I recently watched Ridley Scott’s gem of a film debut The Duellists on DVD and was intrigued by the pay-off at the end. Having fought a series of increasingly passionate and violent duels spanning two decades of the Napoleonic era by sword, pistol and horse, two French cavalry officers, Armand D’Hubert (played by Keith Carradine) and Gabriel Feraud (played by Harvey Keitel) meet for one last time after Waterloo has been fought, Bonaparte has been exiled and both have been retired from the army with vastly differing fortunes.
The final duel is fought around a ruined house near D’Hubert’s estate using pistols with both participants having two shots each and no chance to reload. Feraud uses both of his shots on D’Hubert and misses. D’Hubert, with one shot left and Feraud squarely in his sights at point blank range chooses an ingenious fate for his adversary; one far worse than killing him:
You have kept me at your beck and call for fifteen years. I shall never again do what you demand of me. By every rule of single combat, from this moment your life belongs to me. Is that not correct? Then I shall simply declare you dead. In all of your dealings with me, you’ll do me the courtesy to conduct yourself as a dead man. I have submitted to your notions of honour long enough. You will now submit to mine.
This bitterly ironic resolution has an even greater relevance for me as I have had to face a betrayal by someone who I considered to be both a friend and an intellectual superior. This person had own re-conversion back to Christian faith after being raised by their parents as a Christian before losing their faith and becoming a powerful voice opposing the Parties of God and advocating secularism and pluralism.
Now, this once great mind has not only abandoned everything they once stood for, but also everything that I thought our friendship was based. The betrayal of trust I feel has been so complete that I have no way of knowing whether anything they have said or written about me or anyone else, positive or negative, was intended sincerely.
To this person I say, “Since you have already committed personal and intellectual suicide on every level, from this moment on, I shall never again do what you demand of me, but simply declare you dead. In all of your dealings with me, you’ll do me the courtesy to conduct yourself as a dead man. I have submitted to your notions of intelligent discourse for long enough. You will now submit to mine.”
If anyone hurts and betrays you beyond repair, then declare them dead and request that they conduct themselves in future towards you as a corpse.