The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)






Director: Luc Besson

Starring:  Milla Jovovich (Jeanne),  John Malkovich (the dauphin/Charles VII),  Faye Dunaway (the dauphin's mother-in-law),  Dustin Hoffman (Jeanne's conscience),  Pascal Greggory (The Duke of Alençon), Vincent Cassel (Gilles de Rais),  Tcheky Karyo (Dunois),  Richard Ridings (La Hire),  Desmond Harrington (Aulon).

Joan of Arc tries to drive the English out of France


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.


"Henry V, King of England, and Charles VI, King of France sign the treaty of Troye.  The treaty states that the kingdom of France will belong to England upon the king's death.  But the two kings die a few months apart.  Henry VI is the new King of England and of France, but he is only a few months old.  Charles VI, The Dauphin of France, has no intention to abandon his kingdom to a child nor even to his tutor, the Duke of Bedford.  A bloody war begins and the English, along with the Burgundians, invade France.  La Loire, a difficult river and natural frontier, temporarily holds back the invaders.  Charles VII, the Dauphin, takes refuge in Chinon.  He would like to go to Reims to be officially crowned King of France.  But Reims is in the hands of the English.  The French still have Orleans.  France is going through the darkest period of its history.  Only one thing can save it.  A miracle."

Joan goes to give her confession to the village priest.  He asks her why does she come to confession 2 to 3 times a day, everyday?  She says it's where she feels safe enough to talk to God.  She tells the priest that voices talk to her.  The voices come from a man, but she doesn't know his name, because he never tells her. 

Joan runs from the church and through the village; runs across a meadow, down a hill; stomps through a stream; and rolls down another hill.  She flops herself down in the meadow grass and she finds a sword not far from her.  She picks it up.  She is now in an opening in the forest.  She hears riders coming fast.  There's a pack of wolves that come toward her, but they go right past her.  Joan runs to the village and finds much of it on fire.  She also sees the wolves feeding off the bodies of dead villagers.  The enemy soldiers are English.  Joan runs into the house shouting for her mother and her sister Catherine. Suddenly, Catherine jumps from her hiding place (a secret closet of sorts) and put Joan into the closet.  There is no room for Catherine now. 

Three English soldiers come into the house.  Two of the men sit down to eat what was being prepared.  The other one, however, is a bit of an opportunist.  He starts ripping open Catherine's clothes.  He starts to have sex with her, but has to tell her to stop squirming around so he can get this over with.  She will not stop moving around, so he pushes a sword through her and finishes himself off with her dying/dead body.  The murderous rapist now turns to the two soldiers at the table and says:  "Your turn now."  The two men look at him like he's a crazy loon. 

After the English leave the village, the villagers start burying their dead.  Joan is there to bury her sister.  He father tells her that her aunt and uncle are going to take her to their house for a couple of weeks.  So off goes Joan in the back of a wagon.  Aunt and uncle put her to bed, but she just sits on the end of the bed.  The aunt wonders if she will be alright and her husband assures her that she will.  But when they go in to check on Joan in the morning, she is still in the same position as she was last night.  She says:  "I want to see a priest."

Joan asks the priest why did her sister have to die?  Catherine gave up her hiding place to save her, even though it was her (Joan) who had arrived late.  The priest tells her that maybe God has chosen her for a bigger mission.  Joan replies:  "I want to be at home with Him now." 

Joan runs back to her village church.  She fills a chalice with communion wine and drinks it all down very quickly.  She says she wants to go to God now.

Chinon.  A message comes for the dauphin of France.  His aide Tremoille takes it and reads it.  He moans and says it from that same girl who calls herself the Maiden of Lorraine.  And she will be here tomorrow.  The priest Regnault says that the girl may be a sorceress, a witch.  The dauphin tells him that he sees withes everywhere.  The girl is a mere peasant.  He seems intrigued by the thought of this girl.  He tells the doubters around him that with half of France in the hands of the English, what does he really have to lose by seeing the girl?  Tremoille responds:  "The other half." 

