There is plenty in The Beguiled for any viewer to chew on after they leave the theater. The way the film complicates our perspective on the characters’ motives, however, may be particularly interesting for Christian viewers. As leader of her seminary and example to her girls, Martha Farnsworth initially takes in her “most unwelcome guest” as an opportunity to practice “Christian compassion” and learn from getting to know the “other.”
Asked what they’ve learned from caring for McBurney, one student responds that our enemies are not who we imagine them to be. The film levels the charge that neither are we. We are rarely simply who we imagine ourselves to be, because we are not only our best selves—our servant selves, our generous selves, our brave selves—but also ourselves tempted by sin, warped by unmet desires, and hampered by our desire for control.
Easily mistaken for a fussy prestige film, Coppola’s The Beguiled proves far more than it initially appears. Especially lovely and entertaining, it tells a story about appearances, about shifting motives, and about those parts of ourselves that fall away or take over when the stakes get high.
Laura Kenna has a PhD in American studies, which she occasionally uses to write scholarly work and often uses to regale unsuspecting dinner guests. You can find more of her thoughts on popular media at www.remotepossibilitiesblog.com.