It saw this movie, enjoyed it, recommended it to a friend, and she hated it. She called it “Woke Feminist Bullshit.” I know it’s Woke, but that didn’t bother me; what interested me is the emphasis on how our individual emotional perspectives shift reality. I love studying personality types, and it’s true that our individual perspective skews the information that passes through us. Someone once said, “We are all the heroes of our own story,” and this movie shows that well.
In case you’ve not heard of it, The Last Duel is Ridley Scott’s epic about a famous rape trial decided by a fight to the death in France. After hearing the evidence from both sides, the courts decided to let God choose the victor by allowing one of the men to kill the other. Scott tells the story in three sections, going over some of the same material twice, but showing us how a camera angle, an emphasized glance, or an additional scene can ‘frame’ what the audience sees and give us sympathy for a character. There’s also a skewed ‘forced perspective’ present in each.
The first perspective belongs to Jean, the husband: in his own eyes, he is heroic, adventurous, compassionate toward his wife, and generous in how he treats her, though he has a tiny bit of a temper.
The second perspective belongs to the rapist, Le Gris, a charming, personable, likable man whom no woman can resist, who forms an emotional attachment to Marguerite, but finds Jean to be stupid and reckless, risking his life without having produced an heir out of a desperate constant need for attention, praise, and heroism.
The third belongs to Marguerite; in her version of events, everyone is mean to her; Jean treats her like property and is physically abusive toward her whenever he gets angry; her mother-in-law is nasty to her; Le Gris stalks and rapes her; and she does much better when she’s away from both of them, in which she single-handedly saves and improves their farm from poverty. Under her expertise, it starts turning a profit and all the peasants like her.
What I liked is that the story forms in little chunks of information at a time, and each new perspective causes you to reevaluate your conclusions from the previous ones. You start out liking Jean, then see his flaws; you aren’t sure whether to trust Le Gris, but notice how self-entitled he is and how he treats everyone like property; you see Marguerite make stupid mistakes and feel more sympathy for her as the stakes grow higher.
The movie makes one error, which is to inform the audience that her version is “the truth,” instead of “the truth according to…” which makes it Woke Feminism. It would be a more compelling movie if the story let you decide who to believe, as if you were the jury.
Unhealthy Feminism asserts that all men are pigs and all women are superior in every way, just held back by men; healthy feminism believes men have worth and are useful, that some of them are good, and others bad (just like some women are horrible and others are nice), and wants women to hold their own against them, within their capabilities. True feminism is equality, not superiority by trashing the opposition, and that’s the kind of feminism I aspire to. (A good alternative feminist movie that is way more realistic is First Knight, in which Guinevere stands up for herself within the bounds of a medieval context, but still needs men to defend her, because that’s the reality of the 1300s.)
However, I’m able to put my personal feelings aside and think about things in different contexts, which means I liked The Last Duel because of its emphasis on how people interpret things through themselves. If you’ve ever seen the same movie as a friend and come away with two different perspectives, it’s not that the movie intended what only one of you saw, but that you chose to look for what you wanted to see, and filtered it through your perspective, what matters to you, and what interests you, personally. No one else may see it the same way that you do, which is why no two witnesses to a crime remember the exact same details in court.
All three people in this story remember the story with a self-bent, focused on their own ambitions, intentions, and self-perspective, by focusing on what’s good about themselves and leaving out portions of the tale that cast them in an unfavorable light. Jean neglects to tell us that he isn’t as nice to his wife as he pretends to be; Le Gris neglects to tell us the assault was not a playful sex game, full of mild protestations to ‘protect her virtue’; Marguerite does not tell us the men’s side of the story, instead focusing on how good, pure, and sympathetic she is, in a world that doesn’t care about her. She is the victim of every man she has ever met; sold off by her father, used by her husband, and abused by a total stranger… but real life is much more nuanced than that.
Apparently, Jean in real life was a far more decent and honorable man than he is here, which suggests they may have chosen to enter into the duel mutually, rather than in the film, it being his decision alone (the catch is, if he loses, she will be burned alive as a bearer of false witness – yikes!). Everything else about the film is excellent, from the acting and costumes, to the intensity of the duel, which has you on the edge of your seat since you don’t know who will win, and the stakes are high.
Ridley has criticized millennials for causing this film to flop at the box office, and I have a response for him – it’s not that we no longer go to the movies, it’s that we are picky about what we want to see. You won’t win a male audience to your side by lecturing them for three hours about what unforgivable shits men are, most women don’t want to watch a graphic rape twice, no matter how much they want to see the woman vindicated, and historians won’t appreciate the present day judgments imposed on the past. Had you balanced out the message of your film more, and toned down some of the content, you would have gained a wider audience.
That being said, I liked this movie and would watch it again, even though some scenes are hard to endure and others made me cringe. It deserves its R-rating, and all the sexual content is deeply uncomfortable to sit through, even if it all provides character development, either to show her unhappiness in her marriage or to prove how debauched Le Gris and his friends are.
Anyone else watching it won’t see what I see, which is what caught my interest, because of my fascination with ‘how people see things’ – that our self-view skews how we see reality. It doesn’t change what it is, or the facts of it, but it does change how we interact with it. Being an idealist, I often ignore what I don’t like and focus on what draws me or strikes me as having significance. I notice that and dismiss the intentions behind it. Which isn’t bad, since it brings color to my perceptions. I don’t go into entertainment without bringing ‘me’ to it, and asking, “What will this spark in me? What has it to say to me?”
Regardless of what Ridley or the writers intended, it fulfilled its purpose in that it sparked Thoughts in me, an interest that caused me to watch it twice in two days, and ideas and emotions I will be chewing on for a long time.