By Don Simpson | June 8, 2013
Director: Dominik Moll
Writers: Dominik Moll (screenplay), Anne-Louise Trividic (screenplay), Matthew G. Lewis (novel)
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Déborah François, Joséphine Japy, Sergi López, Catherine Mouchet, Jordi Dauder, Geraldine Chaplin, Roxane Duran, Frédéric Noaille, Javivi Gil Valle, Martine Vandeville
Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel) was abandoned at the doorway of a Capuchin monastery as a baby. Despite his devilish birthmark, Ambrosio was lovingly raised by the monks. Now, Ambrosio has matured into a highly-regarded monk who attracts legions of followers to his intense sermons.
Haunted by a recurring dream about an unrecognizable woman dressed in red, Ambrosio is troubled by his inability to uncover the true meaning of the dream. Ambrosio’s crippling headaches and the rapidly declining health of his father figure contribute to his deteriorating mental state. Things go from questionable to horrible when Ambrosio allows Valerio (Deborah Francois), a masked outsider whose face has been ravaged by fire, to join the monastery. This decision is troubling to Ambrosio’s fellow monks, since Valerio’s solitary lifestyle will destroy the collectivist spirit of their monastery. Valerio has an alluring influence over Ambrosio, thanks in part to an uncanny ability to cure headaches; then, when Valerio cures him from a potentially fatal scorpion sting, Ambrosio finds himself even more connected with the mysteriously masked person.
All the while, Ambrosio is instantly transfixed by a young woman, Antonia (Josephine Japy), who asks Ambrosio to speak to her ailing mother. When Ambrosio discovers that Antonia is being courted by a nobleman, Lorenzo (Frederic Noaille), he turns to Valerio for assistance. Valerio’s magical powers are overlooked as signs of the devil by Ambrosio because of his unearthly attraction to Antonia. As it turns out, Ambrosio has been cooped up in the monastery for far too long; he has never known any other life and he certainly never stood (or laid) this close to a beautiful woman. Just like the tale of Adam and Eve, it is the women who tempt Ambrosio into committing a once unfathomable array of sins. These women may be the downfall of Ambrosio’s presumed piousness, but the blame can easily be passed along to the sequestered narrow-mindedness of the religion he represents. As much as Christians try to ignore the facts, humans are sexual beings; the Freudian subtext of Dominik Moll’s The Monk professes that we transform into hormonally deranged monsters when sexual maturity is stunted.
Adapted from Matthew G. Lewis’ 1796 novel, The Monk contemplates Ambrosio’s existential struggles, transforming the film into a psychological analysis of chastity and religion, rather than the gothic horror film that it purports to be. A classic morality tale about a descent into darkness, Moll focuses on the black and white struggle of good versus evil. The devil is evil. We must learn to fear him (or her), but also have the power to ward him (or her) off.