“The Name of the Rose” is an original and compelling tale with multilayered characters set amid a gripping murder mystery.
Knowledge can be deadly…especially for a 14th-century monk.
This is an idea presented in The Name of the Rose (1986), a historical murder mystery directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and based on a 1980 novel of the same name by Umberto Eco. Writers Andrew Birkin, Gerard Brach, Howard Franklin, and Alain Godard adopted Eco’s novel into a screenplay.
We’re introduced to William of Baskerville (Sean Connery), an unconventional Franciscan friar who challenges both stereotypes of clergy people and stereotypes of medieval folk. Once accused of heresy himself, William is a man of faith who doesn’t blindly follow. He bravely questions how other clergymen interpret scripture during a time when to do so could mean death.
Adso of Melk (Christian Slater) is William’s naive young apprentice who accompanies him to a 14th-century Benedictine abbey in Northern Italy. Adso also narrates the tale with actor Dwight Weist providing the voice of an older Adso.
William and Adso arrive at the abbey to investigate the mysterious death of a young illuminator. The death was presumed to be suicide. However, the young illuminator’s death won’t be the last.
William employs logic, reason, and deductive thinking as he analyzes corpses and crime scenes, while some of the other friars insist that demons and witches are most likely the culprits.
The story is masterfully constructed, weaving a suspenseful murder plot with a timely message about censorship, religious faith, and spirituality at its center.
The film features a stellar cast, led by iconic Sean Connery, who is fully immersed in the role of William of Baskerville, a cerebral friar with the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes. William values intellect over blind faith and prizes books and knowledge the church would ban.
Slater delivers a solid performance as Adso, a novice trying to find himself. He takes counsel from William but draws his own conclusions. While William is more brain, Adso is the heart.
The Name of the Rose is a pleasant visual experience also, with picturesque views of the countryside as well as the abbey with its elaborately carved enclaves as well as secret labyrinths. But as visually stunning as the film can be, it doesn’t hold back on the grim side of medieval life, complete with the slaughter of animals and peasants who live in squalor.
Both aspects of the film lend some authenticity, transporting the viewer back to a believable medieval past.
The vast gap between the starving peasants living in squalor in the village and the well-fed monks at the pristine abbey sends another powerful and, sadly, still timely message.
An oldie but still a hell of a goodie; I highly recommend giving The Name of the Rose a watch, especially if you love period dramas and murder mysteries.