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past tense: beguiled; past participle: beguiled
1. charm or enchant (someone), sometimes in a deceptive way.
"every prominent American artist has been beguiled by Maine"
2. LITERARY help (time) pass pleasantly.
"to beguile some of the time, they went to the movie theater"
The Beguiled (2017) feels like a film from another era of American cinema. It’s been stuck in my brain since I watched it. Not least of all, because it’s beautifully shot on 35mm and strives to achieve natural lighting in every scene. If characters are indoors in the middle of a hot sunny day, the lack of electricity and the darkness of the plantation house transports you to a place you may not have imagined: the literally bleak and dark reality of upper-class white people’s environs in the South during the Civil War. This reality is preferable to the reality the white South imposed on Black people, who are absent from this film. One of the many debates worth having regarding this story is the decision to set a story in the Civil War and say nothing about race or inequality of the time.
The movie is set in Virginia, entirely at a secluded plantation house in 1864, as the Civil War is winding down. The film was made for less than 10 million dollars, though its modest budget is well concealed with detailed costuming and authentic set-dressing. Colin Farrell, per usual, turns in a solid performance of a desperate man grasping at straws. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and all of the women who live on the plantation are pitch-perfect in their roles.
This film seems like something your parents would have on in the background on a Sunday afternoon, something I would’ve viewed as intensely boring and historical as a child. A higher-than-ordinary-budget-Hallmark-movie almost. Save for a complete lack of non-diegetic music, which deepens the molasses-like pace of life on display while gunfire and explosions rage in the distance. I describe the movie this way because I propose you make a “Movie Day” out of this one. Find a lazy Sunday where there’s nothing much to do. It is a breezy 90-minute movie, available on Netflix, that will lull you into a deep sense of period-piece relaxation, then wrest you out of it in short order through a series of twists that caught me entirely off guard. Especially for a film by Sofia Coppola. I’ve linked the trailer below, but I recommend not watching it. The movie is best experienced with no foresight of events to come.
At one point, while my fiancée and I were watching The Beguiled together, she said, “This is an awkward-ass movie!” I laughed and asked her if she was feeling the same way we had accused Nicole Kidman’s character of feeling in an early scene: hot and bothered. She laughed: “I’m jealous that all these women get to talk to Colin Farrell!” That feeling changed by the end of the movie.
The Beguiled tells a complicated story about women living in uncertain and unfair times, doing what they think is best with limited information. It’s a story that invites being teased apart and debated regarding morality, principles, sexuality, action, and, conversely, inaction. It is a film about choices and living with their consequences for the rest of your life, even if we have no idea what those consequences will be. The film's final shot leaves us with the uneasy feeling that while wounds can heal, they can also leave us deformed, scarred, and trapped.
Written and Directed by Sophia Coppola
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
Today is a sad day.
Kevin Conroy, the most excellent actor to ever take on the role of Batman, passed away at 66 years old. For my money, the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) is the ultimate representation of what an outstanding comic book universe can and should be. A large part of that is because Kevin Conroy was there from day 1, through cable network Justice League shows fifteen years later, providing a through-line of excellence and continuity that created a fictional world of boundless imagination.
Take a few minutes to read DC Pride #1, Kevin Conroy’s comic book telling of how he found his way to playing Batman in the early 90s.
R.I.P. Kevin Conroy
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