Out of seemingly nowhere comes a voice:  "See her!"  It's the dauphin's mother-in-law.  She says that if the girl is a fake, the dauphin will find it out in five minutes.  But, if she's not a fake, then she can answer the dauphin's questions and put the crown on his head.  She says that the simple people tend to believe in legends.  They will want to believe her.  She could very well end up inspiring the French army.

A messenger comes in to say that she has arrived.  The dauphin talks about the matter with his aide John Aulon, who tells the dauphin, that he should let someone else pretend that he is the dauphin to see if the girl can figure out what's going on.  So the dauphin chooses Aulon himself to silt on the throne.  Aulon seems embarrassed to be impersonating the future king of France. 

Joan is brought into the huge throne room.  There are so many people in the room that she can't even see the throne.  She starts looking at the people in the room.  She asks one man:  "I've come to see the dauphin."   The man points to the back of the room.  Joan slowly walks forward while the people slowly move out of her way.  She finally comes to Aulon sitting on the throne.  She hesitates, but then says that she can see that the young fellow is a good man, but he is not the dauphin.  Someone tells her to find the dauphin by herself.  Joan slowly walks along looking closely at the faces of the men.  She keeps going back to the door when she stops and picks out the dauphin.  She then tries to launch herself at his feet, but five knives are suddenly thrust in front of her neck.  The dauphin wants to know how did she know that he was the dauphin.  Once the knives are out of her way she kneels in front of the dauphin, hugging his legs and saying:  "Oh, my gentle dauphin. . . . I have a message for you from the King of Heaven  --   for you and you only."  She refuses to tell him in a room full of people.  So the dauphin takes her into a private room to speak with her.

Joan starts telling him about how she started hearing voices.  She was just ten years old.  A strange wind blew and she heard voices calling for her.  She ran into the same violent wind coming back from church.  A shape of a man showed itself to her.  "I was so frightened."  She goes on to say:  "I knew God had chosen me."  But what could she do, a mere girl?  So she goes to mass and the same strange wind blows out a stained glass window in the church.    Then everything was made clear to her.  The message was that Joan is to save France from her enemies.  And the other part of the message is that God has told her that she will lead the dauphin to the altar at Reims and there he will be crowned king of France. 

The dauphin comes out of the private room looking shaken.  He talks to Aulon telling the young man that he places Joan in his hands.  He is to get a room in the palace where she can get some rest.  Furthermore, Aulon is to guard Joan with his very life.  John takes Joan with him.  He apologizes to her for pretending to be the king.  Jean dismisses this.  She says that she wants to go straight to Orleans to free it from the English.  What she needs to be given is a glass of water, a new war horse, armor, sword and someone who can read and write.  (Joan can't read or write.)  John says he can read and write, so who does she want to write to first:?  She responds:  "The King of England."  She wants to give him a chance to live in peace before she gets to Orleans. 

The doubters are still doubters and want to know how are they going to be able to trust this girl?  Someone says that she claims to be a virgin.  So they can have this matter checked.   Joan is a bit scared. 

There is a room full of people.  Joan has to walk past all these people in a slight gown to go into a little room created by four nuns holding up the four artificial corners of a very large sheet.  An old nurse comes into the sheet room and examines Joan.  She comes out from behind the sheets and says to the waiting crowd:  "She is intact."

Now Joan is questioned by a battery of priests, one of whom asks Joan to give them some sign to prove that she has been sent by God.  Joan says that she is not going to perform tricks for them.  She asks them why do they not see that it is obvious that God has guided her through 500 leagues of enemy country to help the dauphin?  She adds:  "Give me an army and send me to Orleans . . ."  Then they will see through her deeds that God has send her. 

John takes Joan out to the troops at Orleans.  He introduces her to Dunois, the dauphin's half-brother.  He is in command of the army here.  Joan is so impatient and doesn't want to waist time just staying still and conversing with the officers of the army.  She starts to ride off, but Dunois tells her firmly to calm down, tocome with him and it will be his honor to welcome her. 

Joan, followed by the officers, enters the town.   The people are awed by her and they want to touch her, the armor or even the horse.  Behind her comes the officers and the food, which is desperately needed by the people. 

