Awards shows are bullsh*t and the Oscars are the most bullsh*t of them all. But unfortunately, the Oscars do, and will probably always, matter. As much as Bradley Cooper’s best actor snub for A Star Is Born in favor of Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody feels like a personal attack against me, it was not, and I have moved on with my life (but I’m still mad). The Oscars are not life or death, and will likely never affect anyone’s personal life. The awards do make a difference in careers and what films get seen. People who are not cinephiles (aka: healthy people) are more likely to only watch films that were nominated for Academy Awards, or only those that win them, which is why Parasite’s sweep of the awards in early 2020 was so significant. Every year, we go through the same Oscars cycle. Someone who deserves it doesn’t win, or doesn’t even get nominated. The cycle repeats itself year after year. Everyone – or, at least, everyone who is obsessed with movies enough to click on this article and get this far into reading it – has that one “who deserved the Oscar but was not even nominated” performance they could discuss ad nausea on command.
Jodie Comer’s performance as Marguerite de Carrouges in the criminally underrated, understated masterpiece The Last Duel from director Sir Ridley Scott will likely become one of the most egregious Oscar snubs in the history of the award. Comer, who won an Emmy in 2019 for her performance as Villanelle on the BBC drama Killing Eve, performs her role as Marguerite de Carrouges – a victim of sexual assault who undergoes ire during the subsequent trial in 14th century France – from varying perspectives. Comer patiently plays with audience expectations by allowing her character to go through the first half of the film quietly, only existing to serve the interests of men, which is the exact way the men in the film see and treat Marguerite. It’s not until the film’s chilling final act that Comer allows Marguerite’s bottled-up anger to explode with a powerhouse performance on par with the performances earning her peers buzz for the Oscar for best actress.
The Last Duel is told in three acts, from three different perspectives. Comer is intentionally and effectively not present in the film’s first two acts because the story is first told from the perspectives of two men. Due to the film’s structure, Comer essentially plays three different versions of Margueritte. In the first act, from Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) perspective, Margueritte is a sweet, obedient, passive, loving young wife who will do anything to please her husband. Jean sees her more as a baby maker who gets him land and advances his position in his country, as well as someone who must succumb to his every emotional and physical need. Jean does not see Margueritte as a person with intelligence, feelings, or experiences and Comer plays up his perspective by making herself seem as small as he sees her. When Margueritte tells Jean she was raped, he helps in her quest for justice by asking for a duel to the death in her honor. But it’s not about her at all. It’s about him and his feud with his former friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). Comer relishes in Jean’s perception of Margueritte, portraying the character as innocently and as naively as he sees her while peppering in subtle body language and facial expressions that indicate he doesn’t understand Margueritte at all.
Jacque Le Gris sees Margueritte in a completely different way than Jean, and Comer amps up the performance as Marguerite in Jacque’s eyes. Le Gris is immediately taken by her beauty and overwhelmed with wit and intelligence. Jacques has the same intentions as Jean. He still sees her as merely an object of his desire but sees something completely different at the same time. Marguerite’s kindness and ability to have a conversation convinces Jacques that the two are in love. Comer does an excellent job at depicting Jacque’s perception of her in a way that, at first, makes you feel like there could be something there even though deep down, you know it’s all in his head, which is a credit to both Comer and Driver’s performances, who act not one but two challenging rape scenes in a respectful way that does not minimize Margeurite’s traumatic experience from both character’s perspectives.
The film’s third and final act takes a significant shift and establishes Marguerite as the film’s hero. Marguerite’s story is the film’s only honest perspective. Surrounded by men telling her what to do and/or calling her a liar, she starts to assert herself. She’s fed up, and with her life at stake (literally, if Jean loses the duel, she will be burned at the stake) and with a baby on the way, there’s a fire within her now that was likely always there but is missing from the first two acts of the film because the men refused to see it because they do not see Margueritte as a human beyond their self-serving interests. Unlike her co-stars – and peers such as Spencer’s Kristen Stewart – who had historical records to base their performances on, little is known about Marguerite de Carrouges despite her being the center of this true story. Even in historical texts, the true story The Last Duel is based on centers the men.
Comer’s inevitable Oscars snub could be the result of several things. First, The Last Duel had a dismal performance at the box office when it came out in October, which soured audiences on the film even though they were unfamiliar with it. And due to the film’s intentional structure, Comer’s role, at a glance, feels less like a leading role than a supporting role. There is also the fact that Comer is more well-known in the television world, and voters might perceive her as more of a television actress who already had her moment with her Emmy win in 2019 — a horrid excuse, but something Academy voters do keep in mind.
In addition to handling sensitive material, playing three different versions of the character, and waiting patiently until the end of the film to make a profound impact, Jodie Comer had to invent a woman erased by history. The Oscar-worthy performance – which is perhaps also going unnoticed because of how effortless and natural it feels – rings true to experiences of women throughout history and of women today. Comer’s haunting and controlled performance in The Last Duel is a necessary reminder that while we have come a long way since the fourteenth century, some things remain the same because we have learned so little.