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Film / The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

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France is going through the darkest period of its history.
Only one thing can save it...

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is a 1999 epic medieval film by Luc Besson for Gaumont about Joan of Arc. It was released by Columbia Pictures in North America, and by Disney under Gaumont Buena Vista International in France.

Milla Jovovich plays the titular heroine, with John Malkovich as Charles VII of France, Faye Dunaway as Yolande of Aragon and Dustin Hoffman as Joan's conscience (It Makes Sense in Context). Naturally the movie first follows Joan's childhood and later her time in the French army during The Hundred Years War, claiming to hear voices from God. The movie also features a considerable amount of Artistic Licence, with Besson claiming he wanted to tell more of an anti-war story — thus showing through Joan that war changes people.

The first half of the film plays out as you'd expect. Then the second half has Dustin Hoffman show up as Joan's conscience — and Deconstruct everything about the familiar story. Also, be warned of Milla Jovovich Chewing the Scenery.

See also the dueling production released the same year, Joan of Arc.


  • Accent Adaptation: English characters speak with either London or northern accents. Burgundians speak with RP. French characters either speak with American or French.
  • All There in the Manual: Dustin Hoffman's character is meant to be Jeanne's own conscience. A good number of viewers thought he was meant to be the Devil.
  • Annoying Arrows: Zig-zagged. Jeanne is seriously wounded by an arrow to the chest which is played for drama, but some time later she's hit in the leg without even realizing it and she just pulls it out when someone else notices.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Luc Besson said he didn't really care about retelling the Joan of Arc history so we get...
    • The rape and murder of Jeanne's sister is fictional. In real life her whole family fled the village before it was attacked. What's more is that it was attacked by Burgundian soldiers, not English.
    • Jeanne has visions as a young child. In real life she claimed they didn't start until she was 13.
    • Jeanne finds her sword as a young child. She didn't find it until many years later on her journey to Chinon. Also, in the movie she finds it in a field, which becomes relevant later. In reality, she had it unearthed from under the floor of a church.
    • The Duke of Burgundy is portrayed as stating he doesn't believe in God or the Devil to Joan in front of witnesses. Not only is there no evidence of this (which would be very unlikely in that era) but no one would ever say this publicly (for he might be convicted of blasphemy).
    • When Jeanne tried writing a letter to the British, offering them to surrender for a peace treaty, the British commander responds by shouting across the battlefield towards the French: "Go FUCK Yourself!"... nevermind the F-bomb was first attested to around AD 1475, over 40 years after Jeanne's burning.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: For Charles VII after Orleans is taken.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: La Hire, one of Jeanne's French commanders, is loud, crude and jolly, and a fierce fighter. He even frightens some English soldiers into running away by just snarling.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Jeanne gives herself a bowl cut like the other soldiers. Historically she actually gave herself a bob haircut — which is seen as feminine these days but was associated with pageboys back then.
  • Braids of Action: Jeanne wore her hair sensibly tied back — presumably which she would have done when she went into battle. She subverts it by cutting her hair short instead.
  • Break the Cutie: The vision of the film. Showing that, far from being a graceful Lady of War, Jeanne would more likely become a Broken Bird.
  • Burn the Witch!: Jeanne's eventual fate. Of course this film takes place in Europe, where that did happen. The English first try to have her burned for heresy and when that doesn't work, then they play the witch card.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Jeanne wakes up multiple times like this after having visions in her dream.
  • Catchphrase: "Sooner is better than later" is uttered several times by Jeanne.
  • The Chosen One: Jeanne thinks she is one by God.
  • Clothing Damage: English soldiers rip up Jeanne's dress while she's in prison — and then give her men's clothes to wear. This is so they can accuse her of using witchcraft to conjure them up.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Jeanne falls down in this fashion when struck by an arrow to the chest, in slow-mo to boot.
  • Death by Adaptation: Jeanne's sister gets raped and murdered by soldiers at the start. As noted above, this did not happen.
  • Deconstruction: Halfway through, the film deconstructs itself and the entire Joan of Arc legend. Dustin Hoffman's character exists to poke holes in Jeanne's belief that she was on a Mission from God; she started fighting because she found a sword in a field, and the Conscience points out numerous mundane explanations (it fell from its sheath as a soldier was riding through the field, it belonged to someone who lost a duel, it was weighing down someone who was fleeing, its owner was shot at range, a soldier tired of fighting deserts, tossing it aside) so why does she believe it was sent by God? Jeanne is questioning herself; a good sword is not something one finds just lying in a field, but jumping straight to "God sent it to me" really is kind of crazy.
