The Last Duel Screenwriters Worked To Strike A Balance Between Past And Present

When it came to writing "The Last Duel," the screenwriters had to find a way to remain both true to the era in which the film takes place while also making sure it was all accessible to a modern-audience. While "The Last Duel" is occasionally clumsy with how it handles the parallels with the film and our own modern times, the screenwriters still took care to approach these topics in ways that would resonate with current audiences. During a press conference that /Film attended, writers Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon spoke about how they tackled the present-day parallels while keeping the film still grounded in the 1300s. Specifically, Affleck pointed out that the film is trying to indict the value systems of people of the era, and how they were often rewarded for what we see today as terrible behavior.

'That's The Value System That We Wanted to Indict'

When press conference moderator Jacqueline Coley asked the three "Last Duel" screenwriters about the "delicate balance" of being true to the characters "in their timeframe and the ethics, moralities, and constructs of gender from that time" while also being aware of a modern audience watching all of this, Ben Affleck had a well-thought-out response. "Part of what we wanted to point out was the extent to which corrupt, and morally bankrupt, and misogynist institutions, create and produce people who reflect those values," Affleck began, continuing: 

"But really, the idea that when a person is in power, and represents these values, and says, these are the values we encourage in you, and you'll be rewarded for following them. It's more about where Adam [Driver's] character is, and how he's taught to behave, and what he's rewarded for, than it is about the essential nature of his character. In other words, that people can be changed and created by these large institutions. And that's the value system that we wanted to indict. And so, that required making sure, on a kind of architectural level, that all those elements were included."

Here, Nicole Holofcener added: "And if only we could walk out of this movie, if the audience could walk out of this movie and say, 'Wow, it was awful back then. Thank God it's not like that anymore.' I wish."

'You Don't Want It To Feel Contemporary'

Later in the press conference, the writers were asked about the difficulty of tackling the film's medieval elements. Nicole Holofcener pointed out that "the way they spoke" was a big issue, adding that they "had to constantly be proofreading each other ... And eventually, we had a medieval expert on the set, who would say, 'No, they would not say it this way,' or 'No, that word was not in use then.'" 

"The really interesting thing about it was trying to create a balance," Affleck added, continuing:

"First of all, they spoke French. Second of all, they spoke a kind of French which would be unrecognizable to contemporary French speakers. And the way that the English at that time sounded like Chaucer. So, you can't do that, exactly. And you obviously don't want it to feel contemporary, to make it too accessible, because then it feels false. So, trying to strike some balance, and similarly, with the value system. I mean, the value system, in truth, was so much more, abhorrent in many ways ... so much more awful than even we represented. But I feel like, if we get so far down that road of what it was really like, it's gonna be so repugnant that people have a very difficult time accepting any reality about it."

In other words: "The Last Duel" is often quite brutal, but it could've been even more so. "The Last Duel" opens in theaters on October 15, 2021.