Monday, August 23, 2010

MM Movie Review: The Messenger

Good monarchist movies are hard to find, very few are done and even fewer are done well. Alas the 1999 Luc Besson film, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” is no exception to this generality. It was to be expected but, at the time, I had no idea that this movie about one of the most famous monarchists in history and a Christian saint revered by millions was directed by an avowed atheist. In my ignorance I was excited when “The Messenger” came out and eager to see the life of Joan of Arc brought to the screen with more money, more filmmaking wizardry and so on than was available in past attempts. Oh, how disappointed I was. Overall it is actually soul-crushingly bad. Painful bad. Horrid. More than that it is downright insulting to virtually every group connected with the story portrayed. However, I am getting ahead of myself and should try to start by saying something kind.

As is usual with Hollywood (yes, a French-made movie but I think you know what I mean) these days, the technical side of the movie is great. Some have complained about it but I thought the look, the sets, the battle scenes, the special effects and so on were good or at least good enough. Granted, there was only one really big battle portrayed in the movie (lifting the siege of Orleans). Also, unlike some others, I thought the actors all did a pretty good job, even Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc. That is not to say that the part was good but I will get to that in a minute. One thing I did like was the greater realism than seen in other films (though this has more to do with when the film was made) and that carried to Jovovich’s Joan of Arc. I liked the level of emotion on display. I never could imagine St Joan riding serenely through the butchery of battle, untouched by the chaos around her. That is certainly not the case with this movie. Joan gets frustrated, she gets inspired, ecstatic, angry and anguished. She is very emotionally involved to say the least. Again, on the whole, I thought the acting was good and it was certainly not a list of no-names on the bill of players.

However, that being said, the big, huge, gargantuan, behemoth problem with this movie is how history was cut to ribbons to pursue an agenda. The word “inaccurate” does not begin to describe it. Spiteful, libelous, atrocious, insulting and even downright blasphemous would not be going too far. From the very start the Joan in this movie is portrayed as suffering from some sort of obsessive-religious disorder. She is not shown as anything that could be described as devout by any stretch but as a compulsively religious maniac, swept up in ecstatic religious visions one moment and then terrified to the point of paranoia the next over divine judgment. Then enter the English. Since the filmmakers seem incapable of believing that someone could go off on a mission to liberate their country and restore their rightful king based purely on religious devotion and pious patriotism they have to give Joan a motive. In this case it is watching in horror while her older sister is killed and raped (yes, in that order) by an English soldier. It is possibly the most disgusting scene of the entire movie and seems to serve no other purpose than to rob Joan of pure motives in her quest but to hold on in her mind to be brought up in the end that it was all about hatred and a thirst for revenge on her part tied to feelings of guilt that her sister had died after giving up her hiding place to Joan.

This ends up being rather central to the story as Dustin Hoffman (my least favorites character by far) appears at the end listed in the credits as “the conscience” and basically relates that Joan had been driven by vengeance, vanity and that her visions were nothing more than delusions she chose to interpret as divine instructions to serve her own ends. That overall theme is the largest insult of the movie but it is certainly not the only one. No opportunity is lost to take cheap shots at virtually anything Joan of Arc or the people of her time held dear. Further, these were all completely needless insults that did nothing to advance the story but simply serve to make the viewer feel worse and destroy any possibility of anyone in this movie coming away with a good reputation. There was Yolanda of Aragon replacing the Holy Oil of Clovis that had “run out” and calling it a “miracle”, the scene of that same Queen Yolanda and her son King Charles VII deliberately betraying Joan to the Burgundians and the (thankfully unseen) rape of Joan in prison.