    Yet from an infinite number of possibilities, you had to pick this one! (sword descends to earth in a Pillar of Light as an Ethereal Choir sings) You didn't see what was, Jeanne. You saw what you wanted to see.
  • Defiant to the End: Even as the Bishop tries to give her one last chance to escape from her fate by admitting to her heresy, Joan refuses to recant. She does change her mind briefly, but only briefly.
    Joan: If the church wants me to say that my visions are evil, then I do not believe in this church.
  • Demythification: This is a borderline case, however, as more than one interpretation is offered for the Visions, and indeed implied for 'the Conscience'. Of course, since Joan of Arc was definitely a real person, The Messenger might also be accused of going the opposite route and adding fantastic elements (though this gets into a tricky theological debate).
  • Downer Ending: Jeanne gets screwed over by the very people she wanted to help, she's burnt at the stake for witchcraft and although the Bishop knows the English are lying, he can't prove it. The epilogue does mention that she was finally canonised as a saint in the 20th century.
  • Evil Brit: Rather harshly so in this adaptation. A English man first murders Jeanne's sister — and then rapes her. There's a rather foul-mouthed English sentry in Orleans — and the two who accuse Jeanne of witchcraft are portrayed as cunning and manipulative. That being said, the French characters don't get portrayed much better. Charles VII and Yolande of Aragon are happy when Jeanne gets them Orleans but lose interest when she keeps demanding more. They ultimately conspire to have her captured.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Before Jeanne is in the army, her hair is long and blonde. During the battle of Orleans, it's short and dark blonde. After that, it's even shorter and darker. While she is in prison it grows longer and has now turned brown.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Subverted. Jeanne being burned at the stake is horrifying.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Jeanne's visions are accompanied by tolling bells.
  • Freudian Excuse: The film gives Jeanne one. It suggests that her crusade against the English army was partially motivated by a desire to avenge her sister's rape and murder by English soldiers, which didn't happen in real life.
  • Gilligan Cut: Jeanne writes a letter to the English army at Orleans, giving them the chance to surrender.
    Sentry: Go fuck yourself!
    cut to Jeanne and Aulon
    Jeanne: What did they say?
    Aulon: They said...they'll think about it.
  • Gorn: The movie had some quiet violent depictions during its battle scenes. Understandable since Besson went with more of an anti-war theme.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Used to convey Catherine's innocence and heroic nature, as her first act is to hide Jeanne from the invading soldiers. Likewise Jeanne's hair is blonde when she's at her most innocent. It darkens as she enters battle.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Jeanne finds a sword which she later carries to battle. Most officers and many ordinary soldiers also carry swords as well. Exceptions among the named characters are La Hire who has a huge axe and Gilles de Rais who wields a pair of morning-stars.
  • Heroic Second Wind: When Jeanne is seriously wounded by an arrow during a siege, the French assault fails and her captains and soldiers are despondent, with the English shouting their jeers at them through the night. But then by early morning, Jeanne strides out to show she is alive, though heavily bandaged, and vows to make them pay. She then wakes her soldiers and captures the English fort using a siege tower as an improvised battering ram/bridge.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: Pierre Couchon is here portrayed as trying to save Jeanne, and sympathizing with her. There is no historical evidence of this — much the opposite.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Not to the extent of films like The Patriot (2000), but the English soldiers are either foul-mouthed scum that murder innocent women and then rape them, or else malevolent and manipulative schemers.
  • Important Haircut: Attempted by Jeanne. When she realizes that the soldiers don't like taking orders from a woman, she cuts off her hair to look like a man.
  • ...In That Order: the young Jeanne is especially traumatized by being forced to hide and witness her older sister being stabbed to death and then raped.
  • Jeanne d'Archétype: Deconstructed. Jeanne tries to claim that she only carried her banner and never killed anyone. She's eventually caught out into saying that she did carry a sword too and it's likely that she did kill to defend herself. She's also portrayed as less of a messiah and more possibly a girl suffering from mental illness. The film also gives her a personal reason to want to fight the English.
  • Lady of War: Averted, which is notable since Joan is usually portrayed this way. Instead she's Hot-Blooded and tends to go Leeroy Jenkins, frustrating her captains but inspiring her soldiers and winning anyway (most of the time).
  • Leeroy Jenkins: This is Jeanne's usual attitude when going to battle.
