Black Death, Deconstructionism, and the Importance of Good Guys


Ryan and I watched a movie last night, Black Death. Sean Bean, looking very Boromir-like.

Set in the 1348. The Plague. Monks and knights. Bean, clearly, is a knight. Witches and warriors. It sounded good. Our type of movie.

Not so much. I should have taken it as an omen when, in the opening scenes, the monk is sneaking off to the impoverished town where people are dead in the road. It brought to mind Monty Python, Bring out your dead. But the monk braves the horror beyond the safely closed doors of the monastery to warn his girlfriend to flee the plague.

Yeah. Monk. Girlfriend.

Wait, says Ryan, monks can’t have girlfriends.

No, no they can’t. I replied. He’ll probably die.

The girl leaves her humble second story abode, where she seemingly lives alone (because that would have happened 12th century, girl living alone. Not.), dressed in your average 12th century peasant dress. She even has a burlap-well, maybe rough woolen-shawl. She oozes medieval poverty.  She descends the stair to mount the beautiful, richly saddled, white horse waiting for her at the bottom.

Hey, wait, where’d the horse come from? It wasn’t there when he went in. This is the problem with smart children—the details. The devil, you know, is in the details.

Nope, it sure wasn’t, Ryan. And that horse cost more than everything in her village. She couldn’t have had a horse like that. And the horse wasn’t there when Osmund, the monk, climbed the stairs. I double-checked it this morning; no horse. (And who saddled the horse?) Osmund lovingly wraps his girlfriend-peasant-lady in his fur-collared cape. Really? A monk with a fur collared cape? In 1348? Well, ok. Damsel has been transformed from a peasant in a dirty, dying village to a lady dressed in a beautiful black cloak, riding the striking white horse out of the scene…

Alrighty then. So, Osmund has a fatal flaw. He must either redeem himself, or die. Because stories are about the evolution of character.

Enter the knight-with-a-quest. Ahh, says I, the hero. Sean Bean. He’s a little rough around the edges. I attribute the look to a sense of realism in the film. No, I have no clue where I’d have gotten that idea. He has been charged, by the bishop, to go to a village, where no one has the plague, to find and capture the necromancer/witch protecting the village. To bring him to justice. For protecting people from the plague. It all sounded pretty Medieval Catholic—not find out what they’re doing right there, but capture the leader for the sin of saving people. He needs a monk to travel with him, and his band of men, waiting just up the road. Ormund volunteers. So, Ulrich (Bean’s character) will transform the monk.

Except he doesn’t. This is a film that would have challenged Jacques Derrida’s sense of logic.

Ulrich is a bitter, church-hardened man with a closed mind and a sharp sword.  He isn’t really the good guy either. People die in scenes that probably went over budget in blood. Scenes so graphic that even Ryan turned away. So, the necromancer, who turns out to be a witch, is the good guy? Well, ok. A return to ancient-pre-Christian traditions. A simpler life.

But no. The witch is evil too. And Osmund is left to choose between good and evil on his own. And when he kills the damsel (remember the damsel?) that the witch has brought back to life, there is a collective sigh of relief. Osmund is the good guy. Ulrich dies, but not before revealing that he has the plague and has exposed the utopian village to it. Said village was executing him at the time. Along with all of his men. Osmund and one other escape death. The other, slaughters the villagers while Osmund cries in the swamp. The necromancer is captured; well at least the man in charge of the plague-less village is captured. The witch gets away. And Osmund spends the rest of his days, as a knight, hunting for her. He recklessly kills woman after woman in search of the witch. The final scenes don’t reveal whether or not he’s successful.

What?

Ryan and I stared at the screen long after the film ended. No change in character, well I guess he went from bad to worse. No good guys. No one in the film to identify with. We were left feeling awkward, uncomfortable, without resolution. There was no way to read the story. It was humorless. Not once throughout the course of the movie did we find cause to smile. It all felt very dysfunctional.

I don’t think I want to watch another movie tonight.

Me neither, Ryan, me neither! I have watched this movie, readers, I am the witch here to save you. Don’t.

Word count: 803

Words underlined in blue: identify and final.

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