Directed by Sofia Coppola, “The Beguiled” is a drama based on a novel of the same name written by Thomas P. Cullinan. The film stars Nicole Kidman as Miss Martha and Colin Farrell as John McBurney. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film “The Beguiled” (2017). Beware of spoilers.
The Beguiled (2017) – Plot Summary
While picking mushrooms, a young girl (Amy) finds a wounded soldier (John McBurney). Amy carries McBurney to her residence, a girls’ school lead by woman named Martha Farnsworth.
Miss Martha sees McBurney’s injured leg and decides to heal his wounds before considering delivering him to the Confederate Army.
The corporal’s leg starts to heal thanks to Miss Martha’s efforts. During his stay, he befriends the girls. The female residents are smitten by John’s handsome looks and charming demeanour. As a way to show his gratitude to the girls and Miss Martha, McBurney starts working in the garden.
It seems that McBurney is on his way to make a full recovery. Therefore, Miss Martha reminds the corporal that he can no longer prolong his stay in the house. Afraid of going back to the war, McBurney pleads Miss Martha to let him stay. However, the headmaster is adamant about her decision, which leaves John devastated. Meanwhile, McBurney tells Edwina that he is in love with her.
At night, Edwina awaits for McBurney in her room, but he does not show up. Then, she hears some noises coming from another room, and there she finds McBurney in bed with another student (Alicia). A livid Edwina storms out of Alicia’s room. McBurney chases the teacher to calm her down, but out of rage, Edwina pushes McBurney down the stairs.
The fall causes another violent injury in McBurney’s leg. Miss Martha tells the girls that she cannot save the man’s leg this time. Then, the headmaster mentions amputation as the the only way to keep him alive. Shortly after, Miss Martha and Edwina perform surgery on John’s leg.
When McBurney wakes up, he is in complete shock and furious at the women for cutting off his leg. As a safety measure, Miss Martha locks McBurney in his room. However, the corporal finds his way out by threatening Alicia to give him the keys.
While holding a gun, McBurney threatens ladies in the house. He then, returns to his room and Edwina follows him. The two share an intimate moment and agree to leave the house together.
The ladies prepare a farewell dinner for McBurney. They serve him poisonous mushrooms and he dies shortly after ingesting them. Edwina does not share the same fate as John, because the girls reminded her that she does not like mushrooms.
Miss Morrow is still grieving over John’s death. The girls place McBurney’s body inside a shroud and start sewing it. The film ends with the ladies leaving McBurney’s body bag on the road. They are counting on the Confederate Army to find John’s body and take it away.
The Beguiled (2017) – Ending Explained
So what happened? Everything seemed to be going smoothly for McBurney… until the ladies caught him in Alicia’s bedroom. By the way, did McBurney deserve it?
First of all, it’s important to understand the man who caused havoc in that house. Having said that, is John really the “bad guy” or did he stumble upon a group of spiteful women?
As always, there are two sides to every story. According to McBurney, Miss Martha is an old hag filled with hatred in her heart. After the incident, John even implied that Miss Martha is jealous that he went to Alicia’s room instead of hers. That’s why she amputated his leg instead of trying to save it. That’s what he said…
The recollection of the events is very different from Miss Martha’s point of view. She performed the surgery to save the man, not to punish him. Apparently, his leg was in pretty bad shape. For that reason, Miss Martha believed that she had no other option but to cut it off. According to her, the injury would’ve resulted into a serious infection that might have put his life at risk.
After hearing from both sides of the argument, who’s telling the truth? Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.
John McBurney is no saint. From the moment, he stepped into that house, the man had no intentions of leaving… McBurney knew that he would pretty much dead if he kept wandering in the forest. The corporal was basically alone, he didn’t have access to food nor a shelter.
When Amy brought John to the residence, he realized that the girls’ school could be somewhat a safe haven. At this point, anything is better than going back to the battlefield. Therefore, the man tries his best to “befriend” the ladies in order to gain their sympathy. He really had high hopes of being able to stay a bit longer and perhaps… indefinitely.
However, John just couldn’t keep it in his pants… The corporal tries to seduce Edwina, finds his way to Alicia’s room… And no, it wasn’t an “accident” as he claimed. McBurney was essentially fooling around with almost every female (of age) in that house. However, he ends up paying a hefty cost for his lustful actions. Not only does the man fall from the stairs, but he also wakes up without a leg.
Despite of being a habitual liar, did John McBurney deserve to eat a plate filled with poisonous mushrooms? During his steamy encounter with Edwina, it becomes clear that John is angry but he’s not a murderous person. Although, the corporal was pointing a gun at the ladies he never had any true intentions of killing them.
Why did they cut his leg?
Now, did Miss Martha amputate McBurney’s leg out of spite or was she really trying to save him?
Throughout the film, Miss Martha always portrayed herself as a righteous woman. She is just someone who is doing her best to educate the girls and prepare them for the world.
Unlike the other ladies, Miss Martha never tried to get John’s attention. Also, she never displayed any signs of attraction for him. Therefore, it seems very unlikely that Miss Martha had a crush on John.
Miss Martha is not a doctor, but she understands that a broken leg can result into a serious infection. Given the severity of the injury, maybe there was no other way but to cut it off. Unless she knew how to put the bone that was sticking out back in, there was no other way.
Nonetheless, there could be another angle on her decision to perform surgery on McBurney. Maybe Miss Martha performed surgery to incapacitate John… She didn’t do it to teach him a lesson but to “protect” the girls from him.