  • I Love the Dead: Jeanne's sister suffers this fate in the hands of the English soldiers — struggling to escape, she's killed and then ravaged.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Aulon has to tell Jeanne that she has an arrow in her leg.
  • Match Cut: The judge strikes with his hammer to accept Jeanne as a messenger of God and to give her the army she asked for — then cut to an English soldier striking a much larger hammer, firing a trebuchet.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The film suggests the possibility Jeanne didn't really see signs from God, but is just a mentally ill girl who saw what she wanted. On the other hand, some things (such as somehow picking out Charles from a room full of nobles) don't get explained.
  • The Messiah: Subverted. It's heavily implied that Jeanne's visions are a result of mental illness, which is a common interpretation of her story these days.
  • Mission from God: Joan strongly believes she is on one, though the film indicates this may just be a delusion.
  • Mood Whiplash: The triumphant scene of Charles VII getting crowned abruptly jolts into the middle of the siege of Paris.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: A variation. Jeanne zones out during the battle of Orleans. She has a vision of Jesus, blood-soaked and in agony, making her scream in terror. She comes to her senses hearing her comrades cheering about winning. Then she sees the hundreds of dead bodies everywhere, everyone covered in blood and one man with a prisoner he's taken - about to knock all his teeth out so he can have them. She is horrified at what she's just taken part in.
    Jesus: What are you doing, Jeanne? What are you doing to me, Jeanne?
    Jeanne: This is victory? This is glory!?
  • Oh, Crap!: When the English discover what Jeanne is actually doing with the siege tower.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Appears a few times in the soundtrack. For example, at the ending when Jeanne is burned at the stake.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Joan is referred to as 'Jeanne' throughout (as was her real name-Joan being the anglicized verion), alongside Jean d'Aulon. There's also a Duke John of Alençon.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Milla Jovovich gives Jeanne a hint of a French accent — but it rarely holds up for very long.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: In the beginning of the film English soldiers do this to Jeanne's village, killing and then raping her sister Catherine.
  • Recycled In Space: The film could be said to be Apocalypse Now in medieval France.
  • Rousing Speech: Inverted. Jeanne gives a speech to the English army convincing them to surrender. It works.
  • Rule of Cool: Used several times in the battle scenes. Most notable are the improbable shots done by the trebuchet.
  • Sanity Slippage: Jeanne throughout the film. This was the director's intention — to show her being driven mad by the war going on around her.
  • Shown Their Work: In spite of a lot of Artistic Licence, the filmmakers did do their homework in other areas:
    • Many of Jeanne's lines during the trial are taken directly from the transcript of the real thing.
    • Jeanne receives two arrow wounds, one above the breast and the other in the leg - both of which she received in real life.
    • Jeanne really did have her virginity tested before the court to prove her validity.
    • The scene of Jeanne being able to pick out the real Charles VII among a crowd of his courtiers was written in many 15th century accounts.
    • A minor one - but the collaboration between the English soldiers and the Burgundians was portrayed much more accurately than many previous films.
    • Another minor one: the reason the hairline of noble women is so high is fashion. Historically, at the time, the beauty standard had a very large forehead and many women (like Agnès Sorel, or the girl bathing with Charles VII) plucked the hair on top of their head.
  • Storming the Castle: The French taking back Tourelle from the English. They only succeed at second try.
  • Survivor's Guilt: At one point Jeanne says Catherine's death is her fault and she should have died instead of Catherine.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Played with. Jeanne does make herself look more masculine, but it's not to pass as a man. She's hoping they'll take her more seriously if she looks less feminine.
  • Taking the Bullet: Gilles de Rais, another of Jeanne's commanders, takes an arrow for her without her noticing. Though it's non-fatal and he pulls it out right away.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Jeanne reaffirms this in her trial, however her accusers poke holes in this - as she was definitely carrying a sword in battle and would likely have had to defend herself if she came out alive.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The film toys with the audience over whether Jeanne really has visions from God, or is just deluded.
  • True Companions: The film portrays the relationship between Jeanne and her fellow soldiers this way.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: It plays this trope with Jeanne. She's a good little girl who is devoted to her Christian faith. Then her sister gets murdered and it's suggested this breaks her.
  • You Killed My Father: The murder of Jeanne's sister is implied to be a major reason behind Jeanne's motivation. Interestingly enough for this trope, it's the English in general Jeanne has this attitude to - rather than the one soldier who actually did it.