What’s the main message you would expect from a 14th century drama about battling knights? From a Ridley Scott directed; Ben Affleck and Matt Damon co-scripted; Damon, Affleck and Adam Driver co-starring; masculine and bloody movie about the wounded pride of men?
Well I, for one, did not expect that message to be ‘believe the victim’ and then a hammering home of ‘and then don’t pat yourself on the back for doing so’. But this is what the film is saying, however obviously, and I thought that it was great that it was.
Quickly I want to add that the film was also co-written by Nicole Holofcener and co-stars, in a brilliant performance, Jodie Comer. I left them out in my initial boasting of the film’s credentials because I want to paint a particular picture. I feel that a film usually featuring the involvement of these men typically targets a male demographic. This helps them smuggle the film’s message into much needed territory and a general moviegoer would not expect that.
Using sexual assault or rape has become a trope. It’s used as a cop out to “develop” a female character and to “strengthen and embolden” her resolve. Typically I’m pretty done with it. For me personally, though, in The Last Duel it gets a pass. Not to understate how graphic and traumatising the scenes of assault are in this film. But this is based on a true story and ultimately I think all involved had their hearts in the right place.
I wholeheartedly support the need for a Trigger Warning system to be put in place for film and television. It’s something I have to navigate in my own life and I know that had people in my life seen this film with me they wouldn’t have been able to sit through the whole movie. I’ve seen discussion of people not being prepared for scene’s in the film and I agree that it needs to be addressed.
I really liked how this film plays around with perspectives and personal truths. It shows how we see and how we overlook what we do to other people. Our own narrative is what’s king and events to the contrary can me mentally modified. The male ego is always in delicate balance and must be stroked specifically to maintain equilibrium.
The Last Duel challenges male audience members to consider their perspectives. To consider the perspectives of others in their lives and to hopefully readjust their world view. I can only speak from my perspective as a male audience member but I felt specifically spoken to in this film based on my gender more than any other film I’ve seen recently.
The work of all those involved in this film should be appreciated. Not celebrating the affect female trauma has on men and how they respond is sort of a theme so I won’t call for celebration. I just hope this is a further sign of change in the film industry. Even if you think the message in handled clumsily or inadequately you have to acknowledge the change in attitude.
It’s not for everyone but it is specifically meant for others.