Sofia Coppola’s Remake Improved on This Clint Eastwood Western


The big picture

  • Sofia Coppola changes the perspective of
    The Deceived
    to explore the complexities of nineteenth-century gender dynamics.
  • Coppola gives more depth and motivation to the female characters, unlike the original film where they are portrayed as luxuriant women.
  • The complexity of Colin Farrell's character makes the central incident more interesting, and Coppola adds a touch of humor to the film.

The western has been one of the most popular American film genres since the silent film era. Even if it's from 1939 Diligence is credited with creating the modern version of the genre, westerns existed before that John Ford's classic, and have evolved significantly in the following eight decades. Many of these stories have become timeless, and sometimes making a beloved western can yield surprising results; for example, James Mangold2007 remake of 3:10 in Yuma added more depth of character to the 1957 original. While some westerns don't need a remake, Don Siegelof 1971 Clint Eastwood western The Deceived it was one that was absolutely necessary. By changing the perspective of the story in its 2017 remake, Sofia Coppola fixed the flaws of the source material and turned a relatively disposable thriller into a modern classic. on the complexities of 19th century gender dynamics.

The Deceived (1971)

The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls' school in Virginia during the American Civil War sparks jealousy and betrayal.

Publication date
June 30, 2017

Execution time
93 minutes

Sofia Coppola, Thomas Cullinan, Albert Maltz, Irene Kamp

What does Sofia Coppola add to the characters in The Beguiled?

Both Siegel and Coppolas versions The Deceived are based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Thomas P. Cullinan. The original film follows wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood), who escapes the dangers of battle to find refuge at Miss Martha Farnsworth's seminary for young ladies in central Mississippi. It is far from the conflict itself, and the residents of the school, all women, are forced to choose what to do with this enigmatic stranger. While some of the residents, like 12-year-old Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) and Professor Edwina Dabney (Elizabeth Hartman) believe it is their duty to help an innocent life, regardless of the flag they fought for, strict director Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) insists that a man will only end up causing problems within his isolated learning environment.

While Don Siegel may have tried to reflect the restrictive gender dynamics of the time, the portrayal of Farnsworth as a castration-obsessed hardliner (and McBurney as a completely innocent bystander) is incredibly problematic. Although Siegel is undoubtedly one of the great filmmakers of his time (responsible for classics such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers i dirty harry), is treating a very complex novel as inspiration for a thriller in which an innocent man is taken by a group of luscious women. In comparison, Sofia Coppola uses the story to extract a different kind of tension. Instead of making a thriller, Coppola turns the concept of one man in the company of five women into a funny, sometimes campy melodrama.


Clint Eastwood's western that works as an anti-war film

The Western icon represents the genre at its most fatalistic.

Sofia Coppola's version tells the exact same story, but the perspective changes give more information about how Miss Farnsworth's (Nicole Kidman) school functioned before McBurney's arrival (Colin Farrell). It is revealed that since the start of the war, many of the teachers and students have left the school for fear of invasion, having heard of the Union Army's “total war” strategy. This presents Farnsworth's plight in a much more sympathetic way, and also gives more justification for both Amy (Oona Laurence) and Edwinas (Kirsten Dunst) motivations.

Amy is left without many other girls to interact with and has therefore become more naive about the kindness of strangers; Edwina feels purposeless with fewer students to watch over and seeks fulfillment in having another adult around. If the arrival of Eastwood's McBurney was met with nothing but disdain by the school's residents, the appearance of Farrell's McBurney at least presents an open debate among the girls. Coppola doesn't paint them all in the same light, as she is known for the complexity she can bring to her female characters. Miss Farnsworth, Edwina, Amy and the other students Alicia (Elle Fanning) and Jane (Angouri rice) have different expectations of McBurney's motivations based on their own (in some cases limited) interaction with the men. It's not just a timely update; seeing the conflicts and arguments between five generations of women is much more interesting than watching a creepy woman scare a grizzled Eastwood every few moments.

What does Sofia Coppola's “The Beguiled” change compared to Clint Eastwood's original?

While Sofia Coppola's The Deceived is decidedly told from the female perspective, that's not to say McBurney is portrayed as a mustache-twirling villain. One of the flaws of the original film is that despite being injured and seemingly helpless, Clint Eastwood looked fresher than ever. In comparison, Farrell showed that he is a grizzled soldier who has faced the perils of combat and needs rest. Even some of his objectionable behavior has some motivation behind it; he has been fighting for his country for months without adequate shelter or nutrients, and is prone to making hasty decisions out of desperation. In fact, the kindness he shows Amy at the beginning when he meets her on the edge of the schoolyard is completely genuine.

The complexity with which McBurney is portrayed makes the central incitement incident all the more interesting. In the original film, McBurney learns of the woman's intent to harm him after he resists the sexual urges of Miss Farnsworth herself. It is an intrinsically sexist notion; Farnsworth merely proclaims that the separation is necessitated by some buried sexual desire. In Coppola's version, it's a combination of McBurney's affair with Abigail and how he takes advantage of Amy that causes the women to collectively accept that he no longer has a place in their community.

Coppola also understands that at the end of the day, The Deceived it's a melodrama. After realizing they cannot physically overpower McBurney, the women decide to poison him with mushrooms they serve at a fancy dinner. This is a scare in Siegel's version, but Coppola understands how silly it really is. There's a sickening tension that comes from the film's pivotal final meal, and it's almost comical to watch a stiff Farrell thank his hosts for a meal he doesn't realize will be his last.

As with any Sofia Coppola film, The Deceived it is adorned with gorgeous production design, picturesque framing and elegant costumes. It's not necessarily a perfect fit; neither film really takes into account the reality that as Southerners during the Civil War, Farnsworth and his companions would have owned slaves. Perhaps an even better remake will emerge at some point that balances the point, but as it stands, Coppola's version represents a step in the right direction.

Sofia Coppola's The Deceived is available to stream on Netflix in the United States

Watch on Netflix


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