Movie Review: The Name of the Rose by Jean-Jacques Annaud

The movie The Name of the Rose was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and released in the year 1986.  It is based on a book of the same title by Umberto Eco.  The film is co-produced by Bernd Eichinger, Franco Cristaldi and others; and its screenplay is handled by the quartet of Andrew Birkin, Gerard Brach, Howard Franklin and Alain Godard.  The music is handled by James Hornner.  Produced with a budget of $17 millions, the film grossed four times this amount.

Set in Medieval Europe, this murder mystery revolves around the character of Willam of Baskerville, played by Sean Connery.  The storyline spans events during the course of one week in 14th Century Northern Italy.  In the wake of a mysterious death at the Benedictine Abbey, the Franciscan monk William of Baskerville and his aide Adso of Melk arrive at the scene to conduct investigations.  The body of the young illuminator Adelmo was found under a tower window which is sealed permanently.   While speculations circulate about the death being an act of the Devil, William infers that it was not murder but a suicide.  The next day, the Greek translator Venantius is found dead near his library, lying suspended in a vat of pig’s blood.  Upon investigations within the library and clues gathered therein, William and Adso have an audience with the Abbott an inform him of their deductions.  The chief suspect for these deaths, William asserts, is the library assistant Berenger.  But there is more to the mystery than the series of deaths, for further probes inside the library unravel great hidden secrets that could embarrass and topple Christian authority over the masses.  The intrigue and the suspense intensifies as further evidences and events unfold, leading to a gripping climax and ending.

The books in the library are special significance to the plot and substance of the movie.  It is suggested by William early into his investigation that notes and translation to the Greek version of a book is found on the desk of Venantius.  And later during the investigations of the library, he discovers invaluable collections of ancient wisdom, including such Greek luminaries as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, etc.  The Abbott and the institution of Church would not be pleased upon learning of this discovery, for this ancient wisdom is more sophisticated than what is found in the Holy Bible. More importantly, that such wisdom could emanate from Pagan worshippers such as the ancient Greeks would undermine the authority of Christian theologians in Medieval Europe.  Considering all these potential threats to their power and privilege, the presence of these books in the hidden library has been kept a tightly held secret.  And attempts to crack open its access points are what sets up the central plot of the story.  Hence, the books and the secret library containing them are central to the narrative.

The message to be gathered from this story is rather discouraging.  Authority figures usually tend to act brutally and ruthlessly in suppressing dissenting voices and views.  And this was the case in The Name of the Rose too, where the content of Aristotle’s book on Poetics is seen as potentially subversive to Christian authority and hence secretly guarded from mass access.  And most the deaths and chaos occurring in the movie is directly attributable to this virulent tendency of authoritative institutions.  More depressingly, it suggests that those expressing alternative viewpoints and beliefs can be subject to dire consequences.