Death is an all-encompassing part of life, and every individual reacts differently to it. It's quite possibly the hardest concept to grasp, as it causes intense pain coupled with questioning one's purpose and life in general. So when a famous person dies why does it have such a broader impact on society? Most people have never met Micheal Jackson, David Bowie, or Robin Williams, yet a lot people can recall when they first heard that person had passed. They mourn these icons like a family member. Why? Well it's because their art left a profound impression on their life and sometimes remembrance of that makes their work relevant again.
Umberto Eco has most certainly left his mark, in entertainment and even more so in literary arena. This legendary scholar who wrote on medieval philosophy (The Development of Medieval Aesthetics), media culture (Faith n Fakes), semiotics (Kant and the Platypus), and his own works of fiction, passed away the Friday, the 19th of February at the age of 84. He explored many polarizing opinions on American culture, including an essay examining Superman as a myth. However, his most popular commercial work, The Name of the Rose, was published in 1980 and adapted into cinema in 1986, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.
In a 2011 The Guardian article, Mr. Eco gives the movie a slight endorsement:
"A book like this is a club sandwich, with turkey, salami, tomato, cheese, lettuce. And the movie is obliged to choose only the lettuce or the cheese, eliminating everything else – the theological side, the political side. It's a nice movie."
It's true that 99% of the time the book is better than the movie. Also, I imagine it's tough to see one's work stripped down in order to concede to the limitations of film or even someone else's interpretation. That being said, The Name of the Rose (1986) still captures Umberto Eco's legacy of intelligence.
The film is essentially a murder/mystery, but the characters, setting, and time period add rare complexities. Sean Connery's character William of Baskerville, a Franciscan Friar, and his novice Adso of Melk, played by Christian Slater arrive in Northern Italy for a theological meeting, but as various murders threaten the sanctity of this holy landmark, he is assigned to investigate these situations.
The longer it takes, the more the established monks get uncomfortable with him and his stern logical thinking. They eventually bring in an agent of the Inquisition, Bernado Gui, who has crossed paths with William. Gui quickly blames three outcasts of the community, a hunchback, a disgraced monk, and a destitute woman he claims is a witch after a fire. William already finding a connection between a forbidden book and the murders seeks to prove Gui wrong before they burn at the stake.
Essentially the film pits logical thinking versus quick judgment, while also exposing how power corrupts. The book may dive deeper into theological philosophy, and semiotic themes (a text references another text), but strong characterization with political undertones still prevail from the movie adaptation.
The performances are interesting too, especially from Sean Connery. He delivers a strong portrayal as a man with strong convictions that sometimes conflict with his peers. Christian Slater is only 15 and relatively new to acting, and his performance comes off as raw. He has some decent moments, but for the most part he acts with his mouth agape. It's a little awkward and a little strange. Finally the movie shows Ron Perlman in one of his first roles, as the hunchback. He gives an impressive performance of a mentally and physically handicapped person, who speaks sentences in multiple languages.
Umberto Eco's death made me realize I should investigate his work, something I've been planning, but kept sweeping the wrong. It's intelligent, complex, and thought-provoking. The Name of the Rose provides a new dimension to theology, society, and the presence of logic vs. passion. I recommend carrying on his legacy, we could all learn something!