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‘The Last Duel’ Movie Review: Matt Damon’s Medieval Misogyny

The Last Duel is not the movie where Matt Damon defends his wife’s honor and secures justice for his family. There is a duel in it, but both sides look bad and that’s the point. Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener’s adaptation of Eric Alper’s book dissects the notion of a heroic duel, and yet it’s still an epic Ridley Scott historical drama. 

In 1386, Jean de Carrouges (Damon) challenged Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) to a duel for raping Jean’ wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer). The duel happened in history and it begins as the start of the movie, so that part is inevitable. Along the way, The Last Duel tells the story from Jean, Jacques and Marguerite’s perspective to explain how it came to swords and spears. 

There are nuances in each version where the three stories overlap, but it’s not as Rashomon-like as that premise suggests. Events are consistent throughout each version. Jean and Jacques both see themselves as more heroic than they actually are, but that’s apparent in their own tellings. The men look bad in every version. 

Jean sees himself as a wronged party even before the rape but in his version he’s just a whiner. He married Marguerite for a land dowry, but then doesn’t get the land because the Count (Affleck) gave it to Jacques. Then Jean’s father dies and Jean isn’t promoted to Captain. Fighting his wife’s rapist is an outdated form of toxic chivalry at best, but clearly it’s more about Jean’s own insecurity anyway. 

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The only difference between Jacques and Marguerite’s account of the rape is that Jacques is oblivious to rape culture. It’s never that he thinks Marguerite came on to him. He just thinks her protests are part of the flirting ritual. Jean does look worse in Jacques’ telling, even more like a gung ho loose cannon. The fact that both men presumably think their versions indemnify them is telling. Their best versions still make them look like rapists and bro enablers.

Both men look even worse in Marguerite’s telling, but only for the parts they left out of their stories. Jean still sees her as property. Jacques is still a rapist, but they conveniently neglected that they’re both putting her at further risk. Marguerite faces victim blaming on trial for once saying she thought Jacques was attractive. This was before she knew he was going to rape her, of course. Jean doesn’t even necessarily believe her, so part of this duel is to convince himself he’s right. 

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Medieval science and medicine believed conception was linked to orgasm, and that rape could not result in pregnancy. Modern day politicians still cite that erroneous “science.” Plus, the court believed whoever won the duel was determined the true victor by God. So if Jean loses, Marguerite can still be punished just because her husband sucked at fighting. 

Jean’s story has the most Ridley Scott battles. As a knight of the King, he’s leading the troops into battles. They are big Ridley Scott battles and super gory, perhaps Scott’s most graphic battle scenes. There are enough bursts of violence to spruce up the period piece about land ownership and rankings. The action is visceral but never triumphant. It’s not that kind of movie. 

By the time you get to Jacques and Marguerite’s stories, you are invested enough that you don’t need recurring action scenes. They are not on the front lines with Jean so their stories are necessarily more about the nuance of what happened while Jean was away. 

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The duel itself is something, though. It is a protracted battle that takes many blows with many different weapons. It’s not pistols at dawn, although even in the early days of pistols one shot may not have finished the opponent off. But, The Last Duel ends with a grueling confrontation. What it leaves you with is the tragic feeling that Marguerite is still suffering no matter who wins. There have been a lot of Marguerites in history and hopefully it won’t take 600 years to tell their stories. 

Source: https://www.cheatsheet.com/

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