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The Name of the Rose


While scouring for watchables, I recently came across the 1986 film version of The Name of the Rose, on Netflix. It’s truly a classic film and always worth watching again. Back in the 1990s, I read Umberto Eco’s novel on which the film is based. The novel, too, is worth reading again, now that I think about it.

It left me thinking about Umberto Eco and how scholars can be extraordinarily good novelists, even when their academic field is very narrow. Eco’s thesis for his degree in philosophy was on the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas. Horrors! As an unrepentant heathen, it is hard for me to imagine a mind uglier than that of Thomas Aquinas (except maybe Augustine of Hippo). But Umberto Eco’s mind was a mind ahead of its time. (Consider, for example, his 1995 essay on fascism.)

I don’t recall that Eco’s novel was as rich in dark humor as the 1986 film with Sean Connery and Christian Slater. There are only three people in the film whom we can easily bear to look at — Connery, Slater, and the peasant girl. Otherwise the film is hilariously cast as a pageant of ghastly old men — all monks. And, as with Thomas Aquinas, the monks’ minds are as ugly as their appearances. The abbot’s hairstyle, for example, is like that of Thomas Acquinas in a portrait by Benozzo Gozzoli.

Whatever Eco thought of the church, The Name of the Rose is a story about the ridiculousness of theologies. The church itself is the main villain. The year is 1327, and part of the plot is that theologians from Rome are arriving at the isolated abbey to settle, by debate, a burning theological question: Did Christ own, or did he not own, the clothes he wore? The structure of Eco’s story is entirely classic. The wicked get punished, the good prevail. The peasants not only save the peasant girl from being burned at the stake by the inquisition, they also give the grand inquisitor a horrible and much-deserved death. Much of the dark humor is Christian Slater’s constant terror, not only that he’ll be the next to be murdered, but also the terror of being surrounded by ugly minds — a terror not unknown to sane and decent Americans during the Trump era. In fact, this film would be a good starting point for a serious essay on what I call ugliness of mind.

There was a new film version of The Name of the Rose in 2019 which was, at least for a while, available on Sundance TV. But, as far as I can tell, that 2019 version is not available for streaming in the U.S., nor are DVD versions available that will play on American DVD devices. I hope that will change. I’d really like to see the 2019 version.



  1. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    Philosophy is hard to follow, for me. There is a quote I found re Aquinas proof of God – make no sense to a non philosopher – or non believer, thats me

    “Because nothing can cause itself, everything must have a cause or something that creates an effect on another thing. Without a first cause, there would be no others. Therefore, the First Cause is God.” “What?”

    Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Henry: Trying to prove the existence of God is still a preoccupation of religious people, I’m sure. I find physics far more interesting… 🙂

    Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

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