Mikaela Wegner—Co-Chief Editor
When I heard that Adam Driver, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck were all starring in a movie together, I naively didn’t give The Last Duel a second thought before buying tickets.
On Oct. 16, a day after its release, I arrived to see the new Ridley Scott film at an AMC theatre in Omaha, Nebr. The theatre, not quite the Cinema 5 experience of Sioux Center, had over a couple hundred seats per screening room. I arrived at the theatre with my boyfriend just ten minutes before showtime, worried that all the best seats were taken. Turning the corner, I saw only two others seated. The silence shocked me, especially for a Saturday night. But, I would soon learn that even a star-studded cast cannot make a plot appealing.
The story takes place in the 1300s where lords and ladies are ruled by the divine right and an incompetent king. Based on a true story, the movie is divided into four chapters that concern the alleged rape of Marguerite de Carrouges by Jacque le Gris. The first chapter shows the perspective of a heroic husband: a version of Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) that treasures his wife and brings her justice. The second portrays le Gris (Adam Driver) as a helpless romantic seduced by Marguerite (Jodie Comer). And, finally, the “true” perspective, is that of Marguerite’s. She is, according to the film, a women taken advantage of by her aggressive and narcissistic husband, then is subsequently abandoned and raped.
The plot is disgusting. I believe that without the film’s explicit statement of its historical validity, viewers would hate Ridley Scott for portraying humanity as so despairingly evil. I exited the theater silent and nauseous, feeling similar to how I did after first watching Schindler’s List. The film’s editing was abrupt, keeping the viewer uncomfortably stuck in the jolting pace of its narrative. There were close to 10 sex-scenes, one showing nudity, but all showing their faces.
Knowing that Marguerite de Carrouges was living through hell amidst all of this made me the most uncomfortable. I do not have the audacity to say the director makes you feel the way Marguerite de Carrouges is feeling. Rather, I felt like a bystander in the room, with the cowardliness not to intervene but the perversity to keep watching. I could not watch the rape scene, but instead pressed my head into my hands. The sounds were haunting, and I felt, for the first time, violated by a movie. At the scene’s end, le Gris threatens Marguerite with her life, should she tell anyone about the rape. Then he leaves, and she is alone.
For what it’s worth, The Last Duel accurately portrays the dehumanization of women during this time period as objects owned by wealthy men for the purpose of sexual pleasure. Next to the rape scene, the most disturbing part of the film came from the courtroom. Here, Marguerite, months pregnant from the rape, sits before hundreds of men and is accused of either dreaming the rape or initiating it herself. The courts decide the only way to settle the truth is through combat, in that through a duel, God will reward those who honor the truth and kill those who do not.
I would love to know how many times “God’s will” was said in this movie. It was distorting to me how God was used as the justification for such egregious actions — that things must have happened in terrible ways because God wanted them to happen. I cannot imagine how Marguerite must have felt, everyday believing how much God must have hated her.
Though this movie portrayal of “God’s will” exhausted me, it made me think of how exhausted non-Christians must be of us. How often have we used “God’s will” as reason to our own action, or explanation to other’s situations?
“I’m going to take this course because it’s God’s will.” “I’m going to quit because it’s God’s will.” “I’m going to break up with my boyfriend because it’s God’s will.” “I’m going to go to cheat on my wife because it’s God’s will.” “I’m going to go to Dordt because it’s God’s will.”
I have heard every one of these arguments, I have used most of them as well. What in the world does “God’s will” even mean? This world is so absolutely broken and so completely manipulative to the point that I do not believe God’s will is termed the way it was ever supposed to be.
In Proverbs 6:9, the author writes, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
How dare we make our plans, attributing them to God’s forceful hand? How small we must think God to be. I don’t believe we can predict anything to be God’s will, only seek him after it happens. After watching this movie, I am so disjointed by myself and other Christians that we are so arrogant, thinking we have the power to know God’s will.
If I was Marguerite de Carrouges, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian either.