Joan feels she is being ignored by Dunois and the other officers.  She shouts:  "No one will listen to me!"  Dunois tells her to come over to the table and watch.  He says they will attack the Tourelles  --  a small fortification that is virtually impregnable.  Joan is still not happy and she says:  "To you I'm just a girl."  She goes into another room and starts cutting her hair off.  John comes to her and tells her to stop loping off her hair.  And stop getting angry all the time!  He will get a pair of scissors and someone can cut her hair. 

Joan sends her third letter to the English.  John tells her that the English won't leave before tomorrow, but she says:  "I can't wait for tomorrow!"  She suddenly hears the sounds of battle.  Joan says that French blood is spilling.  The French have started the battle without her.  She yells for her banner.  The gates are opened and out rides Joan looking pretty impressive in her armor.  Joan rides right up to the front and yells to the men:  "Follow me and I'll give you victory!"  She tells the men:  "To the draw bridge!"  Someone objects that the draw bridge is closed.   Joan won't listen.  She goes up to the enemy fortifications and jumps her horse over them.  The French soldiers want to save her, so they start charging forward.  The English soldiers start running back into the Tourelles. 

Dunois tells Joan that it's a great victory.  Joan immediately says they should pursue them, but Dunois says no, because the English are rebuilding the draw bridge now.  Soldiers keep coming to help Joan and the army fight.  Once they have a much bigger army she decides to launch an attack on the Tourelles. 

The English commander Glasdale is awakened and told:  "Sire, we've got visitors."  Joan sits on her horse outside the Tourelles.  She yells out:  "Glasdale, do you hear me?"  She then says for them to yield or go back to their island.  No answer comes so she rides back to her men and shouts:  "Follow me!"  The men seem to go a bit crazy and they attack the wall with full force.  Archers with flaming arrows shoot into the gate and it starts burning.   

The English want that girl killed.  Joan starts climbing up a ladder, despite the fact that many of the men tell her to come back.  An English archer shoots and hits her in the right shoulder.  She falls off the ladder but into the hands of her soldiers below.   Glasdale shouts to Joan:  "Go to hell!"  In the make-shift infirmary Joan pulls the arrow out of her shoulder, but she is bleeding badly.  She tries, but fails to get up.  John tells her that she must stay calm.  Joan gets John to promise her that he will go back to the battle.  She goes out like a light.  The doctor comes in and tells everyone that she's sleeping, which relieves the worries of most of the men. 

In the battle Dunois gives the order to sound the retreat.  John tells him that Joan says that they should flight on.  Dunois says he's tired of Joan's interference.  John reminds him that most of the men say Joan is a gift from God. 

Joan dreams that she is caught in a wooden tunnel.  She reaches the end and looks out between the cracks to see the English murdering rapist threaten Catherine.  Joan yells at the man. 

Joan awakens from the nightmare.  It is early morning.  Joan gets up and rides her horse over to the Tourelles.  She hears the English sub-commander shouting out several vicious things about her.  She shouts for the English to listen to her.  The sub-commander says he can hear her.  So Joan shouts:  "I'm alive.  May God forgive your blasphemy for I never will."  She goes back to her soldiers and starts waking them up.  She shouts:  "The battle has begun!"

Joan tells her men that she needs the wooden tower set upright.  The soldiers put ropes on it and are able to stand it up.  Dunois and the others say that the poor girl has the wrong side of the tower, the open side, facing the enemy.   The enemy laugh at her for having the open side of the tower pointing to them.  A messenger is sent to wake up Glasdale.  The messenger says:  "My Lord, the French witch is back from the dead."  Joan has the men push the tower closer and closer to the spot for the draw bridge.  She then has her men push the tower over.  The tower not only opens the outer gates of the fortification, but serves as a draw bridge too.  Now the French pour into the Tourelles. 

The sub-commander stands in front of the next gate.  He shouts:  "French whore!  Come and get me!"  As he stands there, the gate is opened and the sub-commander is killed by friendly fire from a multiple-arrow launcher behind him.  The French start launching huge round balls into the inner English fortifications.  In the fighting one of the men takes an arrow for Joan, thereby saving her.  The arrow hits him in the arm.  Joan yells that they are going to open that door.  They push forward a burning wagon filled with tree logs with sharpened ends.  The force of the blow opens the doors.  And now the slaughter begins. 

