March 21, 2011
The Name of the Rose (1986)
Grade: 58/100

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Stars: Sean Connery, Christian Slater, F. Murray Abraham

What it's about. Set in the year 1327 at an abbey in Europe. The abbey has had a mysterious death, and the monks believe that Satan is responsible. Monk Sean Connery arrives to attend a conference, and brings along an earnest teenaged disciple, Christian Slater. Connery, a former Inquisition investigator, soon concludes that the monk committed suicide.

That finding briefly calms the monks, then a series of murders among the monks forces the appearance of the Inquisition, headed by humorless witch-hunter F. Murray Abraham. Abraham decides that hideously ugly Ron Perlman is the killer, since he was caught in a Satanic ritual with hottie brunette peasant Valentina Vargas. Both are condemned to death, along with hapless monk Helmut Qualtinger.

This sentence greatly troubles young Slater, who recently had a tryst with Vargas and remains in love with her. Connery continues to investigate, with a focus on head librarian Feodor Chaliapin Jr., an elderly and cantankerous monk who refuses to allow Connery access to a Greek book he considers blasphemous.

How others will see it. The Name of the Rose was mostly ignored in the U.S. during its initial release, but it achieved much critical praise in Europe. Connery won Best Actor at the British Academy Awards.

The film has since gained a considerable following in the U.S., partly due to an erotic scene between Slater, then 15 and thus underage, and Vargas, who was 22 at the time. At, the user ratings are extremely high, with the primary exception of women under 18, who probably wonder why the local monks were so homely, and may also wonder why future bad-boy Slater behaves so meekly throughout.

How I felt about it. Connery is well cast in the lead, and the direction is competent, but the real talent here is Gérard Brach, one of screenwriters credited with adapting Umberto Eco's source novel. We assume that Brach, whose résumé is littered with unconventional mini-masterpieces, is the primary reason for the high quality of the script.

The film's plot concerns moral corruption within the remote monastery. The director implies that their sins are responsible for the monks' physical appearance. Despite the distance of centuries, the movie also suggests that religion, and the Catholic religion in particular, is a malevolent presence, rife with false prosecution, unfair distribution of wealth, and unholy activities.

Comparisons can be made, for example, between the current day scandals between priests and altar boys, and the present film's Berengar (Michael Habeck), a middle-aged monk sexually obsessed with much younger monks.

Futhering the allegorical aspects of the film, the 'evil' protagonists are all killed off, while our heroes Connery, Slater, and yes, Vargas, survive for further adventures.

Certainly, the film is interesting, but it has its share of problems. Most obvious are its many unlikely events. The slew of murders is certain to lead to investigations that could destroy the abbey. These murders are committed by an octogenarian, and even continue the day after F. Murray Abraham has announced the 'guilty.'

We find it hard to believe that Vargas would throw her comely body at devout Christian Slater (though it is easier to believe that she would be able to seduce him). We doubt that Connery could make it out of the library fire, even though it allows a happy ending. We also find Vargas' unlikely survival convenient. Presumably, sexual sins are not to be punished, especially if they are heterosexual and from a position of dire poverty.

We doubt that Chaliapin would kill himself and burn the entire library because of one book he dislikes, which instead he would have quietly disposed of years ago in less dramatic fashion. And, most of all, we find the death of F. Murray Abraham ridiculous, and solely due to the director's sense of production code.