The Beguiled

One of the problems with heading off to see a movie like The Beguiled is that you might not be exactly sure what “beguiled” means.  Well, let me assure you that 45 minutes into this one you will have a pretty good idea.

The film is set at a boarding school for girls in rural Virginia some time at the back end of the Civil War.  One of the girls is out picking mushrooms and she happens upon Colin Farrell under a willow tree with a badly wounded leg (Farrell has the wounded leg, not the willow tree).   She assists the blue-bellied Yankee back to the seminary, and what unfolds from there is pretty much what you might expect when Colin Farrell is introduced to a group of mostly sheltered females ranging in age from pre-pubescent to Nicole Kidman.  There are a couple of catches, of course.  Firstly, it’s 1860s Virginia, not Hollywood, so the hostesses are trying to maintain a level of decorum commensurate with Southern ladies.  Secondly, despite the masculine intrigue, they aren’t quite sure if the cad soldier will rape and murder them given the chance.

The film is beautifully shot, both the outdoor shots and the interior of the household.  Despite the expanse of the wilderness, there is a claustrophobic vibe running throughout, with themes of being locked in, what it means to be locked in, and the precarious nature of locks recurring again and again.   The vulnerability of a female seminary on the outskirts of a warzone is continuously reintroduced, vis a vis both the Yankee in their midst and the Rebels that happen by.  Ultimately, the movie explores many themes relating to communication, trust, friends and foes, and group behavior (among others) with startling levels of sexual tension and stark, brutal reality helping to set and re-set the background mood.  The state of beguility, it turns out, might just affect your perspective and behavior.

The acting is great, led by the amazing Nicole Kidman and almost equally amazing Kirsten Dunst, who may or may not be competing for the soldier’s affections. Kidman is certainly not sheltered in her role as the decisive head of the operation, and I think what is going on in her head makes for the toughest read in the movie.  In contrast, Elle Fanning is cast as just old enough to drop a handkerchief, and she is pretty much as transparent as they come.  I’m not sure who all those younger girls were, but they didn’t skip a beat, either.   And, Farrell is gorgeous in his role as the Dubliner mercenary, showing a range from sensitive to psychotic.  Director Sofia Coppola is pulling the strings here, and I continue to enjoy the films she is putting out.

This soars over the $5 bar and is pretty much as good a movie as you are likely to see in the theaters.  Big ups from the L&D crew.

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