Movie Review: Who is the beguiled one in ‘The Beguiled’?

By Tracy Wang

A new adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel, ‘The Beguiled’, is certainly charged with anticipation and curiosity. Directed by Sofia Coppola, and starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kristen Dunst and Elle Fanning, this film successfully brings us back to the Civil War era and into the rivalry-filled seminary.

Telling a much similar tale with the original novel and the previous adaptation, it starts off with one of the school girls, Miss Amy, played beautifully by Oona Laurence, finding Colin Farrell in the role of Corporal John McBurney lying near a tree trunk, and taking him back to her school. Though surprised at first, the headmistress Martha Farnsworth, played by Nicole Kidman, quickly adjusts and sews up Corporal McBurney’s bloody leg. A vote ensues, and the Corporal is allowed to stay until he heals.

With the male presence in the all-girl house, all the females are affected, and some of them start to dress up, and try to catch his attention. This sexually-charged atmosphere continues on until the pivotal moment when the Corporal is pushed down the staircase by the second-in-charge teacher Edwina Dabney, played by Kristen Dunst, in an accident. Then, the thriller and action sides of the film come in and last till the end of the film.

Throughout the film, we see a lot of close-up images of nature such as a spider on its web, the fog, and the trees with its branches dangling. All these close-up shots purposefully create an eerie atmosphere that parallels the almost comical influence of the Corporal on the girls. Also, they seem to symbolize the tragic events that are slowly arriving at the school.

What’s interesting about the spider on its web is its uncanny resemblance to the title (‘The Beguiled’) of the film. Who is the beguiled in this film? Are the deeply-affected females the beguiled or the ultimate ‘victim’, the Corporal? And who is the spider? All these questions can have no easy answers; as the film comes to an end, these images and the title are just like the eerie atmosphere and the seductive smiles of the girls that make us so intrigued.

Even though ‘The Beguiled’ is filled with eerily comical moments (when headmistress Martha Farnsworth reminds the girls to sew the white cloth for the corpse straight in the final scene), and action-based ones (when the Corporal shots down the chandelier), Coppola makes the film emit out a feel of false tranquility. With the film beginning with Amy singing and picking up mushroom alone in the woods, and the film ending with her singing voice and Corporal dying of poisonous mushroom she picked, we get a sense of circling back to the original state even though much has happened since then. As the lens moves closer to the girls sitting on the porch and away from the corpse, we are forced to see that the school remains the same with its original occupants. The image of them sitting quietly on the porch almost erases the unfortunate event, and continues to haunt us.