Who are The Beguiled?: A Film Review

Posted: July 12th, 2017 | Filed under: Cinema | No Comments »

The definitions of the verb “beguile” infer that some sort of trickery is involved when the beguiler is attempting to charm or enchant the intended beguilee, whether that target becomes beguiled or not.

So, one of the questions presented in Sofia Coppola’s eminently atmospheric film, “The Beguiled,” is this: What are Union Corporal John McBurney’s (Colin Farrell) intentions with the headmistresses and students of the Old South boarding school, where he has been taken in and is convalescing from a war wound?

Ever the charmer, and playing one against the other, is he looking for a way to escape when he’s healed? Or to develop such relationships that he’ll be asked to stay and tend to the grounds as the only man in the house?

Or, is he simply looking to get laid?

Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) is in charge, and remains mostly aloof regarding the patient’s charms. Though there are moments when the cracks in her normally implacable armor are palpable. Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) is second in command at the school, but the most forward emotionally, reacting readily to McBurney’s flirtations, revealing her fantasies of being carried away by such a dashing gentleman as he, ignoring the reality that he’s a scalawag at heart.

Then there is Alicia (Elle Fanning), the ingénue who to her sister students professes disregard for the Northern aggressor in their midst, yet steals away at an opportune moment to silently plant a kiss on his surprised lips.

Thus we are left to wonder, during Coppola’s languorous shots of the mist covered manse, under its canopy of moss covered limbs, who shall become the beguiled?

Is McBurney the most ardent suitor? Or, is it in reality the ladies, longing for a male presence in their lives?

Director Coppola has said one of her main intentions was to express the constant presence of female sexuality, be it repressed or not. And that is the undertow as McBurney’s injury heals and his and the ladies’ ardor fogs up the screen. Such that the Civil War and the social issues for which it was fought are peripheral, but an afterthought in the film, if broached at all.

Not that it really matters, another mystery of this movie, for me anyway is how the original cinematic version, starring Clint Eastwood could have possibly worked? Romantic charmer is the last descriptor that comes to mind when thinking of that Hollywood icon. The poster for Don Siegel’s 1971 version shows Eastwood in profile holding a big gun, indicating a far different focus than Ms. Coppola’s take.

The film moves at a slow pace, appropriate for the time and place and circumstance in which it is set.

Emotions are expressed, for the most part, with a glance, an aside, a shift of the eyebrow.

The screen is muted, often diffuse.

In other words, another mystical tale with an elusive moral from Ms. Coppola, director of such similar fare as “The Virgin Suicides.”

— c d kaplan


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