the woman knew exactly who the rapist was, and at the trial she spoke the pure truth. However, skeptics tend to believe in Carrouge’s machinations. Some documents and letters that could testify in favor of Le Gris disappeared from the court file. However, on this occasion, the disputes of historians have not ceased to this day.
We turn to the content of the film “The Last Duel”, which very accurately conveys the main idea of u200bu200bhistorical events. The picture begins with the viewer being shown preparations for a duel that took place in 1386.
The events then move forward a few years before, with de Carrouges, along with Le Gris, at war. Jean violates orders to defend the bridge and throws his men into the attack. During the battle, he saves Le Gris’ life.
Frame from the film.
After the war, the situation changes. Le Gris is close to Count Pierre and, on his orders, collects taxes from the vassals. Carrouge has no money to pay the rent, and his former associate agrees with the Count on a delay. To improve financial affairs, Carrouges is married to Marguerite de Tibouville, the daughter of a traitor who received the favor of the king. The marriage is mutually beneficial – the apostate receives a bearer of a noble family as a relative, and the nobleman, in addition to his wife, becomes the owner of the dowry.
There is one nuance here. The richest piece of land, which, according to the agreement, should become part of the inheritance, was alienated in favor of Count Pierre on account of arrears. After that, the land was granted to Le Gris. Carrouge tries to sue the land and files a lawsuit against the count, but the king rejects this petition.
Moreover, Le Gris receives the title of captain of the city, which should pass to Carrouge by right of inheritance. As a result, Jean is out of work, but at the insistence of his wife, he tries to improve relations with his former friend. Reconciliation succeeds, but Le Gris has his eye on Marguerite. He is sure that the woman is in love with him, so after waiting for a good moment when the woman is alone in the estate, he tricks him into getting inside and raping her. Margarita tells her husband about everything, he goes to court, demands a duel and wins the duel. The ending is known.
However, the film “The Last Duel” is not limited to this interpretation. According to the director’s idea, the story is shown through the eyes of all participants, which brings the whole picture of events to the viewer’s analysis.
In particular, from Le Gris’ point of view, the story looks different. He seeks the patronage of the count in order to compensate for the ignorance of the family. It is making good progress in this. In every possible way he tries to cover his friend from the count’s disgrace.
The plot of land, because of which the enmity begins, passes to Count Pierre, and then Le Gris by law. At a memorable meeting, when he first sees Margarita, the nobleman notices her smiles and an interested look, therefore, having suffered from mental anguish, he decides to take possession of the woman he likes.
In the understanding of Le Gris, he does not commit violence, he is sure that everything happened by mutual agreement and that he is right. Even before Carrouge’s fatal blow, he insists on his innocence.
Frame from the film.
The content of the film on behalf of Margarita gives explanations for things that elude the eyes of men. A woman feels like an unnecessary thing that has become a bargaining chip for her father. She is part of the Carrouge estate and is unhappily married. She does not flirt with Le Gris, but simply tries to demonstrate to her husband that a simple smile can cause the disposition of any person. However, this gesture of hers is misinterpreted, which leads to violence.
Trying to achieve the truth and restore justice, Margarita is faced with a misunderstanding of others. In society, such stories are usually hushed up. Already before the trial, she learns that if Carrouge loses, she will be burned alive, but decides to go to the end. She is pregnant, and at the end of the film “The Last Duel”, the audience sees that Margarita is sitting in the background of the castle, admiring the grown child.
The ending of the film is quite simple, and, surprisingly for such a story, it ends with a happy ending. Being married, Margarita cannot become pregnant. The husband is very rude with her, so the woman does not get any pleasure from intercourse. She becomes pregnant only as a result of rape, which makes it clear that this is Le Gris’s child.
Margarita always wanted a son, and the grown-up boy really looks like her. At the end of the film, Margarita, who is certainly the central heroine of this story, kills all the hares at once. She has a noble surname, but there is no hated husband who died in a skirmish. Margarita seeks a fair punishment for the rapist, stays with her son, whom she really loves. Therefore, the meaning of the ending of the film “The Last Duel” is quite logical and natural, in fact, it is a happy ending.
The meaning of the film
The overall meaning of the film is much deeper. The explanation can be found thanks to the great idea of the director, who plays this play in three acts, on behalf of each of the participants. As a result, opinions about key figures are changing.
From the side of Carrouge, this is the saga of a brave warrior who was betrayed by a friend and overlord. He is a noble warrior who is kind to his wife and subjects, and tries only to achieve justice, risking his own life in the process.
For Le Gris, this story seems like a chivalric romance, where the protagonist tries to taste the forbidden fruit. He is sure that Margarita is in love with him and simply cannot leave her ignorant husband. Le Gris himself seems to be a refined and educated person, which is ideal for Marguerite.
Frame from the film.
Margarita herself sees everything exclusively in gray. The husband is not at all noble, and he needs her solely because of the dowry. This is clearly shown by the scene in the church, when Carrouge, right at the time of the wedding, begins a showdown over the land.
Intimacy with Carrouge is more like rape, so even the harassment from Le Gris looks more subtle. In addition, her husband does not tell her about the consequences of the trial, and Margarita only at the last moment finds out that she can be burned alive with a 50/50 probability.
The truth here is for everyone. From beginning to end, the meaning of the picture subtly changes. In particular, Carrouge initially appears as a noble warrior, but in reality turns out to be a miserly knight. He does not care about the feelings of his wife, and the fact of rape is perceived by him as an attack on his property rights.
The insidious Count Pierre turns out to be a good-natured reveler who does not care about Carrouge at all, and is more concerned about women and wine. Le Gris tries to appear noble, but in reality he does not love Marguerite either, and only tries to satisfy lust.
It is in these contradictions that the hidden meaning of the finale lies. A woman does not have the right to vote, so she only has to hope for the judgment of God. However, it is not God who decides at this judgment, but the ability to wield weapons.
Why does the court not believe Margarita? Everything is trite here. The film mentions that pregnancy can only occur after an orgasm, which is a “scientifically proven fact”. In marriage, Margarita had no children, therefore, she does not experience pleasure from intimacy with her husband. Therefore, having become pregnant by the alleged rapist, she enjoyed intercourse, which cannot be perceived as rape. Why was Marguerite sentenced to be burned if Le Gris won? If Le Gris had won, it would have meant that Marguerite had lied. That in fact their connection was desirable for her, which means that she is a fallen woman who bore false witness against a noble man. Such a plot move demonstrates that the value of a woman in the Middle Ages was much lower than the value of a man. Why was Le Gris’ body publicly abused? Having lost the last duel, Le Gris automatically becomes guilty, and there is no point in additionally mocking the body, putting it on public display. There is clearly a reference to the original source here – according to the chronicles, Le Gris did not die, although he lost the duel. So he was hanged like a common criminal. The director just played this moment in a different way. The body is mocked to disgrace the person and his name.