Sofia Coppola explores human nature through the female lens in the aftermath of a great divisive war in The Beguiled. Tackling a sensitive time is tricky, the film takes place after the Civil War and centers on a group of Southern women who have had the life they once had stripped away–slaves and all. Coppola does err on the side of safety in excluding the major narrative of women of color at that time in order to opt out of misrepresenting a perspective she’s not comfortable giving a voice to–which if she made the right choice or not, is currently highly debatable.
The film only offers the perspective of white women in the south who aren’t depicted as heroes but instead are presented as figures at a time where all the social constructs they were bred by have been wiped out by war. The Beguiled sort of beckons the question of how do these women rebuild when there are no men to tell them what to do? Sort of like a female Lord of the Flies, Nicole Kidman leads the pack to survive as the headmistress of an all girls school alongside another teacher played by Kirsten Dunst and a gaggle of young women including Elle Fanning as an older student.
When one of the young girls, played by Oona Laurence finds an injured Union soldier played by Colin Farrell, the world they were fashioning amongst themselves is threatened by a recovering figure of masculinity. Starting out being seduced by it in the form of having a protective male figure for the young ones or a charming allure to the eldest, it’s interesting to see how each character reacts to the presence of the ailing stranger. Coppola masterfully tackles a moody glimpse into a time where perhaps for a moment women could have taken the power away from the weakened force that motivated both sides and would go on to still keep women entrenched under the tyranny of the patriarchy. Through the use of performance within her framework, we get nuances that we don’t usually get in film that are unquestionably feminine and vital to see more of.
And definitely of other perspectives from corresponding voices in the future as well.
Each character is richly motivated and communicates multitudes to one another through looks and actions that go over the mind of a guest who does more than outstay their welcome. Everyone in the film is on their A-game and invite you to go all in with their revenge against those who would seek to overtake them.
The Beguiled is in theaters nationwide.