The Beguiled (1971 – Don Seigel)


Hot, sweaty, stare-y Eastwood.  This was as close as we got to pathetic with him.  The last survivor from the studio system, he knows never to take a role that would dim his star.  Even (especially?) his anti-heroes are charismatic and compelling.  But Clint Eastwood, trapped in a girl’s seminary school, turns hot and sweaty and stare-y.  Being cool just isn’t enough.

The Seventies exist now only as a decade of disturbing sexual politics.  It’s become easy to contain any difficulty we have with how men have treated women and children to that decade.  Ignore the fact that these views were (are) prevalent for many decades afterwards and that any meaningful grasp of child protection is little more than a decade old.  The Seventies were the difficult period, one which we can look back upon with knowing disapproval.  Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan = yuck.

So we’re able to define this film in unenlightened terms.  Don Seigel didn’t help things when he said this film was about every women’s innate desire to castrate men (unattributed quote sourced from badly written Wikipedia article).  We can get trapped in our judgement as much as Eastwood is trapped in the school.

Eastwood has always had a strange relationship with his female co-stars.  He has unconventional (for Hollywood, at least) taste in women, casting stranger, wilder actresses around him than any of his contemporaries.  The Beguiled is no exception; here all other men are reasonably absent, and it is left to Clint to typify every notion of masculinity that we/they have in this school.

Filming his star from low angles, as if to emphasise the enormity (both senses of the word) of the war that surrounds the school, Eastwood is a decadent, indulgent Christ.  Reclining; this is a Christ who declared himself King of the Romans rather than King of the Jews.  There are individuals who write books and articles and seek to save Christ, to present him as a radical, but he is a radical who sought to keep slaves as slaves, and broadly ignore any meaningful issue that defines our world.  For a god, he was remarkably short-sighted.

Seigel knows that for these women, their relationship with Christ will be the only male figure in their life.  He will be their father, their friend, their lover – and Eastwood seeks to exploit that.  He violates the sanctity of the school for his own pleasure.  It’s a school, it’s meant to be a safe place.  He has no bravery (and perhaps…shall I go for it…perhaps he’s as big a con artist as Christ) and will lie to get whatever he wants.

Men will always do that.  All men.  We don’t talk about the different shades of men.  Their abusive behaviour is not always explicit as those soldiers who enter the school and place their hands on the women’s shoulders.   This saviour may fraternise with the outcasts (the slave), but he wants their bodies as much as any other woman’s.  The man dominates, in a deceitful, gentle manner, presenting himself as kinder, softer, but all he wants is their sex.  Clint spelt in capitals looks remarkably close to…

 And he will get it (never ignoring the fact that his first choice is the child).  The women objectify this soldier as much as they objectify their Christ.  As is their right to do so.  But like an indulged god he will exploit their attraction to his own ends.  When they reject his love(?) and punish him for his cruelty, he will turn vengeful, attacking the women is the most basic terms.  Like any ‘nice guy’ rejected.

Wrapped in cloths and laid to rest.  Soon he will be resurrected in a Sofia Coppola movie.  It will be able to redeem us.

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