Absolutely no one comes away looking good in this movie and it is a common problem with spiteful, bleeding-heart liberal filmmakers of today. Everyone is bad, everyone has wicked motives, Joan of Arc is a phony, the French are a bunch of sniveling, back-stabbers, the churchmen are all corrupt and self-serving and the English are crude, sadistic barbarians. Not surprisingly the reviews for this movie when it was released were predominately bad. There is no hero, no one for the uninformed audience to root for and if you do the director ensures you will feel guilty for doing so by the time it is all over. It is a movie that brings audiences down plain and simple. What frustrates me the most is the obvious talent that is on display. This could have been a great movie, it easily could have been the quintessential bio-epic of St Joan of Arc. The historical narrative is one tailor-made to thrill, uplift and inspire audiences. That this movie could have done that but the filmmakers chose to do the opposite infuriates me more than anything else. They had everything needed to make a magnificent film about Joan of Arc, and you even get glimpses of it now and then, but they simply chose not to. They chose to insult and slander.


  1. The remake of “Clash Of The Titans” had the same basic problem, and I think that its less that the man is an Avowed Atheist, as the type of Atheism he avows. Like Philip Pullman and Louis Lattimre, Luc Besson basically follows a Secular Humanist belief system.

    They think Atheists like themselves aren’t Religious. In this regard they agree with you, but inasmuch as Religion is a set of beliefs about the nature, origin, and Purpose of our existence, and is based on the overarching narrative that explains our life and what it means to be Human, they are. They have deep, profound beliefs about Human Nature, our existence, and the meaning of life, and follow a Historical narrative that see’s Religion, especially Christianity, as a Primitive for in Humanity that causes Oppression, cruelty, and immorality, and see it as a force used to control the masses or to hinder Social progress.

    They also embrace a Moral Philosophy rooted basically in Self Interest and seeking Pleasure. This is encapsulated by Philip Pullman in the last of his Dark Materials books when he explains that we should seek to give others pleasure in order for them to give us pleasure in Return.

    This sort of Atheist really is motivated by Hatred and Self interest. They are sort of like the Sith in Star Wars, in that they are totally given over to their Passions. Its all rather like the Men without Chests in the Abolition of man, in that they are reduced to mere Animal Passions and desires.

    This, combined with an instant hatred of all things Christian, seen as the Antithesis of Enlightenment and progress, they bleat about Freedom and Equality and Progress, but really just seek to Promote their own Hedonism, which is as much rooted in Self Loathing as it generates it.

    The basic problem for them is that they are in need to explain peopels motives, but must do so only by looking at themselves. They ar incapable of looking past themselves and he way they think because they believe falsely that all people are the same as they are, and htose who are “Religious” are just self delusional and refuse, unlike themselves, to look at the Real World.

  2. The fact that they are shallow, Empty of all real Love or Joy, and driven only by Animalistic passions leads them to conclude this is the real motivation for everyone else. We see the same in Perseus in Clash Of The Titans. They can’t fathom trying to Restore the Proper King of France, because as Republicans they don’t believe in Monarchy so neither should Joan. They also can’t understand her doing this out of Moral Conviction or believing it to be Gods will because no one really believe sin God, they just use God and Religious beliefs to mask their real motives which come form their Animal Passions, just like they themselves are. Except they are honest about where their motives lie unlike Joan of Arc or anyone else who doesn’t accept that Animalistic passion are their sole motivation. They thus see themselves as expressing their true Natures and everyone else hiding it, and usually see this as Destructive to themselves.

    They cannot truly Love, so they can’t understand anyone else who does. They can’t see rising up out of Pure motives just to set things right and to Free their land, so they have to give a Motive to Joan they can understand. To them If someone doesn’t have a personal motive to drive them to some action, they won’t act, because they themselves are Selfish.

    They fulfil what was written in Proverbs 18, verse 2. Not to turn this into a discussion solely on Religion ( I don’t mind using wisdom form elsewhere, in case it is asked.)

    Proverbs 18:2 A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.

    They seek to see everyone and everything in the world in accordance to their own Philosophical beliefs which, in the end, serve only to justify their own selfishness, hedonism, and apathy.

    They neither possess nor think highly of Purity, so no one can be Pure. People have to be Driven by Hatred because in the end Hatred is what inhabits their own Hearts, and must be the sole motivating for others.

