What’s there to like?
The Beguiled is a dark, sometimes mysterious story. What drew me in was the detailed world of Civil War-era Southern manners and customs. The way they talked, the propriety of how men and women interact with each other, and so on. And most of all, the restraint. But all that wasn’t just a historical curiosity or part of the art direction–it really drove the plot forward. You’ve got this soldier (Colin Farrell), a representation of brutality and power, of masculine brutality and power, entering a secluded girl’s school (led by Nicole Kidman’s headmistress, Kirsten Dunst playing a teacher, and Elle Fanning as one of the students)–this bastion of only women. He’s injured and he needs their care. But the restraint and the polarization between masculine and feminine highlight the sexuality in the air. So you’ve got a blurring of the lines between danger and sexual attraction, at least from the point of view of all these women towards this unknown, scary soldier.
I also liked that it was much more from the women’s point of view than the man’s. In a lot of stories, there might be a woman who joins a bunch of men, and she seems like a mysterious, unpredictable creature that we can’t fully understand. In this one, we have a bunch of women and girls, and we see them as the protagonists. The soldier is the one whose head we don’t quite see into. Sometimes he’s nice and charming, sometimes he’s irrationally upset. In objectifying the intruding man rather than viewing him as a subject, the unpredictability is both scary and sexy. A lot of times, switching the usual perspectives seems contrived and political. In this movie, it made more sense. And it wasn’t trying to make me a better person by exposing me to it, haha!
Ultimately, I think I finally get some of the appeal of Jane Austen-like mannered stories. Everyone working so hard to behave themselves all the time builds up a bunch of energy until it’s ready to burst.
What’s not to like?
Honestly, I don’t have a lot of complaints. The Beguiled even goes above and beyond what I expect from a movie in a lot of ways. If there is hesitation, it’s mostly that it’s a movie I’m not sure everyone will like as much as I do. It’s dark, it’s not very straightforward, and it can be quite disturbing. So beware.
A dark exploration by a period movie where the manners and restraint of the setting inflame both passions and danger.
[crossposted at loganbeaux.com]