The Last Duel and The Killers: Matt Damon’s #MeToo Epic and the Spiritual Power of Film Noir
It’s easy to trace the origin of The Last Duel, the new movie from Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and director Ridley Scott. It’s a #MeToo parable that was inspired by the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
Damon famously played Kavanaugh on a September 29, 2018 episode of Saturday Night Live. A little more than a week before Matt Damon name-checked me on SNL, the Washington Post published an article in which Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist in California, tried to ruin my life. Ford claimed that Brett Kavanaugh — nominated for the Supreme Court and about to be voted out of committee — had sexually assaulted her in high school at Georgetown Prep in 1982. Ford claimed that I was in the room where the assault allegedly took place.
My 15 Minutes of Infamy
I was part of one of the biggest stories in the world, a part of which was Brett being played by Damon on SNL. At one point Damon, as Kavanaugh, names me: “Mark Judge, who can’t remember huge chucks of his life but is somehow my key witness.”
Just months after his SNL performance, Damon greenlit The Last Duel, a film that uses a real historical case to offer a liberal retelling of the Kavanaugh trial. Called by some reviewers “a medieval #MeToo movie,” it’s an overly long but also interesting movie. The intent is clear: to valorize women, hammering home that they are always and everywhere truth-tellers, and to make men look like liars and unruly apes.
To Get 2016, We Must Turn to Film Noir
In reality, of course, women are every bit as capable as men at being liars. This was evident in the Kavanaugh hearings, and also in the film noir genre of cinema. I mention film noir, a style of moviemaking that was popular in postwar America, because it gets at the truth of Blasey Ford’s story much more than The Last Duel. Film noir is also currently having a festival at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theater in Maryland. Seeing classics like The Killers (1946) and He Walked by Night (1948) brought me back to 2016 much more than The Last Duel did.
Men Are Beasts
I will get to exactly why this is so, but first, The Last Duel. It starts in Paris in the 1300s. Brave and earnest knight Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) goes away on business. In his absence, his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), is raped by conniving, upwardly mobile squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). Already an enemy of Le Gris, Carrouges takes up his wife’s cause. Her courage rebukes the misogyny and superstition of the time, when women are legally the property of their husbands. The lascivious Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck), tries to rule against Carrouges, but an appeal to the king results in a duel to the death.
The Last Duel is based on a true story, the script adapted from Eric Jager’s nonfiction book. The script is by Damon, Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener. The story unfolds from the perspective of the three different characters, as testified in court. In Marguerite’s version, men appear as bumbling, clueless at running farms, brutal, bad at sex, and usually violent. The rape in this version unambiguously happened. Ben Affleck’s Pierre d’Alencon seems like a cross between Hugh Hefner and Billy Zabka, the blonde jock villain from every movie in the 1980s. The entire thing could be called Bad Will Hunting.
Do Women Sin Too?
The same week I saw The Last Duel, I attended several screenings of The Washington D.C. Film Noir Festival. Film noir, represented by films such as Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, dramatizes a shadow world of crime, lust, and double-crosses. Many feature the femme fatale, a woman whose duplicitous machinations prove to be the fatal undoing of the male protagonist.
As Christian film critic Andy Wolverton has noted, film noir is
cinema’s greatest, most accurate, and most biblical expression of fallen humanity. That state and how it plays out in our lives is best expressed in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Film noir is simply Ecclesiastes being played out through movies, although film noir usually stops at Ecclesiastes Chapter 11, not moving forward to Chapter 12, the book’s final chapter.
Calverton adds that, “Regardless of your worldview, belief system, or even your upbringing, film noir presupposes a standard of morality. Concepts of right and wrong make film noir what it is.”
The final chapter of Ecclesiastes is where God makes things right: “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” This doesn’t always happen in film noir. Sometimes in the movies, as in life (until the final judgement), the bad guys win.
Movie Villainesses Were Realer than Christine Blasey Ford
In film noir, those bad guys are often women. Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past, Gilda Mundson in Gilda, Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. The 1960 noir Gun Crazy, showing at the AFI festival, was originally titled Deadly is the Femme Fatale. These women are not the cardboard saints of modern #MeToo movies. They are brilliant, conniving, sarcastic and sometimes downright evil. In other words, much more like real people.
With her scrubbed digital past, baby girl voice, vague and shifting story — including suppressed tales of a wild youth — and claims by an ex-boyfriend that she is a fraud and a liar, Christine Blasey Ford was a noir femme fatale come to life. Many of Ford’s supporters, and not only central casting villain Michael Avenatti, have stories that are right out of the pages of a James M. Cain crime novel. It was a dirty, diabolical hit job from the start, a Body Heat set in D.C.
Something tells me that Damon wouldn’t be interested in that story. That’s a shame, as The Last Duel has been a huge box office bomb.
See The Stream’s John Zmirak for a response to this review.
Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C.