The Last Duel: The Toxicity of the Patriarchy


Jean Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) facing off.

 All it takes for a film to pass the Bechdel Test is to have one scene where two named female characters have a conversation unrelated to men. Failing such a simple evaluation should be next-to-impossible. However, many modern day films struggle to meet the admittedly low bar set by Alison Bechdel. For perspective, less than half of the films within the MCU pass the test, yet they make up 30 percent of the domestic box office. Modern day filmmakers’ inability to pass this feminist metric is symptomatic of a wider problem within our culture: our refusal to acknowledge the female voice. Serving as a bleak commendation of how women are unable to share their own stories, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel is a harrowing medieval epic that feels achingly resonant in the modern age. 

The Last Duel stars Jody Comer as Lady Marguerite Carrogues, a woman trapped in the crosshairs of a venomous rivalry. Her husband, Jean Carrouges (Matt Damon), is a bitter knight, resentful of his former comrade Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a wealthy squire. When Marguerite accuses Jacques of rape, Jean challenges him to trial by combat, with Marguerite’s life hanging in the balance. On paper, such a narrative would prove perfect for a rabble rousing action picture, with chivalrous heroes and epic set pieces. However, Ridley Scott is more interested in exploring the motivations behind this violent confrontation, ignoring grisly bloodshed in favor of providing character driven context to the conflict. 

Despite the tantalizing combat promised by it’s title, The Last Duel is a searing slow burn of a character study, more concerned with nuanced social commentary than bloody spectacle. Scott presents the film’s backstory from three different perspectives, that of Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite. While each version has their inconsistencies, all three viewpoints are vital in understanding how a toxic patriarchy corrupts the nature of justice. 

The patriarchal nature of the justice system prevents Marguerite from obtaining justice on her own terms, turning her trauma into a showcase for male ego. Both Jean and Jacques paint themselves as victims within their own narrative, omitting Marguerite’s perspective in favor of simplifying the conflict, and that’s the true tragedy of the film. Through the eyes of Marguerite, it’s clear that both men have effectively hijacked her story, using her assault as nothing more than backdrop for a hollow display of machismo. 

Marguerite Carrouges (Jody Comer)

Marguerite’s lack of autonomy within the narrative could easily come off as problematic in poor creative hands. However, the character’s absence of agency isn’t a sign of victimization, but rather an example of bleak social commentary.  Jean and Jacques’s duel is one motivated by anger and jealousy, forcing Marguerite to become a supporting character within her own story. Shackled by the chains of a deeply misogynistic culture, Marguerite’s inability to pursue her own retribution is a direct reflection upon the poisonous nature of masculine justice. She is a tragic character, though one emboldened by sensitive writing and a powerhouse performance by Jody Comer.

Dialogue driven films like The Last Duel would fall apart without a captivating ensemble, and thankfully the cast here is more than up to the task. Comer is a force of nature as Marguerite, providing her role a sense of strength that transcends the character beyond victimhood. Through her brilliantly understated performance, Comer adds emotional depth and nuance to a woman who has been wronged by the patriarchy. The supporting cast doesn’t lag far behind. 

Matt Damon is almost unrecognizable as Jean, playing the role with despicable arrogance. Even more impressive is Adam Driver, whose work as Jacques is simply jaw-dropping. Jacques is a vile character, yet Driver plays the role with a complex, humanist touch, resulting in a fascinating performance. Raised in a culture that fails to recognize female intellect, Jacques is unable to form healthy relationships due to his own internalized misogyny. Driver explores this aspect of his character flawlessly, providing Jacques with a sense of pity without contradicting the darkness of the role. 

Rounding out the cast is Ben Affleck as Count Pierre d’Alencon, an affluent noble who proves to be an unexpected highlight of the film. Symbolizing everything wrong with a male dominated power structure, Pierre is a drunken fool of great wealth and warped values. Affleck has great fun sinking his teeth into such a deliciously repugnant part, and his wonderfully theatrical performance provides some dark laughs throughout an otherwise bleak film. 

The Last Duel is a hidden gem amongst last year’s extensive catalogue of films, ranking amongst Ridley Scott’s finest. Deceptively intelligent, this film deconstructs male notions of honor and nobility to great effect, showcasing how these ideals are corrupted within the patriarchy. While Lady Marguerite’s trial may have occurred thousands of years ago, her story still resonates in a world where women struggle to get their voices heard.