Historians hail Ridley Scott’s medieval (and viewers don’t)

It will not happen to ‘The last duel’ the dinosaur fever that precipitated Steven Spielberg with ‘Jurassic Park’, especially since the fast-paced movie Ridley Scott already exposes a divorce between the skepticism of the box office and the enthusiasm of historians, many of them identified in the event of a rigorous and credible high medieval portrait.

And not because Ridley Scott had any obligation with a pedagogical or academic perspective, but because the essay that gave rise to the film comes from the criteria of a medievalist, Eric Jager, whose verb gave extraordinary consideration to the chronicles of Jean Froissart.

Trailer of ‘The Last Duel’

He conceived them at the end of the 14th century, among the corpses of the plague and the Hundred Years War. And describe a fierce, pestilential medieval, in flagrant contradiction to the stylization and idealization that haunts the Hollywood canon. It is the reason why ‘The Last Duel’ acquires a verisimilitude and a philological effort —except for the French language… – that does not deny obligations to the show. The battle that opens Scott’s film, for example, evokes the beginning of ‘Save Private Ryan’ in the massacre of the Normandy beaches. And accredits the narrative instinct of the British filmmaker on the threshold of 83 years, more or less as if age had brought him a rebound in mastery.

The search for historical truth, if there is one, has impacted the scope of artistic truth, if there is one. ‘The last duel’ represents an immersion in the complexity of the Middle Ages and in lthe death throes of a troubled age from which the Renaissance was to be born or come.

Because it is not so easy to define the borders. The scholar has already told us Jacques Le Goff (1924-2014) in his magnificent writings that it is not convenient to establish categorical temporal divisions, much less indulge in the black legend of the Middle Ages. “The Middle Ages created the nation, the State, the university, the mill and the machine, the hour and the clock, the book, the fork, the clothes, the person, the conscience and, finally, the revolution,” he writes in the preface of ‘For another Middle Ages’ (Taurus).

Le Goff’s great challenge was not only geopolitics, epics, wars of religion, but the history of customs, in folklore, in private life. And in the reconstruction of the mentality of those peoples and cultures that went through the adventures of Jean Froissart.

A mutant society

Froissart himself agreed at the time of Petrarca. And he described the contradictions of a mutant society that transited between earth and heaven. The fear of God, the extortion of feudalism and the brutal aftermath of to fish coexisted with the expectations of humanism and the first revolutions of science, in such a way that ‘The last duel’ reflects the apparent end of an era. It is explained by the title of the film in allusion to a memorable joust that was decided with the jurisdictional mediation of the king Charles VI of France and that it was disputed according to the divine sentence. God would help the contestant to defend the truth.

And the truth consisted in deciding whether the squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver, in the film) raped the wife of Jean Le Carrouges (Matt Damon, with abertzale aspect). Not because it was such a crime, but because the outraged woman was considered the property of the affronted knight. And he had the right to be compensated in a duel to the death.

The episode fascinates medievalists because it exposes the intrigue of a judicial ‘thriller’

The episode fascinates medievalists because it exposes the intrigue of a judicial ‘thriller’ in which canon law, Roman law, the authority of the king and the abstraction of divine justice collide, since the millennial connotation of the plague evoked the ferocity of biblical plagues and the retaliation of a righteous God who reigned among the illiterate.

Illiterate like Jean Le Carrouges himself, whose reputation as an armed knight and position as a landlord do not contradict the restriction to the culture of the privileged classes. It was more affordable to be educated in the shelter of the Church. And perhaps deny her like Jacques Le Gris did, a careerist among mediocre who knew how to win the sympathy of the aristocracy and that he reached the rank of squire under the orders of the Count of Alençon (Ben Afleck with blond hair, much like the Caligula of Tinto Brass).

The relationship between the two provides the film with the best episodes of depravity and sensationalism, between womanhood, alcohol, feudal drive and looting taxpayers, but the magnetism of ‘The Last Duel’ comes from the stench of a Medieval bloody and fierce. And the scruple with which armor and clothing are rebuilt. And the demystification of castles and initiation rites.

We see the rats and the scaffolding of Notre Dame. Sickness and misery

The very recreation of Paris belies the idealized conception of a great city. We see the rats and scaffolding Our Lady. Disease and misery. And the description of a court devoid of liturgical apparatus and of scenic thickness. Carlos VI, alias El Loco, acceded to the throne at the age of 11. He incurred all sorts of psychotic episodes, none as obvious as the crystal delusion. A psychiatric pathology that defined patients in anguish by the conviction of the fragility of their bones. And that explained the precautions of being kept in an ivory tower.

Ridley Scott portrays him frivolous and adolescent, resembling Geoffrey Lannister, although the most evident contemporary derivative consists of the presentist reading of discrimination. It is where the role of Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer). And where it is identified the subordination of women to the category of male property and reproductive qualification, not exempt, on the other hand, from the diabolical reputation –the temptation of eve– nor of the connection to witchcraft.

It may be objected that Ridley Scott sneaks a MeToo derivative into ‘The Last Duel’, but Jacques Le Goff already reminded us that the only way to understand the past is to organize round trips with the presentEven more so when the Middle Ages, in his opinion, did not represent a capsule of History, but perhaps a very long transition whose origins date back to the fall of the Roman Empire and whose death throes could still be recognized at the beginning of the 20th century.

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Historians hail Ridley Scott’s medieval (and viewers don’t)