The Last Duel (2021)
Directed by Ridley Scott
The Last Duel is a film by Ridley Scott that chronicles France’s last judiciary duel in 1386. The duel took place between Jean de Carrogues and Jacques Le Gris after the former’s wife accused the latter of rape. The film’s screenplay was adapted from the book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager. The Last Duel premiered in September of 2021 and stars Matt Damon as Carrogues, Adam Driver as Le Gris, and Jodie Comer as Marguerite Carrogues. The film examines the events leading up to the duel by telling the same story from three different vantage points of the characters Carrogues, Le Gris, and Marguerite. While the film is based on the duel between the two men it is also a compelling examination of a society that valued a man’s honor more than a woman’s life.
The film begins with the story from Carrogues’s perspective as he chronicles his relationship with Le Gris leading up to the duel between them. His portion of the story paints him as a hero who is devoted to the crown and his military career. In Carrogues’s account, Le Gris is a social climber who is rewarded with all that belonged to Carrogues. His father’s captainship, part of his wife’s dowry, and eventually Marguerite, are all taken by Le Gris. Carrogues’s outlook on life is exemplified by the dark lighting and downcast settings. Le Gris’s take is starkly different with scenes of brighter lighting and upbeat music. Le Gris believed Carrogues to be his friend who in time became bitter over his success. Interestingly in both of these takes on the story, Marguerite is hardly a footnote. In Carrogues’s account, despite professing his love, he seems to treat her like property. Even his choice to duel Le Gris is entirely selfish with Carrogues even failing to inform his wife of the deadly consequences for her if he were to lose. In Le Gris’s account, Marguerite is a challenge similar to his professional ambitions. He vehemently pursues Marguerite despite her continual protestations. Both Carrogues and Le Gris claim to love Marguerite yet neither seems interested in knowing her. Damon is excellent in this part as he portrays a man with equal parts hero and victim complexes, neither of which seem to have much humanity. Driver matches Damon’s performance crafting a character that is so self-absorbed he cannot fathom rejection. While Damon and Driver both deliver in this film, they are ultimately overshadowed by Jodie Comer’s performance.
Comer’s portrayal of Marguerite is indicative of her incredible range as an actress. In each version of events, Comer brings her character to life a little more. Comer starts the film with an aloof Marguerite who is merely a piece of furniture in her husband’s life. During Le Gris’s chapter, she has a bit more depth as a woman aware of her undesirable situation. When Marguerite’s chapter finally comes, Comer brings her character to life fully. Comer’s Marguerite is smart, sophisticated, and brave while struggling in a society that punishes her for those characteristics. Marguerite understands that, despite their declarations, neither man loves her. In fact, they may even be incapable of love when they only see her as something to dominate and own. As Marguerite comes to these realizations, Comer performs in a nuanced manner that shines brighter than the yelling and screaming of her counterparts. This is exemplified during the heartbreaking moment her trauma is sidelined by her own husband who cares more about his honor than her well-being. Marguerite’s chapter closes out the story as it comes full circle bringing all three versions of events clashing together at the duel.
The film ending duel is a brutal mess that drags on for so long it becomes uncomfortable, but it seems fitting since the movie seems to relish in the uncomfortable. Director Ridley Scott makes it a point that the film was not made for audience enjoyment, rather this film intends to provoke. While on the surface the film seems to be an examination of the duel, the film is ultimately a social commentary on the realities of how traumatic pursuing justice can be for victims of sexual violence. While the movie was set in 1386, the lengths Marguerite must go to for vindication feels devastatingly relevant. Her pursuit of justice is quickly taken and used as a power grab between men. She is then questioned at every turn and even those that believe her seem incapable of empathizing with her. Due in part to the well-rounded performances of the cast and the unique storytelling technique, the film leaves a mark much more lasting than the titular duel. As The Last Duel concludes, the gruesome duel ends up being only a footnote in the story about a woman whose trauma was placed on display for the world in the pursuit of justice that feels entirely unjust. The Last Duel is a film worth watching, especially as a reminder of just how far society has come and how far we still have to go when it comes to justice against sexual violence.
— Autumn Andersen
California State University, Stanislaus