Christopher Maher: Hey Sam, hope you’re enjoying this rainy day. Is it cold out? I don’t think I’ve even been outside yet. Is it misty? Because The Beguiled by Sofia Coppola sure was, and also we saw it yesterday and we’re talking about it today. What’d you think?
Samuel B Russell: The Beguiled wasn’t so much misty as it was foggy. They’re similar meteorological events, but there is a distinction. Misty, to me at least, is colder, and more closely associated with rain. Fog I associate with heat and humidity. Anyway.
Sofia Coppola’s southern gothic thriller follows school of young girls in Civil War-era Virginia. Tension builds in the house when they take in a wounded Union soldier. Although he is the enemy to these southern women, they all want to bang him. The soldier, Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), delicately teeters between house guest and war prisoner.
Overall I quite enjoyed The Beguiled. It was a very simple, straight-forward thriller, efficiently executed. There’s something almost pulpy about it’s simplicity- at least plot-wise. It was almost like a soap opera or erotica, elevated by excellent formal choices and performances.
CM: The film certainly doesn’t waste time getting down to the eye banging. Which I agree is also a good choice. It is, as you say, kind of pulpy (though I’d argue Coppola is almost too formal for the amount of pulp floating around the piece). Her handling of McBurney is nice, though. There are other men in the film, but the composition immediately informs us why McBurney is different. The Confederate Soldiers floating around the school are only ever framed in the wide, held at a distance. They are part of the “war” – something playing out mostly off screen, foreign and terrifying to the girls (we hear gunshots and canon fire in the distance throughout the movie). Even when Confederates visit the house tensions are high: when two stop by for supper Ms. Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) insists the young girls not go down to see them so as “not to put temptation in their way”. Conversely McBurney is shot over and over again in close up – he is essentially within the realm of the women.
These formal choices help the expedited plot work for the most part. While I wish the film slowed down to hang out in moments a little more in its back third, the “bottle episode” feels of the first parts of the film work well without anyone articulating why they are behaving the way they are. I’ve seen two of Coppola’s films already: The Virgin Suicides, which I really enjoyed and her famous Lost in Translation, which I enjoyed much less. They’re both films more than anything about atmosphere and the way it affects the characters (suburbia, foreign cities/vacation). The Civil War and a house full of women is a terrific atmosphere in The Beguiled, and it grants every character depth far beyond their words. McBurney is quickly revealed to be afraid of returning to the war, and the women in the house sympathize with him in this: it is as I said a spector they all seem to fear. But he is also a man who has been at war for some time, held hostage by women of the opposing side. It gives each scene a multi-layered edge: is he lying to avoid the war? Is he lying to lure these southern women into a false sense of security? Is he earnestly attracted to them? Is it a mixture of all of the above? The women too have compounded feelings: when Ms. Edwina Marrow (Kirsten Dunst) says her deepest wish is to get away from here, is she lying to get McBurney in the sack? Or is she really horrified by the war? Even the younger girls (led by my favorite up-and-coming actress Elle Fanning) have a complex mixture of emotions: we are three years into the war and McBurney is probably the first man they’ve seriously seen since they started to look at men differently.
What do you think about the omnipresent war and stirring pot of emotions, Sam? Any more opinions on fog?
SR: I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen a Sofia Coppola movie before, so I have no comparison, but I agree that atmosphere is everything in this film. The sound design’s dense bed of chirping summer bugs, and The cinematography is fearlessly dark. At night the flicker of candles sometimes barely light the characters faces, and during the day the sunlight can only reach so many corners of the house. The mansion they occupy is as vacant as the landscape around them. It’s all very isolating.
I was taken by surprise with how funny this movie was. My perception of this movie from the marketing and the response was that it was all gloom and doom. It certainly has some grimness to it, but it is genuinely funny throughout. The sexuality is not played as ominous as I expected. It’s nuanced, and sometimes charming. Kidman’s edgy kindness and Farrel’s deferential politeness play off each other in such a wonderfully engaging way. Literally all the characters had such excellent chemistry with all the other characters.
Overall this movie was moody, nice, and it kept me on the edge of my seat.
I give this movie 8 Beleaguered Jeff Sessions’ of 10 Beguiled Jeff Sessions’.
CM: I agree with your thoughts on the movie (but just to justify what is about to be a lesser rating) I felt it didn’t quite build to as much as it could have, and the pacing in the later portion fell apart a bit. I loved the atmosphere, but as with the previous two Coppola films I’ve seen I felt it was exclusively atmosphere: affecting, but not riveting.
I give this movie 7 foggy days out of 10 misty days.
CM: This movie about the Civil War has absolutely zero African Americans in it.
CM: I had never been to the Angelika before and it was pretty cool how I kept confusing the subway running below the theater for gunshots in the distance within the movie.
SR: I went to the bathroom for what was apparently the single most eventful scene in the film. So I look forward to seeing that next time around.