We know Hollywood films generally disrespectful of historical veracity, especially when they approach periods like the Middle Ages. The Last of the Templars directed by Dominic Sena is no exception. On the contrary, it takes us on a fantastic film oscillating between horror and heroic fantasy devoid of the slightest Templar.
The action takes place at XIVe century. According to the French synopsis, Nicolas Cage encamps a Templar, having lost faith in God and consumed with remorse for acts committed during the Crusades. He deserted and followed by his companion played by an always sympathetic Ron Perlman and returned to a Europe devastated by the plague. The source of the epidemic is the curses and spells of a witch. Captured by the forces of a cardinal, our last templar is charged with an ultimate mission, that of escorting the said witch to a distant monastery in order to judge her and that a purifying ritual be performed on her.
Marketing, communication and templar
The Last of the Templars It’s not a historical film, nor does it claim to be. The fact remains that history cannot legitimately be left in this way. The first great wave of plague hit the West between 1348 and 1352, when the film’s main action more or less unfolded. Beforehand, the film shows us the crusades through war scenes: the siege of Tripoli in 1334; the Battle of Imbros in 1337; the battle of Artah in 1339. However, all these battles are fictitious and for good reason! The last crusade dates from 1270-1271 and the final loss of the Holy Land dates back to 1291, a year generally taken into account as the “official” end of the crusades.
The very order of the temple no longer exists, dissolved following the famous heresy trial that ended in 1312. Our hero therefore appears alone to defend an order of which he is not a part. Do not be fooled by the French title of the film, very far from the original title Season of the Witch - literally the season of the witch - because it is undoubtedly only a question of simple marketing and communication: apart from the first 10 minutes of the film being set in the East, there is no Templar in this movie. Nicolas Cage plays in the original version a simple Crusader knight in search of redemption and not a member of the Order of the Temple.
All this can nevertheless be considered as simple historical and above all commercial errors, we would say euphemistically compared to the numerous and intolerable clichés on the Middle Ages, the two main ones of which are quite naturally medieval justice and the witch.
Witchcraft and justice
We had missed those two clichés, blind, inhuman justice and the witch that needs to be eradicated. As such, the opening scene showing the execution of witches in an unusual way at the beginning of the 13th centurye century borders on a rare ridicule. Without being exhaustive, let us quickly come back to the legal conditions for the treatment of witchcraft in the Middle Ages. It was only very late in the second quarter of the XVe century that the first witch hunts appear, hunts that will reach their peak in the modern era between the second half of the XVIe and the first half of the XVIIe century. It was indeed during the Renaissance and during the Grand Siècle that women accused of witchcraft were persecuted, tortured and burned. In medieval times, witchcraft was not necessarily bad, it was as much about good as it was about evil, just as it concerned both men and women. If the witch has existed in popular beliefs since antiquity, its existence was denied among scholars until the 13th century.e century and therefore by the Church, which relates it to a pagan cult around the moon and its goddess Diana. The first signs of repression begin in the second half of the 13th centurye century but remained marginal until the end of the 14the century.
Popular witchcraft is therefore far from being the priority of the Church courts which, although they punish all the same, most of the time avoid severe penalties and therefore death, recourse to torture is also not still present. What matters to the Church is the cohesion of society and she only hands convicts back to the secular arm when they disturb society. Fortune-tellers, healers and midwives who will be qualified as witches at the end of the Middle Ages and during the modern era are not yet really targeted in the XIV.e century. They are integrated into the community, rendering it service and practicing rituals including prayers to Gods and saints more often than to a demon. The image conveyed by the film thus appears far removed from any historical reality, as it has never been up to monks living in recluse in their monastery to try those accused of witchcraft.
Finally, let's not forget the final speech of the film implying that the plague is a disease after all medieval, yet it was there before, continuing to strike until the 18th century.e century in Europe. We will therefore try to forget as quickly as possible this vision of a definitely dark and cruel Middle Ages where religious obscurantism reigns.
A trivial fantasy film
While the film accumulates every possible historical cliché, it also accumulates all the clichés of action and horror films, such as the traditional crossing of a suspension bridge with worn ropes and worm-eaten wooden planks. Demons, zombies, mutant wolves will complete a scenario suffering from illogicalities around action scenes that are often quite soft but nonetheless distracting for a film halfway between The Exorcist, The Name of the Rose and Van Helsing.
So what to remember? That this is not a story about the Order of the Temple? That this is a trivial fantasy film to take for what it is: trivial entertainment? One thing remains certain, however, this film is an insult to history and in particular to the medieval period.
The Last of the Templars by Dominic Sena, in theaters since January 12, 2011.
The movie trailer