Binary Principle and Love Motivation as the Basis of Structure (Flesh + Blood)
The year in which Paul Verhoeven’s story takes place, 1501, is a boundary and turning point of two epochs — the Middle Ages and the Modern Age. This is, of course, symbolical boundary, convincing because the setting is somewhere in western Europe, as opposed to, for instance, Italy — the cradle of renaissance, where the year 1450 would be more appropriate. Furthermore, the whole film is based in binary contrasts (aristocratic/populist, religious/secular, peace/war...), and even in the title mathematical sign + is used instead of the word and. Love (as a non-profitable relationship) is given as a syntactic pointer functioning in all contrasts of the film, so that conquerors and warriors (Arnolfini, Hawkwood...) act under demands of the rules of love. Longing for Agnes, for example, brings Steven and Hawkwood with soldiers under the walls of a castle, where two plot lines merge into one. But, the dichotomy of the story between the attackers plot line and the plot line of the besieged remains till the end, with only slight changes in protagonists and their individual positions. But, when the mercenaries set the stage for Steven’s death, and Martin tries to force Agnes to kill him, Hawkwood comes to the scene, just recovered from plague, catapulting body parts of a dog infected with plague across the walls of the castle. Hawkwood recovered when he, inspired by Steven’s advice, rejected the old fashion method of blood letting, used by a local physician, and accepted the Arabic way of treatment, but it seems that his passion for life was crucial, as well as psychological component motivated by love for Clara and his worry about her. Thanks to love, Hawkwood recovered and undertook the action, saving Steven and initiating disarray among mercenaries. Because of jealousy, Steven throws the only leftover of the infected dog into a well, Martin gets blamed for this and is thrown into the well filled with infected water. The love in Flesh + Blood therefore obviously also appears in its lower aspect of jealousy (a contrast again between lofty/lowly).
Even though the title is Flesh + Blood, this is primarily a love story, although the above-mentioned formula was not betrayed, because on the most perceivable level, violence and sex dominate the film. Starting from the basic duality, that gets its most prominent expression in the opposition lofty/lowly, the film tackles parts of the historical world from the period of turning point between the Middle Ages and the New Age (renaissance). On aristocracy side, we have a nobleman Arnolfini, his son Steven, and, finally, Agnes, a girl raised in a monastery, but particularly interested in sexuality and eroticism (characters from both sides of the contrast have binary characteristics). On the other, populist side are captain Hawkwood, unenlightened doctor, father George and the company of mercenaries led by Martin. The mercenaries are the miniature world in itself. This world is made up of men and women, and women are a mixture of warriors and whores; among male warriors there are representatives of religion (Cardinal) and art (Orbec), and there is also an indication of a homosexual relationship (Orbec and Miel). By making a multilayered cinematic equivalent of multilayered historical world, Paul Verhoeven directed one of the most fascinating historical adventures of all times, indubitable tour de force of his opus so far.