The moss, Spanish and otherwise, hangs so thick and heavy around the Gothic girl's schoolhouse at the center of Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled that even when it's day-time it might as well be night - out of time, and place, but always there in its particulars. The reenactments, after all, rage on today - the flags and statues and misplaced civic prides beating at the heart of so many current conversations. Put on the uniforms and play out the same routines, over and over and over again, as if it isn't madness.
As Coppola's camera looms outside its gates at the film's ending you get the sense these girls have always been there and always will, a haunted chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy out still in the woods today. The men arrive one by one by one, and they eat them up right after supper, as American as apple pie followed by a sweet aperitif and a song plunked perfunctorily on a long untuned piano. Don't forget this movie was made by the daughter of the man who dropped a Plantation House down in the center of the Vietnam Jungle as one more symbol of our country's ever echoing outward madness.
These little women are the lost specters of Charmed Southern Girlhood, incorporeal Scarlett O'Haras, forever stuck in the endless loop of knitting death shrouds and curtsies inside stiff dresses stained with soldier blood; a single erotic swamp hair dangling down their foreheads from the heat, frisked upward. A passion so close to the surface it's forcefully scrubbed and boiled and smiled over with a wave of kindness so blunt and malicious it might tear your limbs right off your body if you get in the way of anybody's lacy propriety. But don't you worry - they'll give it a proper burial, and wash you clean, bathe and feed and bed you and play a saccharine old-fashioned something to drown out the screams.