"A Work of Satan"
What You Need To Know:
In THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC, the famous historical figure, Joan of Arc, battles the English soldiers who took over Northern France in the 1400s. After much success, allegedly led by visions and voices from God, Joan is captured by some collaborators, who turn her over to the English authorities. Religious leaders get her to confess that her visions and voices were a deception from Satan, but they burn her at the stake anyway.
This French-American co-production is one of the strongest secular humanist movies made in recent years. It’s also one of the silliest. Only its production qualities save it from being a complete disaster. The most egregious error is that it takes a secular humanist approach to Joan’s famous visions and voices from God. It also distorts the historical record regarding the nature of those alleged visions to support its anti-Christian biases. The character of Joan is so ill-mannered, neurotic and even hysterical in this movie that it’s hard to believe that anyone would place their trust in such a quirky leader. THE MESSENGER is also filled with unnecessarily graphic war violence, including a violent rape scene that never took place
(HHH, RHRHRH, AbAbAb, PaPa, C, LL, VVV, SS, A, M) Humanist worldview, with revisionist history, a strong anti-Christian ending, New Age spiritual experiences, & a smattering of Christian content; 11 obscenities & 4 profanities; extreme graphic war violence including arms & heads chopped off; depicted rape scene; no nudity; some alcohol use (wine); no smoking; and, betrayal.
The French-American co-production, THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC, is one of the strongest secular humanist movies made in recent years. It’s also one of the silliest. Only its production qualities save it from being a complete disaster.
Presumably based on the story of the French Christian martyr of the early 1400s, Joan of Arc, the movie begins with a 10-year-old Joan taking confession from her local priest. The English have invaded Northern France and are closing in on Joan’s town. Joan tells the priest a young boy appears to her in visions. “He says I must be good and help everyone,” she says, and the priest tells her to listen to him because that’s good advice. In the next scene, Joan has one of her visions in a field and picks up a sword laying next to her. Her vision is interrupted by English soldiers on horseback, led by a pack of wolves. Joan runs to her house, where she finds her sister hiding in a secret place behind the wall. Her sister lets Joan have the hiding place, but just then some English soldiers enter. One of them kills Joan’s sister with the sword and rapes her while Joan hides. This rape scene never happened in real life, however.
Several years later, a hysterical teenage Joan convinces the prince of France to lend her an army to fight the English. Desperate for any help whatsoever, and convinced by Joan’s story that God has called her to save France, he does just that. The army leaders are reluctant, however, even though the men have heard about Joan and her visions and are ready to fight. Joan proves her faith and courage, but eventually is captured by French collaborators, who sell her to the English. The English religious leaders put her on trial, asking her to recant her visions and say that she was deceived by the devil. The bishop leading the trial appears friendly to Joan. Meanwhile, in her cell, Joan has visions of a demonic inquisitor, played by Dustin Hoffman, who convinces Joan that her visions were not real at all and that she simply wanted revenge against the English for killing and raping her sister. Joan does recant to the Bishop, blaming Satan, but three days later is found wearing male soldier clothes again, so the English burn her at the stake for heresy.
Thus, the movie ends on a strong humanist note with Joan actually confessing to Hoffman’s strange character that her religious views were completely false. Even the sword she finds during her first vision in the movie has plenty of natural explanations, Joan’s inquisitor points out. Of course, this whole scenario of the sword is a completely phony one, historically speaking. The death and rape of her sister never took place in real life. Worst of all, the filmmakers use this scenario to push their anti-supernatural humanist agenda. This agenda also is historically false, since the question involving Joan’s visions of saints and angels in reality came down to a question of whether her visions were from God or from Satan. No one at the time her well-documented trial took place believed that Joan’s visions were simply her imagination. In other words, THE MESSENGER distorts the historical record, including the nature of Joan’s alleged visions and voices from God, to fit the modern-day worldview of skeptical humanism.
THE MESSENGER has another problem, however, that may be just as bad as the first problem: The older teenage Joan is such an ill-mannered, neurotic and even hysterical mystic that it’s hard to believe that anyone would place their trust in such a quirky leader. Even when the movie manages to gain some sympathy for this strange character, it completely undercuts itself when Joan admits that there were no visions at all, not even a satanic demon to mislead her. What is the entertainment value of portraying such a character, only to betray the audience’s sympathies with some humanist mumbo-jumbo, psychobabble at the end?
There are certainly mysteries remaining regarding the historical Joan of Arc character. Was she really led by God? Was she a tool of Satan? Why did she dress as a male soldier again after signing her confession? Regrettably, THE MESSENGER fails to deal with these questions in an inspiring manner. It is also filled with unnecessarily graphic war violence.
The true story of Joan of Arc has yet to be made. There’s a great movie in this material somewhere. All it needs is a filmmaker with integrity and talent to deal honestly with the spirit of the historical record, instead of distorting that record by applying his own modern assumptions about a fascinating age.