Having said that, maybe amputation wasn’t the only option. But let’s give Miss Martha the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, it might be a bit premature / unfair to paint Miss Martha as a spiteful woman. After all, she did hide John from the Confederate soldiers that were passing by her propriety. Miss Martha could’ve turned him to the soldiers, but she didn’t and that saved John’s life.
McBurney’s words just shows that the man is kinda full of himself. He honestly believes that every woman is trying to get a piece of him, because he is too damn irresistible.
Last but not least, let’s talk about that puzzling ending. Did Miss Martha do the right thing by taking John McBurney out of the picture? Although plotting murder is wrong, Miss Martha acted out of fear that he might do something worse. In her defence, he was pointing a gun at her (and the other girls) just a few moments ago.
Was Edwina really in love with John?
So far, Miss Martha and John McBurney have been the main focus of this discussion. However, what about Miss Morrow? Was she really in love with John?
Let’s talk about Edwina’s current dull reality. First, the woman is living in the middle of nowhere. Second, the only men that Edwina sees are Confederate soldiers fighting a war that is tearing up the country. With that said, maybe it wasn’t love but Edwina definitely saw John as an escape.
When Miss Martha took down McBurney with those poisonous mushrooms, she also killed Edwina’s chance to live a different life. Leaving the school with John, was Edwina’s shot to experience something else other than the status quo.
Looking at John’s dead body made Edwina realize that she’ll never get out of that house and live differently. Miss Martha took that opportunity away from Miss Morrow.
Who is the “bad guy” in this story?
John tried to take advantage of the ladies by using his man charms. Unfortunately for John, his initial plan kind of backfired. The ladies ended up killing him with poisonous mushrooms because he threatened to kill them after Miss Martha amputated his injured leg.
Having said that, is John the “villain” of “The Beguiled“? Although, John is not “evil”, the man did think he could “take advantage” of the ladies. In a way, John was sort a wolf disguised as a sheep trying to blend in with the other sheep. However, John had no idea that these “sheep” would one day bite him back.
Throughout the film, Miss Martha has always presented herself as a reasonable person. But, John thinks otherwise. The corporal believes that Miss Martha is indeed a jealous and spiteful human being. A cold-blooded woman who cut off his limb for not knocking on her door.
If Miss Martha was indeed the awful human being that John described, she would’ve handed him to the Confederate soldiers. Forget about healing his injured leg, providing him food and shelter. Harbouring an Union soldier in a confederate state is against the law. Nonetheless, Miss Martha decided that a human life is more important than politics. If the word got out, Miss Martha could’ve land herself in really hot waters, but she took the risk anyway.
Why did Miss Martha decided to put herself at risk for a random stranger? Sometimes it’s hard to ignore another person’s plea to save them. On one hand, Miss Martha didn’t want go against the Confederate army. On the other hand, she also didn’t want John to lose his chance of staying alive for another day. Therefore, the headmaster decided to shelter the corporal until his leg healed.
Miss Martha tried her best to heal John’s leg and she succeed. The headmaster’s intentions were always crystal clear from the very beginning. Miss Martha doesn’t want McBurney to stay indefinitely in the house. Although, John tried his best to persuade Miss Martha to let him stay, she did not fall for his “tricks”.
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The Beguiled (2017) [Blu-ray]
“The Beguiled” is a film that has stirred quite a lot of controversy upon its release. However, I’m not going into deep details as to why some people dislike the film. Instead, I will highlight some of the popular complaints.
Some accused the director of “whitewashing” the story. Apparently, there are some relevant African American characters in the book. But Sofia Coppola decided to only feature white characters in her remake. Others criticized “The Beguiled” for its feminist tone.
Personally, I really enjoyed the film and I found its ending quite refreshing. As someone who hasn’t read the book nor watched the original film from 1971, I didn’t know what to expect. However, the moment John step foot in that house, I could already sense that there was something off about him.
McBurney’s sweet talk might have fooled the female characters for a while… but not me. As the story unravels, it becomes very clear that John is someone who is trying to take advantage of the young ladies in that house.
The most surprising part for me was definitely the ending. To be honest, I did not expect the ladies to concoct a plan against John and actually succeed at it. Although, I don’t think John deserved to die, he shouldn’t have threatened the ladies. Some accuse the director of “The Beguiled” of glorifying violence against men, but I disagree.
Feminism is not about putting men down, but giving women access to the same opportunities that men do. Having said that, there is indeed a feminist tone to “The Beguiled“. The film broke the cliché that women have to be victims in situations of violence. The ending is quite interesting because it made the predator (McBurney) the prey in a blink of an eye.
As expected, there were some really strong performances in “The Beguiled“. Let’s start with Colin Farrell. The actor was perfect for the role. He shines with his charming looks and his solid portrayal of John McBurney, a man of dubious intentions.
Then, there is Nicole Kidman, her character is actually very stern and stoic most of time. However, the actress added some “warmth” to Miss Martha. Otherwise, the leader of the “girl squad” would’ve been a very one dimensional / cold human being.
Finally, we have Kirsten Dunst playing Edwina. Her role was rather difficult because Edwina is a very quiet woman with strong hidden desires. In my opinion, the actress did a phenomenal job.
Overall, I found “The Beguiled” a very pleasant watch. Now, there was one thing that really irked me: the ladies’ behaviour around John. I get that McBurney is an attractive fella, but after a while… the girls were becoming a bit too moronic for my taste.