Joan of Arc never lived to hear her own name; she never lived to see her own deliverance. Jeanne la Pucelle (Joan the Maid) died a heretic. Redeemed twenty-five years later at the nullification of the Rouen trial that sentenced her to the stake, Joan finally earned the honor behind the surname D'Arc, but not before cementing a dichotomy larger than the split between England and France. Was Joan of Arc truly a messenger of God, or merely a girl spawned by satanic delusions or personal vendettas? History fails Joan; it is not even known for sure her date of birth or her exact age at death. Régine Pernoud, in her book Joan of Arc: Her Story, paints a portrait of Jeanne left incomplete by lack of fact and verification. Even her accompanying collection of interviews and transcripts, Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses, presents a one-dimensional Joan void of any emotion beyond her devotion to God. Such reckless piousness is hard to believe. Most fictional accounts of the Maid sacrifice spirituality in the name of humanity. Even William Shakespeare in his theatrical representation of King Henry VI presents Joan as the basest of villains, weak to the point of embracing Satan to save her own life. This English propaganda, common in decades following the end of the 100 Years War, presents a strikingly human Joan in comparison to the French obsession with her as icon alone: it is easier to sympathize with Joan as a lost girl torn on the eve of her death than as a devout Christian unbreakable even by the thought of fire and damnation. In his film The Messenger, Luc Besson attempts to find understanding in the story of Jeanne la Pucelle, a kind of humanity disallowed by history and Joan herself.
[...] Aside from information gathered at Domrémy during both the original Rouen trial and its subsequent nullification trial, Joan the Maid's childhood is for the most part an empty slate. There was nothing remarkable about Joan as a young girl: was just like everybody, she did every thing like everyone else, and, except for her notable piety, she rarely distinguished herself from the group,” says Pernoud, echoing the admissions of Joan's fellow villagers (Pernoud 161). Her age and birth date as stated in history books are no more than educated guesses, and numerous scholars insist a possible noble lineage. [...]
[...] Besson touches on the fragility of a child's mind, the fateful moment that can transform a pious peasant into a vengeful warrior. Joan cries, Joan listens, and Joan rushes to a church in Neufchâteau to drink of the blood of Jesus Christ. want to be one with You she screams, the wine dripping down her face (Besson). At the age of eight, she yet to be confirmed; she has no right to the receive the Eucharist. She commits blasphemy, slave to her rage and desperation. [...]
[...] can tell you are a good many, but you are not my she whispers, and seeks Charles elsewhere in the main crowd. Her confidence wavers; her mouth opens, but words fail to find their purchase in reality. Jeanne's first meeting with the Dauphin has become a second theatrical centerpiece, a moment of drama and emotion surpassed only by her execution. Yet her original entrance, while miraculous in its divine implications, an illiterate child guided by God to the feet of her true sovereign, was the beginning of the end of her life and, more importantly, her humanity. [...]
[...] She remained completely faithful to her sovereign, to the point that He was on trial more than she was; for she was simply the messenger, and even before the Holy Mother Church, she supplied only the answers He desired her to give. Jeanne la Pucelle was condemned to die in the fire without much left of her humanity unconsumed by her religion. Simply stated, Luc Besson presents a Joan who does not even believe herself. By the end of the trial, she has second-guessed every answer, and she is tormented by the visions she used to survive on, the visions that turn out to be manifestations of her Conscience. [...]
[...] Joan's predictions vanish, from the knowledge of her own injuries and capture, to the outcomes of battles and the fate of France. Besson grounds her in this reality, on this plane of thought, giving her ownership of her actions, her decisions, her army. you love me, follow she cries. God disappears, leaving behind a girl who kills in the name of her own pain, in the name of freedom and justice. Miracles and messages created Joan the Follower; Besson creates Joan the Leader, Joan the Loved, Joan the Understood. [...]
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