    And this in the end explains this motive, and the makers thereof. Its like how Perseus in “Clash Of The Titans” 2010 is driven by Hatred of the gods and a need for vengeance, or how Pullmans Characters are driven by a Hatred of “The Authority” and he Church. Its what the Authors are, so the movie reflects this reality.

  3. All that I can understand, but what continues to elude me is how someone like Besson can not see that this course, particularly in a movie about Joan of Arc, basically ensures box office failure. Audiences want someone to root for (be it the right/wrong person/cause) and in this movie at least they are denied that. They would, presumably, root for St Joan as the heroine of the film, but they are then made to feel foolish for doing so by the time it's all over and the audience leaves feeling really bummed.

  4. IT boils back to Proverbs 18:2.

    2. A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.

    They are so caught up in their own vision that they simply can’t bring themselves to give us a Hero. To them people can’t be Heroic. Its like how Richard Dawkins tries to explain Heroism as an attempt to ensure your own Genetic Material survives, and explains altruism as a sort of Kin Selection, which means people only fight for their own personal Evolutionary Advantage. Dawkins is incapable of understanding Altruism because of his Humanist and ultimately Evolutionarily inspired thinking, a thought process which forces him to see literally everything in accordance to Evolutionary Theory and to see Evolutionary Theory only in the context of how he PERSONALLY Understands it in light of his materialism and Humanism. This is not to say anyone who adheres to Evolution is so incapacitated, but some, like Dawkins who buy into the Philosophy of such men as peter Singer, are.

    Besson is no different. He has fully embraced the Secular Humanist position, and fully accepts the view of Humanity that accompanies the thinking of Singer, Dawkins, and others. He is incapable of seeing that anyone can care about their nation, Monarchy, and other people because he is incapable of such and views all of Human Nature as just like him.

    Besson MUST depict every Character as selfish, and as operating essentially on self interest or a need for vengeance, because that, in his mind, is how all humanity operates. He is in this aspect like the Demon apprentice in “The Screwtape Letters” who is being taught how to tempt Humans by his Uncle Screwtape. He hasn’t even evolved to the same level as Screwtape has, in seeing layers. Besson needs a simple, straight forward story that makes sense according to his personal needs, desires, an interests, and just assumes the Audience will agree with him because all reasonable people will see the genius of this.

    Basically, he thinks the movie is good because it portrays life as he see’s it, attacks Christianity, and reduces Joan of Arc and everyone else to base Human passions and Interests.

    Sort of like how the Revolutionaries in France were, in fact. You did mention their own Depravities in an earlier post, did you not? While Besson may not be as openly Violent, his thoughts are about the same.

  5. The best film that has ever been made about Joan of Arc is the French-made silent one that focuses on her facial expressions.

    I have to say, however, that I never came to the same conclusions as you did about the basic premises of the film: for example, I thought that the role Dustin Hoffman was playing WAS actually that of "God," or at least one of God's angels. It seemed to me that, to be purified, Joan had to admit the possibility of hubris in her presumption of "divine guidance." To me, it didn't mean that she was denying her visions--just being humble enough to admit her fallibility. The way I looked at it was that it was only by doing such penance for her presumption of divine inspiration that she could actually be made a "saint." And, atheist though he is, my thought about the director was that, at the end, he was AFFIRMING her sanctity because "saints" MUST throw themselves wholly into the arms of God in trustfulness, and forget about being "right."

    Also, even if Jeanne d'Arc never saw her mother being raped by marauding English soldiers, she would have certainly HEARD about such atrocities, because they DID, indeed, take place during the Hundred Years War in France. So I didn't think even that was too far-fetched.

    Finally, please don't judge the artistic quality of a film by its box-office success. That great film about Joan that I mentioned above had absolutely NO "box-office success."

