The Monk: Re-imagining the Gothic Classic

Poster for The MonkOne of my favorite areas of reading is the gothic, and Matthew Gregory’s The Monk is one of the prime examples of this genre. So, I was very interested to see how this book would be portrayed on film.

NOTE: There are spoilers below, so if you don’t know the story and don’t want to before you read or watch it, you should probably stop reading now.

The Monk stars Vincent Cassell as Capucine Ambrosio. Ambrosio was abandoned on the doorstep of the monastery as a baby and raised by the order. Eventually, he becomes well-known for his sermons, which tend to cause sinners to repent in droves. He is known as a paragon of the faith, which makes his downfall that much more dramatic. When he finds out that a young nun initiate, who has come to him for confession and advice, has lost her virtue, he cannot find it in his heart to feel empathy for her. As a result, he leaves his heart open for sinful temptation, and it begins in a big way. A mysterious stranger, Valerio, appears at the monastery, face covered by a mask due to a horrific accident. Ambrosio himself argues that they should allow the unfortunate man to stay. Later, it is revealed to Ambrosio that Valerio is actually a woman in disguise, a woman so in love with him that she contrived the whole situation simply to be near him. She seduces him, in a fairly clear case of date rape, and then continues to screw with his head via some supernatural craziness. In contrast to her character is that of Antonia, a virginal and devout young girl who asks Ambrosio to come to her home and pray and speak with her ill mother. Ambrosio becomes obsessed with Antonia, and things just generally devolve from there.

Josephine Japy and Vincent Cassell in The Monk

There were many aspects of the movie that were not in the book. However, I thought that it was done well and that it was a good portrayal of the overall intent of the story. Ambrosio is proud and righteous, and as such he makes himself an easy target. There are several instances where he does not have control, such as when the stranger contrives to have him poisoned – a situation that leaves him drugged and defenseless toward her sexual attack. This scene is disturbing, but the result of that scene – Ambrosio’s awakened lust – creates the true complexity of the situation. He is only in this situation due to his lack of feeling for a girl who made a mistake, a mistake based in love for another human being. In some ways he is a sympathetic character, but his behavior continues to digress, and in the end we are almost as shocked as he is to understand how far he has fallen.

Favorite things about this movie:

  • Vincent Cassell – he plays conflicted characters well, and I have always found his interpretations of brutality or lust, the base emotions, to be interesting and on point.
  • The cinematograpy – the colors, and choice of settings are gorgeous, especially some of the scenes in the graveyard and those in the courtyard during the day. The use of red is done particularly well.
  • The way the story was adapted. I liked the changes that were made, which gave it a better flow from the novel. It’s not often that I say that I like the movie better, but in this case I definitely enjoyed the reinterpretation.

I liked this movie and would definitely recommend it if you are a fan of the gothic novel. It holds true to the intent and feeling of this genre.

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