IndieWire author Jude Dry just posted a review of the movie The Beguiled that was so off-base, I needed to address it. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about an injured Union soldier who is taken into an all-girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War. It’s supposed to be a different take on the 1970’s version starring Client Eastwood. I haven’t seen the 1970’s version but supposedly, Coppola’s version centers the women in the story. Hardly.
Dry goes as far as to call the movie (or at least elements of the movie) feminist:
“A house full of women thrown into a tizzy by the presence of a man isn’t the most radically feminist story; that Coppola tells it by objectifying, emasculating, and symbolically castrating her central male character certainly is.”
Objectifying (if that’s even possible), emasculating, and castrating men are not feminist actions. One cannot use the tools of the patriarchy to bring it down. Objectification and violence are tools of the patriarchy used to dehumanize, silence, and exterminate women. Feminists propose to liberate all women, not become violent oppressors themselves. When women do commit violence against men, it is usually in self-defense and to imagine that it is somehow empowering is frankly, insulting.
Dry goes on to talk about the “female gaze,” describing a supposedly titillating scene in which Kidman’s character bathes Farrell as he lies unconscious. Kidman is annoyingly flustered as she inches closer and closer to Farrell’s penis. In this way, Coppola succeeds in making the scene all about Farrell. That Farrell is somehow “objectified” in the film is absolutely absurd. The male gaze is all about a dominant group (heterosexual men) objectifying a non-dominant group (women) in film. With this understanding, the female gaze is impossible to discern because we have never had power over or even been equal to men. Even if the female gaze were possible to discern, I put forth that it would have little to do with men or their penises.
“He is completely at the mercy of his female caretakers, who can turn him in as a deserter at any time, which would mean imprisonment or possibly death. They are his keepers, and the mistresses of his fate. As he heals, the women use his body for labor. “
They can’t turn him in at any time–they must wait for Confederate soldiers to pass by. And even though the wounded soldier is supposedly helpless, he remains a threat to everyone in the home. Furthermore, he insists on working despite his injury. Dry makes it sound as though they’re standing over him with a whip or something. Even AFTER they saw off his leg, he somehow musters the courage (despite his helplessness) to threaten them all with a gun.
Dry attempts to frame the amputation of his leg as some sort of revenge for leading on Dunst’s character (he tells her he loves her and offers to run away with her) before creeping into the bed of Fanning:
“Such behavior won’t fly in a woman’s world. Their plaything has broken the rules of the game, and he must be punished.”
The way the author words this makes it sound like an attempt at sadomasochistic erotica. It’s clear in the movie that after a hilarious topple down the stairs, the soldier’s leg is amputated because it’s shattered beyond repair. The goal was to save his life. Farrell’s character is convinced that the women have hacked his leg off because they’re jealous he chose Fanning out of the three eldest females in the home. Farrell is old enough to be Fanning’s father by the way.
After he threatens all of them with a gun and Dunst’s character throws herself at him sexually (I have no idea why), they decide to poison him. This is not a punishment but an act of desperation. Kidman’s character and the younger girls have all decided it’s their only option and when they don’t look sad as he chokes to death at the table, it’s probably because he threatened to kill them all!
There’s nothing feminist about this movie and I find the suggestion that it has some feminist elements or even gets close to what might be termed a “female gaze” to be a gross over exaggeration.
Don’t waste your money on this movie. If you want to see a Civil War-era movie that centers women, watch The Keeping Room. It actually has a somewhat similar premise in that it’s about southern women defending their home against Union soldiers but it’s far more interesting. One caveat is that it’s fairly violent so skip it if you prefer not to see that sort of thing.