Children… in Masks

The following article contains massive spoilers for Netflix’s Cursed. If you haven’t watched but plan to, proceed with caution. If you are not going to watch the show, important plot points are explained for your benefit. Happy reading!

Article by Michelle Wittlich. Check out her podcast, Unknown Regions, here.

When Cursed dropped on Netflix, it almost instantly set Kylo Ren/Ben Solo Twitter abuzz. The show, based upon a novel written by Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by comics legend Frank Miller, presents a new take on Arthurian legends. In it, we are introduced to a dark and villainous character, the Weeping Monk, who immediately appears to be a medieval version of Kylo Ren. The similarities between the two characters struck such a loud and bombastic chord that the Weeping Monk has been anointed the newest “sad boi” upon which Kylo/Ben stans (of which I am one) dote.

Star Wars is cut from ancient, mythological cloth through which is woven a healthy amount of Arthurian lore. Magic swords. Knights. Wizards. We call Star Wars “space fantasy” for good reason. When a mysterious baddie makes his first appearance on screen wearing dark robes, surrounded by flames, face obscured, cutting down innocents with his massive blade, the resemblance to the Kylo Ren aesthetic is not subtle. The Weeping Monk obscures his face much of the time, not by a full mask but by a gray hood. The moniker “Weeping Monk” is a reference to birthmarks that appear to be the tracks of tears permanently etched into his face, much like Kylo’s facial scars that are present throughout The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. They are outward reminders to both characters that their pasts have left psychological marks, and they also nod to the audience that these characters are damaged individuals, perhaps not the merciless villains they appear to be through their actions. 

Not only is there a visual resemblance between the two characters, but the actor who plays the Monk, Daniel Sharman, mentioned in an interview with Netflix that the physicality of his character was of vital importance to him. Adam Driver has stated the same about his physical portrayal of Kylo Ren. Both characters are also renowned swordsmen, can be seen skillfully deflecting blaster bolts/arrows, and even occasionally primally screaming, “Nooooooooo!” Musically, aka emotionally, they have similarly dark musical motifs played by big, brassy horn instruments.

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  As the story progresses, it becomes even more obvious that the Monk and Kylo share more than just surface-level similarities. The Monk’s relationship to the evil Father Carden is strikingly similar to Kylo’s relationship with Supreme Leader Snoke. In Cursed, Father Carden, a Catholic priest, lords over a group of violent zealots called the Red Paladins. They have one goal: to exterminate Fey Kind, a race of humanoid, magical beings the Church considers to be demonic and subhuman. We are not provided many details, but it is implied that the Monk’s life was spared as a child because he, as is later revealed, is Fey Kind. As such, he is uniquely talented to track and hunt others of his kind. He has been raised, manipulated, and brainwashed by Carden to believe that his only salvation is to help hunt down and kill every remaining Fey. That includes the lead character, Nimue, who is destined to be the Fey Queen (and, likely, also the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian lore) and wields the famous sword, Excalibur. Likewise was Ben Solo, with his special Force talent and legacy, targeted and manipulated as a youth by Snoke (aka, Emperor Palpatine) to be weaponized against his own family. They both endured admonishment, psychological, and physical abuse by these evil men as they were manipulated to feel as though they had no one else to turn to. 

Both characters are similarly shown in scenes where their villainous actions deeply conflict with their true natures. Kylo, in The Force Awakens, attempts to commune with Vader’s mask, asking for guidance in resisting the light. He pleads, “Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light.”In Cursed an anguished Monk kneels before religious artifacts having just flagellated himself. The Monk confesses to Father Carden, “His grace…I cannot feel it. I call out to Him. I reach out, and there is only darkness.” 

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Later in the story, we see that others reach out to the Monk in the same fashion as Han, Rey, and Leia do for Kylo/Ben. The first glimmer of hope the audience sees is the Monk’s compassion for an orphaned Fey boy, Squirrel. Very reminiscent of Kylo and Rey, the Monk captures Squirrel, and yet the boy bravely never backs down from the Monk, wittily hurling insults at him throughout his capture. There is a particular camera shot when the Monk and Squirrel first meet (in a verdant forest, incidentally, which is also similar to Kylo’s and Rey’s first meeting) in which they stand across from each other. They each stare at the other for a beat. The Monk looks at the boy, who reminds him of the innocent Fey child he used to be. This called to mind the Ahch-To hut scene in The Last Jedi in which Kylo and Rey stare at each other recognizing the deep need they both have for belonging. 

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A second character, Gawain, is also captured by the Monk. Gawain attempts to reach out to the Monk by acknowledging his Fey roots. He tells the Monk, “All Fey are brothers. Even the lost ones.” He wants to let the Monk know that he has a home with his people. The Monk resists, but Gawain continues to desperately try to reach him saying, “You parrot their words, but you know it’s all lies. I can feel it in you, my brother…They have turned your mind so far inside out that you don’t know the difference between kindness and hate. Who did this to you?” 

This is in essence the scene between Han Solo and Kylo on the catwalk in The Force Awakens. Kylo asserts that Han and Leia’s son is gone. He boldly states he destroyed Ben Solo because he was weak and foolish. But Han pleads with his son as Gawain pleads with the Monk to remember who he is. “That’s what Snoke wants you to believe. But it’s not true. My son is alive…Leave here with me. Come home. We miss you.” The two scenes are both poignant and emotional as the two elder men hope to reach the lost boys trapped inside these “villains”.

After this heart-to-heart with Gawain, it becomes clear that the Monk feels true compassion for Squirrel. When Squirrel is captured by the Red Paladins and is to be tortured, it’s the Monk who rescues him. He even faces down a squad of deadly, masked guards while attempting to escape with Squirrel, very much in the fashion of Kylo/Ben battling the Praetorian Guard and the Knights of Ren. It is in rescuing Squirrel and abandoning Carden that the Monk is redeemed, reflecting Ben saving Rey in The Last Jedi and his ultimate redemption in The Rise of Skywalker

Rey eventually reaches the hero within Ben Solo through compassion and empathy, as does Squirrel eventually stir the hero inside the Monk. As Squirrel and an injured and weakened Monk slowly ride off together on horseback, he reveals to the boy his true Fey name. He is none other than Lancelot, famed Knight of the Round Table. This swiftly calls to mind the way in which Kylo Ren finally embraces his true legacy and family name, Ben Solo, once again. 

Kylo Ren and the Weeping Monk, who appear to be villains, find redemption through compassion and empathy for another and are born again to their true identities as heroes and legends: Ben Solo and Lancelot.

Check out this accompanying article on Cursed protagonist Nimue.  

 

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