Monday, 20 July 2015

The Name of the Rose (1986)

I saw this film on VHS some time in the late 80s, but my memories were pretty hazy when I sat down to watch the DVD.  I recalled it having a rather random sex-scene, and a bunch of murders over a book, but other than the fact that it had been critically well received at the time, I didn't remember much.

William of Baskerville is a Franciscan monk who arrives at a Benedictine monastery for a theological disputation.  His attention is quickly diverted, however, by the mysterious death of a monk.  William is something of a medieval Sherlock Holmes and is called upon to investigate.  He quickly determines that it was a suicide, but it is swiftly followed by a second, far more sinister death, and the real mystery begins.  Unfortunately for William, almost everyone in the monastery seems determined to make his investigation more difficult.  His only ally is his Watsonian assistant, who takes part in the aforementioned sex scene with a local girl.  Which I now see was not as random as teenage me assumed - the point is to give the assistant an emotional connection to the young woman when the Inquisition arrive and accuse her of being a witch.

I can see why this movie was praised at the time of release.  It's well shot and depicts several interesting and evocative locations.  It's visually quite a treat.  It's also well acted.  But I'm not recommending it.

That's because for my money, The Name of the Rose has two insurmountable problems.  The first is the lack of any likable characters.  Almost all the monks at the monastery are broken people in one way or another, and of course the Inquisitor and his minions are monsters.  But even William himself - though clearly meant to be sympathetic - isn't exactly someone I'd want to hang out with.  He comes across as more interested in proving himself right and the Inquisitor wrong than in the moral aspects of executing an innocent woman.

The second issue is the McGuffin at the heart of the mystery.  It's a book written by Aristotle, and the head librarian of the monastery fears that it could lead men to laugh at God, causing chaos in society.  I'll forgive the nonsense of this logic on the basis that said librarian is a crazy medieval monk.  But the movie fails to give any explanation as to why said librarian has kept the work intact all this time, or why he would rather kill those who read it than simply destroy it.

If you're desperate for a rather more grim version of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, you might enjoy this.  Otherwise I'd say give it a miss.

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