The historical Joan of Arc and The Messenger (1999) Comparison

Milla Jovovich wearing armor as Joan of Arc on a poster for the 1999 movie, "The Messenger".

The historical Joan of Arc and
The Messenger (1999) Comparison
Young Adult Story Analysis

Written by DJ Hadoken

The movie, The Messenger (1999), attempts to portray its heroine, Joan of Arc, in a manner that might be accurate to the historical Joan of Arc (later to be known as St. Joan of Arc). It holds true to many factual details from history, while some aspects seem to be omitted or altered.

The movie portrays Joan as having an elder sister; history describes Joan as being the youngest of five, in some cases, third of five children. Both in the movie and real life, she lived in a village; her parents were also poor. Her father was a farmer. The movie holds true to all these aspects.

However, the movie depicts Joan as wandering through fields, while history does not point to evidence that Joan solely spent her time as a child wandering fields. Joan was indeed a pious child in both the movie and history. She often went to church (which the movie portrays as her repeated visits to priests) in order to confess.

History describes Joan’s realization of the “voices” which spoke to her, to have occurred at the age of 13 and a half. In her depiction in the movie, she was a little younger (about 10 years old) when she comes into contact with the voices.

Historically, it is said that the voices came with a ray of light, and that over time, she was able to discern certain figures through the light. The movie depicts her encounters with the voices as only voices, with an occasional sharp wind and maybe a few encounters of light. In history, figures did appear to her, although in the movie only an image of Jesus appears to her.

In history, Joan is said to have encountered St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. In the movie, Joan tells a priest during confession about someone telling her to do things (referring to her voices); history says that she tried to never talk of her voices. Many argue that her voices may have been influenced upon her by priests. In the movie, a similar argument is depicted as both the French and English debate over the validity of her voices.

Her voices, according to history, told her to cut her hair, dress in men’s clothing and bear arms. In the movie, she cuts her hair after she is ridiculed by one of the commanders who felt ashamed of taking orders from a woman.

In the movie, Joan’s attempted contact with the French royalty and authority is only shown on one occasion. In history, Joan appeals to the French authority (Robert Baudricourt), accompanied by her cousin, to allow her to help the dauphin (heir apparent to the French crown), but is rejected. Later on, she appeals a second time, and is reluctantly accepted.

In history, upon Joan’s first meeting with Charles (the dauphin of France), although he had attempted to disguise himself, she finds him almost immediately. In the movie, he only hid, and it took her quite a while to find him.

In the movie, she speaks with the dauphin in private and tells him about her life and visions. Shortly after their meeting, they step back into a crowd of people who were awaiting them, and the dauphin appears to now believe strongly in her cause. History describes that Joan revealed a sign to the dauphin in their private meeting, which convinced him to support her. The sign was never known to anyone else, although it is believed it related to Charles’ legitimacy of birth.

Many were skeptical about Joan’s statements. One vital event that is not shown in the movie is Joan’s examination by a number of bishops and doctors in order to determine whether she would be allowed to participate in military operations. The committee found her cause to be just. They found her to not be a heretic and allowed her to join the armed forces.

Also, in the movie, Joan is simply given a sword and afterwards she requests a banner. In the movie, Joan’s banner is composed of mainly plain white. History describes her banner as bearing the words “Jesus Maria”, a picture of God, and angels kneeling, holding a “fleur-de-lis”.

According to history, Joan requests that a sword be searched for behind the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois. It was according to her voices that a sword was located there. A sword was indeed found in the spot she spoke of.

Another historical fact that was omitted from the movie is that a letter about Joan had been written early on by Sire de Rotslaer. In the letter, he reported that Joan had described future events that would happen involving herself. The events proved to be true.

Sire de Rotslaer reported that Joan had said, among other things, that the dauphin would be crowned at Reims and that she herself would be wounded (which she was), as well as that she would be victorious at Orleans (these events were portrayed in the movie).

In the movie, Joan offers the English a chance to retreat, which they reject, as did happen in history. In the movie, she gets hits by an arrow in the breast, which holds true to history. She did manage to successfully overthrow many of the English forces, which had overtaken Orleans. And as predicted in Sire de Rotslaer’s letter, shortly following one of Joan’s victories, Charles was crowned king at Reims.

After the king had been crowned, it is debated whether Joan wished to return home or continue her mission. Some believe that she was held against her will in the army. This is not mentioned in the movie. Joan, shortly after, during a winter of inactivity (also not shown in the movie), is given the rank of noble by King Charles.

History says that Joan, after her return to the battle field, had another vision, which told her that she would soon be taken prisoner. This vision was not depicted in the movie, but the battle in which she is captured (by means of her being pulled from a horse), after being stuck outside a city’s walls because of a drawbridge that had been raised too early, was accurately depicted in the movie.

Her captors were the allies of the English at the time, the Burgundians. She was then sold by them to the English, who in turn put her through a number of trials for witchcraft and heresy. All is accurately portrayed in the movie.

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King Charles did not make many efforts to help Joan during her captivity. In the movie, the only effort that is shown is a ransom that is presented to him, yet it is never used to buy Joan’s freedom. It is also known in history that the French had the power to rescue her, for they held many important prisoners, which could have been traded for Joan.

In the movie, Joan is put through trial by the English whom wished to charge her as a heretic. She repeatedly asked for confession in the movie, yet, in history, it is not described this way.

In history, during her trial, she was asked to reveal what vision she had shone to King Charles of France, but she refused to tell. In the movie, no mention of the vision is spoken of.

When she is first led to the stake (to burn), she is offered the opportunity to save her own life by recanting. History describes that the document that was presented to her was confusing, and very long. The man who presented it to her read only a few lines. She reluctantly signed. The terms of the document are not known, however.

In the movie, she is presented with a similar document, and, staying true to the fact that she could not read or write, writes her signature with an “X”. Although, the movie adds the idea that she was tricked into signing by a false promise of confession and mass attendance. She is then returned to captivity.

However, she is soon sentenced to death again, for the reason that she had resumed wearing men’s clothing. The issue of her wearing men’s clothing was very important during her trial. It is argued whether Joan actually put the clothing on by her own will, or was forced or tricked into it by her jailers. The latter theory is portrayed in the movie, which ultimately leads to her demise.

In the movie, when Joan pleads on her own behalf that she had been promised confession, she is refused. In history, it is said that she received confession and communion just before her execution. In the movie, one of her voices (an image of Jesus), hears her confession. In history, upon the stake, Joan is said to have continually repeated the name of Jesus, until she finally died.

In 1920, Joan was canonized a saint. She was a heroine for the French, and a devil to the English. From the English perspective, the reason for her execution was somewhat “just”, as the English saw her as a major threat.

Her execution goes to show that the cycle of history, characterized in the phrase “history is always doomed to repeat itself”, seems to continually hold true. Humans tend to find any means possible in order to destroy what oppresses them, either by non-violent methods or by violent methods.

But sadly, even in modern days, violence seems to prevail.

Primary Source of Historical Information

Thurston, Herbert. "St. Joan of Arc." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.


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