In the midst of the battle, Joan stands still.  She see herself a a girl sitting in one of her favorites chairs near the forest.  A Jesus like character comes up to her.  Blood runs down his face and he asks Joan:  "What are you doing to me, Joan?"  She is brought out of her vision when John arrives and asks her if she is alright?  He sees she's a bit shaken and tells her calm down  -- that it's over.  One of the soldiers who usually fights near Joan, shouts:  "This is victory!" 

Joan now sees the full nature of the terrible slaughter, including chopped off limbs and heads.  Crows pick at some of the dead bodies.  She is stunned and asks:  "This is glory?"  She then says:  "It's not possible."  She sees a Frenchman about to smash an Englishman's head in order to get at his gold teeth and yells at him to stop.  She says this is not right.  They came here fighting for a cause, not to murder men.  A French soldier asks her then what should they do with all the other English prisoners? 

Joan goes to a priest saying that she must confess her sins.  She gets down on her knees to pray. 

Dunois brings bad news.  Thousands of English fighters are forming up on the far side of the river. 

The two armies face each other at opposite ends of a huge meadow.  Joan decides to ride out all alone to give a message to King Henry.  Her message is:  "Go home.  Go now in peace.  I've seen enough blood.  But if you want more, I can't stop you."  The English don't answer her.  Joan moans to herself:  "No!  Please!  My Lord, please!"  She doesn't want to fight the English.  The English archers move forward and Joan has to return to her army.  As she gets the men ready, the English turn around and start leaving the meadow. 

The dauphin is so happy to hear the news of the French capture of Orleans  The English King Henry is just a boy.  The tutor Duke of Bedford, however, is a grown man and he tells his men:  "I want that girl.  I want that girl burned." 

Joan and the soldier are at the coronation of the French King in Reims.  Joan bows to her small group of "body guards".  She watches the ceremony intently as the dauphin becomes the king.  Following the coronation, there is a lot of whooping and hollering for the new king. 

Outside the walls of Paris.  Joan stands amidst the battlefield as if in a trance.  John comes to her to tell her that she has an arrow in her leg.  She tells him to pull it out.  The soldier that took an arrow for Joan comes to tell her that the men are exhausted.  Joan thinks there are 10,000 reinforcements behind her.  The soldiers asks her to look around.  There are no reinforcements.  There are only about 100 tired men behind her.  She asks where is Dunois and the men the king promised her?  She is informed that the king never sent the reinforcements.  The soldiers say the king doesn't want this war anymore:  "He has his crown now.  That's all he ever wanted."  He tells Joan to go home.  There's nothing they can do her now.

The king's mother-in-law tells the king's advisers that they can't afford an army of the size Joan asks for.  "The girl is crazy.  Paris was a disaster." 

Joan bursts into the bathing room where the king and his wife are in a huge container of water.  She demands to know why didn't he send the reinforcements to her?  The king says that he is very grateful to Joan for all that she has done for them, "but now your task is done".  In her hand Joan carries what she says are letters from French people living in English controlled areas asking for help.  These French people are starving.  The king is not interested in Joan going to the people's rescue.  Joan gets angry, throws the letters in the king's face and leaves in a huff.  In exasperation, the king says:  "If only she would go home."

John speaks with Joan.  He asks her what her voices tell her to do, but she says there have been no voices for her since the king's coronation.  John says that means that it is time for her to go home.  Joan is very disappointed and says to him:  "So even you don't believe in me anymore."  He says he does, but it would be better if she went home.  Joan is not going home.  She says she wants her army back.

The king's mother-in-law says that they must stop Joan.  The royalty are afraid that Joan will raise an army and use it to conduct her own private war.  They must stop her from going to Compiegne.  Someone suggests to let the Burgundians capture her at Compiegne. 

Joan is fighting alongside her men.  The town closes its gate for they fear for their own safety.  Joan is caught on the outside fighting the Burgundians.  One of the enemy soldiers pulls her down from her saddle.  Joan is captured. 

