Original Name: The Beguiled
Director: Sofia Coppola
Runtime: 94 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5592248/
Sofia Coppola: was born May 12, 1971, in New York City, during the production of The Godfather. Sofia Coppola was born into Hollywood royalty. From the beginning, it seemed she was destined, like her father, for a career in the movies. Throughout her life, she continued to live and work under her father’s wing, but his wing often cast a long shadow. In 2004 Coppola finally stepped out of that shadow to claim her own celebrity. She became the first American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, for her movie Lost in Translation (2003). In 2010, she became the first American woman to win the Golden Lion.
“When I saw the movie it was so fascinating to me that these macho filmmakers – Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood – would make a story set in a girl’s school in the South. It’s such a male point of view of a group of women that I thought “Okay, I want to tell that story from the women’s point of view.”
Sofia Coppola has an interesting career after her sudden success for Lost in Translation, to say the very least. Her films that come afterward can be seen as her struggle to go away from Hollywood mainstream to more indie/arthouse appeal, and ultimately to find her own voice. Watching The Beguiled I have a very strong sense that she had a total control over her craft (kudos for her winning Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, only the second female director managed to do so). Based on the novel rather than the 1967 film that starred Clint Eastwood, the film is a feminist take to the source given it’s told mostly through the girls’ point of view by an incident in which an injured Union soldier stays in their mansion. Its aesthetic, from the dark interiors (wonderful use of lighting here) to the more symbolism motifs like how the person who stands usually have more power than the person who sits or lies down (which Corp John McBurney does a lot), is perfectly realized. The Beguiled’s resolve might come out as mean-spirited and extreme, but at the end it’s a perfect statement to the nature of gender power.
One factor that is most prominence in The Beguiled (either this version or the more-macho classic version) is the sexual tensions hanging in the air with the appearance of Corp John McBurney (Colin Farrell, he’s perfect for this role). Although basically telling the same storyline, Coppola makes damn sure that the girls’ increasingly jealousy come from themselves and NOT from how charming and smooth-talking the Corporal is. We see how most of the girls interact with the Corporal, how he brings different dynamic to each of them and only actively pursuit one, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). It’s not only one kind of sexual tensions, but I appreciate how the film displays layers of sexual attraction between the girls towards the only male specie in the house. There’s Alicia (Elle Fanning), a teenager who flirts actively and shamelessly. There’s Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman in one of her showy roles), the head of the school, who his presence reminds her of man’s role, and there’s Edwina, whose just wants to runaway from this strict and hopeless routine. While many of these elements are merely hints (thus, doesn’t flesh out as it could be), their temptation towards the man, come from their own frustration with the lives they’re currently leading.
“You keep talking about him as if he wasn’t right here in the room?”. Before the events lead to the violent climax, the film makes it clear that the Corporal can’t decide his own fate. Given the situation, he mostly has to depend on Miss Martha’s decision on whether or not he could stay. His injured leg, then, can be seen as the masculine’s pride, once it’s heal he walks and does things like a man, when it’s shattered he has no choice but to obey Martha’s decision. The violent climax, then, is the action of destroying man’s pride because of the girls’ mistrust towards men. It’s cruel, yes, it’s gruesome, yes, he doesn’t really deserve it but Martha’s message again is clear “Messing with us and it’s what you got”. As a result, The Beguiled is its most fascinating when it consistently redefines the macho roles of male in a gender conflict. It’s not always a smooth ride, but like Martha’s, Coppola’s message is crystal clear.