THIS story. This tragedy. This heartbreak. This movie. BRB, crying. Personally, I love this story even MORE than Romeo & Juliet. No offense to Shakespeare. I guess I just find it a little more realistic, considering Romeo and Juliet die for each other within a 4 day span LOL. The fact that Thomas Malory included Tristan in his Knights of the Round table and evolved this story within Arthurian lore, strikes my nerdy heart to its core.
So, what version of Tristan and Isolde do I want to talk about? Basically all of them… except my main focus today is going to be the film adaptation directed by Kevin Reynolds. He is known for his other movies like Robin Hood, Waterworld *another favorite of mine,* and Count of Monte Cristo. I want to focus on the movie because 1. It’s a film favorite of mine that I can watch a gazillion times, 2. the music AKA Gavin Degraw and the poetic references by Jon Donne and 3. James Franco in his prime (swooooon!) SO, lets talk about this tear jerker.
Originating from the 12th century, the story of Tristan and Isolde was developed by many poets, including; Thomas of Britain and Béroul. Then in later years, Thomas Malory‘s Le Morte d’Arthur. Each retelling is very similar to the other, except for a FEW details. The movie ends up taking the main premise of the tale but makes the union of our two lovers a lot more romantic and the tragedy even more devastating. So let’s look through the plot of this movie, and see why its considered one of my favorite pairs of star crossed lovers.
Long story short, the Jutes, Angles, and all the other small tribes of the Anglo Saxons are trying to unite Britain and fight against enemies, such as the Irish (Picts/Scots). It was during this time that Tristan’s whole family was murdered and his Uncle Mark (King of Cornwall) decides to take him under his wing and raise him as his own son. Years pass and Tristan is like a badass warrior who serves Mark on multiple raids against the Irish.
The movie finally kicks off when Tristan leads his soldiers in a caravan ambush against the Irish, where he kills their leader, Morholt, but is wounded by his poisoned sword in the process of the fight. Tristan is believed to be dead by his peers, when really he is just paralyzed with a low heart beat. His soldiers perform a water burial for him and push his body out to sea, where the boat crashes into the Irish shores and is overturned into the sand. Leaving the beautiful Isolde to find him and drag his body to a nearby decaying hut, after discovering Tristan was still alive. In the midst of treating Tristan’s wounds and reviving him to normalcy, the pair end up falling in love, but Isolde hides her true identity from him and tells Tristan her name is Bragnae, a mediocre maid, when really, she is the princess of the Irish King that opposes his kind. (oh, this lie puts a hitch in EVERYTHING)
Tristan recovers from his wounds and sails back to Cornwall, where Isolde is left behind and miserable, knowing she will never see him again. *cue the drums* Of course, that isn’t true. Lord Mark is now at a point where he must marry and he decides to create an alliance with the Irish to end the bloodshed, so they do the ONE thing that they know how to do… arrange a marriage. The Irish King does not want to make this commitment easily, so he throws a dueling tournament to win the infamous Isolde’s hand. Many warriors chose to fight for their lords to win them the fair lady, and YES, TRISTIAN, offers his services to help Mark claim a beautiful wife… a WIFE that is AKA Bragnae, the woman whom he fell in love with, but doesn’t know her real fucking name or that she is a princess. TOO MUCH ANIXETY.
Tristan wins the tournament, all the while Isolde is cheering him on from behind veiled clothes, disguising her beauty from all contestants. She thinks that Tristan knows it’s her and that he is fighting for her, but when Tristan claims victory and announces his winnings as the claimed bride of his Lord Mark of Cornwall, Isolde is filled with immense terror. When Isolde discards her veil to show her face to the crowd, Tristian is dumbfounded and filled with a private rage that boils beneath the surface. Tristan just won the woman he loves for his Lord Mark. His Uncle and his King. WOW.
The remainder of the story commences with Tristan having to watch the love of his life with another man. Watch her marry, stroll through the same village, eating at the same table. He is utterly destroyed inside and promises himself that he will remain respectable and stay away from her. Isolde wants to be with Tristan more than he knows, and she remains silent after many advances on her part, until finally Tristan caves to his own desires and pursues Isolde anyway. The two have a heavily heated affair, vowing they only love each other and wishing they could run away.
Eventually all amazing things come to an end, when the unraveling of this affair is discovered by the betrayal of a friend, who is a traitor and working with the Irish to ambush Cornwall. The affair is share with Lord Mark, where he is disgusted, until he finally hears the story from Isolde, from the very beginning: how she disguised her identity, how Tristan did not know he was fighting to win her for Mark, how they have been in love from the very first day. Mark eventually decides to let them both go free at the river side, even in the midst of the Irish breaking into the castle, and banishes them from the kingdom forever. Tristan tricks Isolde into thinking he will leave with her in a small boat, but he pushes Isolde down the river without him, and tells her that he does not want their love to bring down a kingdom. Tristan rushes to the battle and helps Mark defeat the Irish for the last time.
Unfortunately, Tristan is mortally wounded… and Isolde makes it in enough time to say goodbye to Tristan. His last words to her were:
“You were right. I don’t know if life is greater than
death. But love was more than either.”
If you need a good cry… watch the film. It gets me every time.
In the original tale, Tristan and Isolde drink a love potion that was supposed to be consumed between Mark and Isolde, an this potion is what causes their souls to be tied. Mark threatens to hang and burn both of them, but they escape, and yes, in the legend, they BOTH die within an embrace, where a thick briar of roses grows out of Tristan’s grave, growing so much that it forms a bower and roots itself into Isolde’s grave. Mark tries tirelessly to cut it down 3 times, but every time it grows back thicker and more intertwined.
Tristan and Isolde were doomed from the start, but at least they loved each other until the end.
Even beyond death.
All the movie trailers are super cheesy (seeing as this film is from 2006) so, here is a little montage to peek your interest. Watch the movie… it will touch your heart.