In a jail cell Joan has inner doubts and argues with herself.  She thinks the man she sees in her cell is from the devil and she says:  "Get behind me Satan!"  But the man, her conscience, keeps throwing up difficult questions for her to ponder.  She says that she is just a messenger for God and that God needs. her.  Her conscience asks doesn't she think God is great enough to send his own messages without asking any help from her. 

The Duke of Burgundy visits Joan in her cell.  He says they will ransom her to the English.  The duke tells her that the English can't accept that they were beaten by a girl.  Instead, they must believe it's witchcraft. 

Meanwhile, Joan raises 10,000 gold crowns to pay for Joan's ransom.  The real problem, however, is that the king doesn't want Joan back. 

Pierre Cauchon, English bishop of Beauvais, comes to Joan's cell to tell her that he will be the one to conduct her trial, as she was captured in his diocese.  The charge is heresy.  She will be sent to the English at Rouen. Joan doesn't want to have to face the English. 

Rouen.  The English bishop speaks of Joan's many heretical deeds.  (One of the silliest concerns is that Joan wore men's clothing around men.)  The bishop soon sees he's in for a difficult trial.  Joan is not interested in cooperating with him.  He tells her that if she doesn't cooperate, he will have to turn her over to the secular authorities and that will mean that she just might be burned at the stake. 

During a break from the trial, the English bishop asks Father Vincent what he thinks about the trial so far. The father says that the trial is a masquerade.  The verdict is known before the trial begins.  So, he is going back to Rome.  He can't, though.  The English arrest the father and lock him up.

The conscience of Joan keeps bothering her.  Now she hears questions about the validity of the voices she has heard.  She hears the words:  "You saw what you wanted to see." 

Joan goes before a lot of judges and questioners.  When she is taken back to her cell, she is kicked and beaten.   When she is more conscious, she asks her conscience why is he doing this to her?  After all, she never killed anyone.  Her conscience greatly questions this statement and reminds her of a few happenings. 

Back on trial, the English bishop tells Joan that some faculty of the University of Paris looked over their judgement statement about Joan and agreed with the clerical panel.  The bishop feels that some of the guilt has been lifted from his shoulders because he got some independent confirmation of his work. 

Joan speaks to God saying:  "Don't abandon me, please" and "Is this what You want?"  The bishop reads the charges against her.  The document uses a lot of harsh, judgmental words for the Maiden from Lorraine.  And there is one more thing that is needed.  She must sign the recantation statement.  Joan won't sign it.  She wants to be confessed.  Cauchon tells her to sign the document first and then he can help her.  She signs the document with an X.  The bishop tells her:  "Thank you."

Joan feels a bit relieved, but her conscience asks her if she really knows what it is she just signed?  She shouldn't have signed it.  The conscience adds:  "In the end it was you who abandoned Him."   Joan now goes hysterical, screaming her demand that they give her back the document she signed. The guards take her away.  The bishop tells the Duke of Bedford:  "Now she's your martyr, not ours."

Guards come into Joan's cell.  They tear open her clothing.  Then she is told to dress in the clothes they give her. 

The Duke of Bedford tells the bishop that Joan has relapsed already.  She is dressed as a man again.  He adds:  "This girl is a witch and she will burn for it." 

The bishop speaks to Joan.  He says he is very sorry but he cannot hear her confession. 

In her cell alone her conscience tells her to confess her sins to him.  She says she fought;  she fought for a cause; and she was proud, selfish and cruel.  Her conscience asks her if she is ready now and she says yes. 

The flames surround Joan as she stands tied to a stake.  The flames start burning her feet first.  Soon she is completely engulfed in huge flames.

Joan was burned May 30, 1431.  She was 19 years old.  500 years later the church canonized her.




This is an especially interesting version of the story of Joan of Arc.  She has a vision of her putting the Dauphin (heir to the monarchy) on the throne by fighting the English.  She is so sure of her vision from God that she becomes a woman obsessed.  She is absolutely frantic about getting at the English immediately.  The French army leaders are at first extremely skeptical of her abilities and afraid of her impetuousness.  But with time they realize what they have -- someone to inspire their troops to victory -- and learn to work with her to control her overwrought nature so that victory is obtained and disaster averted.

