Chevalier summary and ending explained

Chevalier depicts the story of Joseph Bologne, the illegitimate son of a plantation owner, who went on to become a renowned violinist-composer and fencer. The film is now streaming on Hulu.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers

Plot summary

In Paris, before the French Revolution, a Black man attends Mozart’s concert and asks for his permission to play the violin on stage. Mozart underestimates him and allows him to do so, only to be outshined by him.

This man is Joseph Bologne, the illegitimate son of an African slave and a plantation owner. At a young age, Joseph’s father separates him from his mother and sends him to a prestigious academy in Paris.

Joseph’s life there is not easy, as he is subjected to racial abuse. However, he is a talented student who is good at writing, language, poetry, playing the violin, and fencing. 

Joseph grows up and is challenged to a duel by a champion. When Joseph defeats him in front of the king and the queen, Marie Antoinette, he is anointed the Chevalier de Saint-Georges by the impressed queen. He then goes on to become her close friend. 

His popularity rises, and he becomes a respected member of the high society of France. One day, at a gathering, he hears a woman singing and is captivated by her voice. This woman is Marie-Joséphine, and she is married to the Marquis de Montalembert.

Joseph then tells Marie Antoinette that he wishes to lead the Paris Opera. While Marie Antoinette does not doubt his ability, he must prove to the music committee that he is better than one of Europe’s most reputed composers, Christoph Gluck, a man who is set to become the next head of the Paris Opera.

To do just that, Joseph challenges Gluck in front of an audience, and Marie Antoinette declares that the two men should compete for the position by composing an opera each, which will premiere at the Palais Royal, for the music committee. 

Soon after, Joseph’s father dies. As he is an illegitimate child, his father does not leave him anything. However, Joseph’s mother, Nanon, who was his father’s slave, is freed. She reunites with her son after years and comes to live with him.

Joseph starts working on his opera. He gets Madame Genlis, Marie-Joséphine’s cousin, to produce it and then goes to Marie-Joséphine’s house to ask for her husband’s permission to let her be the lead in his opera.

While Marie-Joséphine likes the story, her husband, who is responsible for the queen’s security, refuses to let his wife be an opera singer. When he goes away on business, Marie-Joséphine decides to do what she wants and becomes the lead.

Joseph believes Marie-Joséphine is perfect, but he is warned by his friend, Philippe, that he is inviting trouble, as her husband is a bully and will be angry about being disobeyed. This is also the time when the starving masses in France are starting to protest against the monarchy.

While practicing and preparing for the opera, Joseph and Marie-Joséphine, who does not love her husband and is bothered by her lack of autonomy, grow close and start sleeping together. Joseph’s opera turns out to be great, and everyone believes that the music committee will choose him as the winner. 

Before they could do that, three renowned personalities of the opera, including La Guimard, whose advances Joseph rejected, write a petition to prevent Joseph from becoming the head because they are opposed to a Black man holding the highest musical position in France.

Despite being Joseph’s friend, Marie Antoinette does not dismiss the petition, as she is already falling out of favor and does not want any more enemies. Christoph Gluck is appointed the Head of the Paris Opera, which results in Joseph and Marie Antoinette having a falling-out.

On top of that, the Marquis de Montalembert returns and intends to punish Joseph for making his wife a part of his opera. He only stops when Marie-Joséphine begs him. Marie-Joséphine has no choice but to leave Joseph.

Six months later, Joseph finds out that Marie-Joséphine is pregnant. He asks her to run away with him, but she refuses, as she believes that they will not have the freedom to be together anywhere in the world.

When Joseph’s life is falling apart, his mother gets him acquainted with the culture and roots that he rejected in order to be more like white men and become a part of their society. He now starts accepting the other part of his identity.

Soon, he finds out that Marie-Joséphine was pregnant with his child and that when she gave birth to their son, her husband killed the child. An upset Joseph is comforted by his mother. She tells him that while their oppressors convince them that they have no choice, Black people still have the choice to fight.

When Joseph sees the people of the country protesting against the monarchy and getting killed, he joins the French Revolution. He decides to hold a concert and use the profits to help the needy as well as fund the revolution.

Chevalier ending explained in detail:

Do Joseph and Marie-Joséphine end up together?

Before the concert, Marie-Joséphine comes to visit Joseph. He is still angry at her for leaving him and asking him to stay away from her when he suggested that they run away.

Marie-Joséphine tells him that she did all that to protect Joseph from her husband, who at that time was not aware of her and Joseph’s affair. She reminds Joseph that he alone did not suffer from the pain of losing their son; she was the one who carried and loved him.

While Joseph is sorry for everything that she had to go through, he makes it clear that there is no hope for them to be together. Marie-Joséphine then walks away after telling him that their son was beautiful.

Does Joseph perform?

Several revolutionaries come to attend Joseph’s concert. Apart from them, Marie Antoinette also comes to visit him. She claims that Joseph is mocking her after all the kindness that she has shown him, even though he tells her that this is not about people like her.

She threatens to take everything away from Joseph, including his title of Chevalier, if he goes ahead with the concert. She leaves, but not without telling him that her guards will arrest him the moment he steps on the stage. 

Joseph pays no heed to her threats and decides to perform as planned. This time, he chooses not to wear his wig and performs with his hair braided into cornrows.

What happens to Joseph?

When Marie Antoinette hears Joseph perform, she sends the Marquis de Montalembert to arrest him. He points a gun at Joseph, who halts the concert and steps down the stage to face the Marquis. 

The Marquis fails to arrest Joseph, as the audience comes to his defense. Joseph resumes his concert and walks out as a free man. While the Marquis is left to face an angry crowd of people chanting the word “Liberté”, Marie Antoinette powerlessly watches Joseph walk away.

In the end, the film states that Joseph went on to lead the first all-Black regiment in the French Revolution. However, in 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte reinstated slavery in the French colonies and prohibited Joseph’s music. Due to this, much of his work was destroyed and forgotten.

Today, scholars and musicians are rediscovering Joseph’s life and music. He is now recognized as one of the first known Black classical composers and regarded as a pre-eminent virtuoso violinist.

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