  6. Well, you're the first person I've ever come across who thought Joan came off well in this movie. And, keep in mind, I said at the outset that I *liked* the "artistic quality" of the movie. The rape involved her sister, not mother, and she would never have seen such a thing as English soldiers never invaded that part of France. The only troops active in that area in Joan's lifetime would have been French -Burgundians doing any pillaging. But, it has nothing to do with it being far-fetched or not but has everything to do with motivation; they were telling a lie to provide some motivation beyond religious devotion and royalist loyalty.

    The credits say Dustin's character was "the conscience", though at first Joan seems to think he's satan. I can't really see that experience being some sort of religious purgatory by an angel or something since his whole part involved making her doubt (or admit in this movie) that her visions were not from God. Even in this movie Joan never claimed to be worthy of being "the messenger" but this part at the end seemed entirely aimed at making the point that she was not -she was simply on a personal vendetta and delusional enough to think it was divinely ordained. Until now everyone I've talked to about the movie thought Joan came off as either false or at best completely insane.

  7. As I said, it was designed to justify a specific persons take on it, to further their own disdane for all things Christian.

  8. ALL that said, lets hope one day France see's another Saint like Joan D'Arc who leads her out of the Dark Oppression of Republicanism and Secularism, and into the Light of a Catholic Monarchy.

    VIv Le France! VIv Les Monarchy!

  9. A major problem aside of his secular humanism for Luc Besson was that he cast his girlfriend as a mad (as in unhinged) girl, we all know "...We all go a little mad sometimes...". Whic is absolutely false, except for the secular humanist who do not worship God. They know of God they just don't want to add Him in. I digress. Mila Jojovich, makes a better "5th element Supreme Being", which was her previous film. The movie goers wanted more and got what they paid for.

    As for which film is the best, the 1929 version, entitled the "Passion of Joan of Arc" only covered her trial and execution. In this is was superb, but leaves anyone who did not know of Joan with little less.

    Ingrid Bergman did a good perfomance of the George Bernard Shaw play, but he added incidental things to make the story palatable for the viewer. I think Bergman was too old.

    My choice is the CBS movie for tellie with Leelee Sobieski. She was near the right age albiet did not look like a Joan, who did not suffer from the 20th century idea of beauty, and I was well acted with a kind of openess to wonder. It too suffered from Shaw. The egg scene in Valcoulers for one.

    These except the silent film also suffer from ecuminsim because they were made for non-Catholic audences.

    An example, My daughter Genevieve was sent to France for her studies in French History and language. There were other non Catholic students there. When the instructor asked if anyone knew about Joan she was the only one who could answer. The instructor asked the other student if they were all protestants.

    Vive le Roy!

  10. I don't recall many details but I do recall seeing "The 5th Element" and considering it 90 minutes of my fading life I will never get back. The Sobieski version I have also and I prefer the overall tone of it to "The Messenger" (not a high bar to jump) in that St Joan was at least recognized as representing 'the good'. There were some details they got wrong which even this movie got right, I liked having an actress somewhat closer to the actual age of Joan but didn't care for the "Merlin legend" stuff nor to them making Joan's father seem like such an ogre.

    At the time of "The Messenger" Jovovich was Besson's wife though mere weeks after the movie was done she filed for divorce. From those I have seen the definitive film on Joan of Arc has yet to be made. I will wait to see if the man behind "Gods and Generals" (whose name escapes me) can do better. He at least stands a better chance being a Catholic and someone who considers St Joan a truly great figure.

  11. Anyone raised Catholic will have at least a passing referance to the saint Joan of Arc. Although not a practicing Catholic anymore I found myself becoming more frustrated and annoyed as the movie progressed. Although I hadn't thought about thus young saint for since I can recall, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated and annoyed as the movie progressed. This depiction of Joan must have had her laughing her head off in heaven figuratively speaking Milla portrayed Joan as on the brink of a serious mental breakdown and requiring immediate psychiatric attention. How would it be possible to allow this poor double entendre) hysterical and maniacle Joan to lead even a bird watching group much less a military campaign to save the whole of France. My confusion has lessened in reading what others have pointed out such as Besson being an atheist and humanist.


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