The performances I really enjoyed were by Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc; John Malkovich as the dauphin/Charles VII; and Faye Dunaway as the dauphin's mother-in-law. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:



1337 --  Edward III of England, claiming the French crown, assumes title King of France; beginning of the Hundred Year's War with England (1337-1453)   About half way through this 100 year period, Joan of Arc arises. Anglo-Burgundian alliance dissolves.

1380-1422  --  reign of Charles VI.  He was often not able to rule because of periods of insanity.  

1388  --  Charles VI takes complete charge.  Before that France was ruled primarily by his uncle, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. 

1392  --  Charles VI's first fit of madness.  His uncles Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and John, Duke of Berry, take control,  They dismiss Charles's advisers and officials.  This would start a number of feuds that went beyond the reign of Charles VI. 

1404  --  death of Philip the Bold.  John the Fearless becomes the new Duke of Burgundy. 

1407 – assassination of the the King's brother, the Duke of Orléans, on the orders of the Duke of Burgundy.

1407-1435 – the Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions.

c. 1412  --  birth of the future Joan of Arc in the little village of Domrémy, on the border between Lorraine and Champagne, northeastern France.  They lived in an area surrounded by Burgundian lands and on one occasion the Burgundians burned her village.

1415 – Henry V of England invades. Defeats the French army at the Battle of Agincourt.

1419 – a follower of the Dauphin kills the Duke of Burgundy. The Duke of Burgundy’s successor, Philip the Good, throws in his lot with the English.

1420 – King Charles signs the Treaty of Troyes (recognizing Henry of England as his successor). He also disinherits his son, the 17 year old Dauphin Charles, and betroths his daughter, Catherine of Valois, to Henry.

1422  --  death of Charles VI. 

1422-1461  --  reign of Charles VII of France. 

1424  --  at age 12 Jeanne experiences her first vision.  She later says that Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret told her to drive out the English and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation.

1428 (October)  --  Orléans is under siege.  Charles's mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon finances a relief expedition to Orléans.

1429 (March) – arrival of Jeanne in Chinon. The Duke of Lorraine granted an escort of five veteran soldiers and with a letter of referral to Charles by the governor of Vaucouleurs, Robert Baudricourt, Jeanne rides to Chinon to see the Dauphin.

1429 (May)  --  Jeanne leads the French forces and lifts the siege of Orléans.  (She was wounded in the neck.)

1429 (June 12) – the army recovers Jargeau.

1429 (June 15) – the army recovers Meung-sur-Loire.

1429 (June 17) – the army recovers Beaugency.

1429 (June 18) --  the French win the Battle of Patay, turning the tide of war. 

1428 (July 13)  --  French take Auxerre. 

1429 (July 17)  --  Charles VII crowned in Rheims;  later Henry VI crowned at Westminster.

1429 (September 8)  --  the French fight to take back Paris, but Jeanne is ordered to withdraw.

1429 (October)  --  Jeanne takes Saint-Pierre-le-Motier and is made a noble woman.

1429 (November & December) – minor action at La-Charité-sur-Loire.

1430 (April) – Jeanne goes to Compigne to defend against an English and Burgundian siege.

1430 (May 23)   --  a reckless skirmish leads to her capture by the Burgundians at Compigne.  The English purchase Jeanne from the Duke Philip of Burgundy. 

1431 (January 9)  --  Jean is tried for heresy.  Jeanne was illiterate and she had no legal counsel. Under the threat of immediate execution, she signs an abjuration document she did not understand.  She was raped. 

1431 (May 30)--  Joan of Arc burned at the stake.  She was tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen. She asked two clergymen, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. A peasant puts up a small cross which she puts in the front of her dress. After her execution, the English burned her body twice more and then threw her ashes into the Seine.

1435 --  Peace of Arras between Charles VII and Philip of Burgundy.

1436 --  English troops withdraw from Paris; the French king reenters Paris.

1439 --  heirs to the French throne receive the title Conte du Dauphine.

1449 --  English break truce with France, capture Fougeres.

1453 -- the battle of Castillon, in Aquitaine, brought the long contest to an end; all English expelled, except from Calais.

The economic result of the war was ruin and depopulation, but the political result was the strengthening of the French monarchy.


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