Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 15, 1999
A flawed portrayal of Joan of Arc
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.
Review by STANLEY FOWLER
Special to the WCR
St. Joan of Arc is an historical figure of interest not just to Catholics but to the secular world as well. It is for this reason, no doubt, that Hollywood has made a new film about her.
The last was in 1954 with Jean Seberg in the film St. Joan and before that Ingrid Bergman appearing in Joan of Arc which was released in l948.
So it is about time her story was told again to a new generation. On Nov. 12, Luc Besson's movie, The Messenger (The Story of Joan of Arc) comes to Edmonton. Its star is an unknown actress, Milla Jovovich.
The movie is aptly titled for indeed St. Joan was a messenger. Unfortunately this tale about St. Joan doesn't convey a message of any significance.
The movie begins by telling us of the terrible plight that faces 15th century France and its weak king who had not yet had the benefit of proper coronation. The country had been invaded years before St. Joan's birth in 1412. By the time she was 17, it was near collapse and indeed at least one half under the domination of the English and its ally, Burgundy.
We are told a miracle is needed to save France. That remarkable miracle was, of course, the peasant girl from Domremy who came to her king to deliver the message that she was sent by God to save France.
If the movie had stayed with the well-documented historical facts of St. Joan's life, it would have been far more interesting. But we live in a secular world that really doesn't accept miracles and has trouble accepting the existence of God.
This has led Besson to fabricate a story about St. Joan's early years when her older sister was raped and murdered by English solders. This traumatic and devastating event so unsettles Joan that she desires revenge against the English.
Although reference is made to St. Joan's voices (the saints who appeared to her), the only apparition with whom we are really acquainted is another fabrication: a man appears to her in the guise of a monk (and at other times as a young boy and also as Christ himself).
This visitor is either her conscience or her self-doubt for he constantly berates her. In the end, of course, St. Joan is burned at the stake in a market square in the town of Rouen apparently after she confesses to the apparition of the monk that she has done wrong by making war.
Aside from the foregoing criticisms the actor playing St. Joan was well chosen. Milla Jovovich plays the role of a very attractive and strong personality just as the real St. Joan no doubt was.
And there seems to have been little expense spared creating the battle scenes which involved a huge cast, all of whom were dressed in period costume and used the weapons of war of that time. They are horrific.
The movie, because of its violence and extremely vulgar language, is unsuitable for young children and also those who are sensitive to such scenes.
It is, however, deserving of three stars of five, meaning that it is worth seeing. Although it doesn't tell the real story of St. Joan of Arc, it does at least keep St. Joan in our consciousness. And to the extent that it prompts at least some people to read about St. Joan, it will also have served some good.
It is hoped that more reflection upon the life of St. Joan will begin to reveal her real significance to the Church and indeed to all of humankind. She was not simply sent by God to rescue a country under siege and a weak king. She is recognized for those roles by virtue of the fact that she is the patron saint of soldiers and France.
But she was and is more than just a warrior and a nationalist. God had a special relationship with this creature (a woman and a peasant): indeed the saints who appeared to her addressed her as Daughter of God.
Our Lord has intended for her a role that has not yet been recognized by the Church. She is a powerful manifestation of God's great and deep concern for social justice. She is a message to all of the Church and to humankind of God's deep and abiding concern for us collectively, as well as individually.
But then God patiently waited for almost 500 years before seeing this great servant canonized. Perhaps the next century will reveal St. Joan and her message to the Church and the secular world which continues to be so fascinated by the Daughter of God.