The Name of the Rose
directed by Jean-Jaques Annaud
(20th Century Fox, 1986)

The Name of the Rose is a mystery set in an isolated 14th-century monastery where a series of strange deaths have caused rumors and gossip to fly. The Abbott wants to quiet these rumors, so brings in William of Baskerville to "investigate" the deaths. William is supposed to quietly accept the answer that the authorities supply and smooth everything over. Instead, he launches a full-scale investigation and makes an astounding discovery: hidden away within this vast monastery is a library containing secret and forbidden books only rumored to exist. And the authorities are willing to kill to preserve the secret of its existence.

While the main plot is the murder-mystery, there are several subplots that spin off in different directions. The Inquisition hovers on the horizon. What effect will it have, and when will it arrive? Can William expose the library, and at what cost? Can he escape the monastery with the knowledge that is so dangerously guarded? How will his investigation change the treatment and lifestyle of the other monks?

Sean Connery is outstanding as William of Baskerville. His expressions and body language are exactly what you would expect of a man with this inquisitive mindset and tenacious nature. He was ideal for the part and played it to the max! At the beginning of the movie, when William arrives at the monastery, the director makes an unspoken promise to the viewer that this character will be astutely observant and keen in wit. That promise is kept.

William's companion, the novice Adso von Melk (a 17-year-old Christian Slater), needs to find the toilet. William, who has never been there before, nevertheless tells him where it is. He explains that he observed a man hurrying in that direction with a pained expression, then returning at a more relaxed pace and looking relieved. Sherlock Holmes in a tonsure! Right there, I was hooked. He had my full attention and he held it for the rest of the movie. I had to see how this sharp-witted monk would analyze the rest of the monastery ... and match wits with the stern Inquisitor Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham).

The depiction of monastic life is more historically accurate than any other movie I have seen. Novices were presented to monasteries at an early age for an education -- a highly sought commodity of the era. They lived in cold, damp, spartan quarters and spent much of their time transcribing written works by candlelight. It was a miserable existence. There was also corruption, and differing views of what constituted a holy life. This dark film puts the subject into a serious and somber perspective, and the monastery is a creepy place that will make you shudder. The scenes, backdrops and props are far above average.

The Name of the Rose, based on a novel by Umberto Eco, is a magnificent work. Anyone with an interest in medieval life should see it. It goes far past being just a mystery, delving into the realms of power and the withholding of knowledge from society. This is a deep film!

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 3 May 2003

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