Scarlett Worthington’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Last Duel lets you think you know what type of film you’re watching and then turns into something completely different.
The Last Duel pulled a huge 180. I was beyond excited going into it, then as I was about half way through, I became frustrated with the basic perspective the film was presenting itself as and then the turning point came and this became one of the most intelligent and brilliant films I’ve seen. To analyse this film effectively I will be spoiling what happens and this is definitely a film where going in knowing as little as possible will maximise your enjoyment. So SPOILERS AHEAD.
Fittingly, this film is book-ended by the titular last duel. Already a decision where the impact is not felt by the audience until we return to the duel at the end. At the beginning we don’t know the characters, so such a dramatic event really sets up your anticipation and already allows you to ask important questions. Why are they fighting? Why must it be a duel to the death? Why is there similar focus on this Lady character (Jodie Comer my queen) as there is to the two men duelling?
The film then divides itself into three parts from the perspectives of these three characters. Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), Jacques le Gris (Adam Driver) and Lady Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer). Now when I realised the film was playing out in this format I thought it would just be from the two men’s viewpoints. I’ll return to this aspect later on in my review, for now I’ll work chronologically. The synopsis revolves around one event which could possibly have dire consequences for all involved. The event being the supposed rape of Lady Marguerite. Now she is the devoted wife of Jean de Carrouges and the perpetrator is no one but Jacques le Gris, former firm friend of Jean’s, now turned betrayer.
Jean de Carrouges presents the story first, we don’t really have any judgements since it’s the first time we’re seeing the story unfold. He seems to live the life of a normal Squire: he’s brilliant in battle, his wife loves him, he’s prideful but rightfully so and leads his life by honour. Therefore when injustice occurs it only seems natural to put himself forward, in fact it’s quite noble of him. The main emphasis of this perspective is the betrayal of le Gris and how this effects Carrouges. We get the typical friends turned enemies storyline, which is what led me to believe that this story was heading in quite an unoriginal direction. Just two men trying to prove who’s dick is bigger essentially. We also don’t see the event in question happen, which means we question both Marguerite and le Gris; we don’t know enough about either of them to know if it is in character of either to lie about such an atrocity or perform the atrocity itself.
Now onto Jacques le Gris’ side of the story. We see he is a good Knight but with questionable characteristics. He’s a libertine who lacks a sense of morality despite his intelligence. When he meets Lady Marguerite and sees she is too book-smart like him, he feels love for the first time and this makes him act out. We see them engage in meaningful and flirtatious conversation and exchange glances making us think an affair of sorts may soon happen. When Lady Marguerite is alone, he shows up to confess his love for her and she is of course too loyal to her husband and tells him to leave. He does not however and forces himself upon her. There seems to be a hidden desire within Lady Marguerite in the opinion of Jacques le Gris, she protests but not enough. For example, she takes her shoes off when running from him. There seems to be a much more playful feel to this, which I personally going disgusting. It was when this happened that I actually started to get very angry at the film. Once again it was another victim of the male gaze and I was enraged at the portrayal and horrific treatment of Jodie Comer’s character and how bravado and honour seems to defend the actions of men even in a time where roles were very different. However, we now know for a fact that Le Gris did rape Lady Marguerite.
Now although these two versions of the same story had slight differences, the intricacy and precision makes the two sides of the story believable, which I commend greatly. It’s very different to tell the same story multiple times and not only have it show different moments for it to still be engaging but also share enough similarities so it’s still believable.
Now onto Lady Marguerite. I knew straight away things were about to take a turn when the title screen appeared and when it faded out the words “the truth” stayed there a moment longer before we got propelled into her point of view. Here we see a woman. Intelligent, strong-minded, kind and genuine who is a victim to patriarchy she is forced into. We see her marriage and her love with Carrouges isn’t perfect, he’s cruel to her and too involved with himself to love her as she deserves. But we don’t feel completely sorry for her. Because she cannot live without that marriage, and I respect her for that, she does what she has to do. She seems to find much more enjoyment in her life when her husband is away for months on battle. She keeps books in order, makes more effective decisions and all in all has a sense of freedom and pride in her solitude. She most definitely is the backbone of her marriage. Now when we get to the part where le Gris rapes her, and there is no doubt about the fact that he attacked her and there was absolutely no consent. This was an incredibly hard scene to watch and it did not hold back. Although I found it difficult to watch, it served narrative purpose while solidifying the injustice at hand as well as fully putting the audience on Lady Marguerite’s side more than we already were. We fall even further onto her side when her husband’s apparent nobility to fight for her cause may gravely affect her if she loses.
Now the two men who we originally thought were the focus of this film because objects in Lady Marguerite’s story. Objects that decide her fate.
I was astounded by the end of this movie. Not only was it relentless in its brutality but it told a story exceptionally well. It subverted our expectations in the best way possible and the story still remains so relevant in what it depicts and I was amazed to see this was a true story. It is also brilliant to see Matt Damon and Ben Affleck working on a film together again as the results are always amazing. What I found out though which really made me love this film even more was the fact that a woman, Nicole Holofcener, wrote Lady Marguerite’s section while they wrote the other two men’s sections. The film 100% wouldn’t have been as effective if it didn’t have that female perspective. Because after all, her story is the truth.
This film in my opinion has really pushed the boundaries of a period piece. It’s an epic tragedy with impressive contemporary thematic explorations. The grandiose of the period combined with a fresh perceptive make for a truly outstanding feature.