Monday, April 4, 2011

FI: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

There are a lot of issues fighting it out under the surface of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Class consciousness, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, aestheticism vs. pragmatism, innocence vs. experience, political theatre vs. authoritarian brutality, gender roles and sexuality, passion vs. repression, ideas vs. reality... all of these things get some play here. I'm still not sure what the film is asking us to make of these issues; if I had to guess, I'd say that it wants us to consider our own feelings about these things, and think about what might have shaped our opinions into what they are today.

I say this because the most prominent running theme in Jean Brodie is the idea that we are all influenced, from childhood through schooling, young love, and uncertain adulthood, by a variety of factors, over most of which we had no control. The titular Miss Jean Brodie, played brilliantly (to the tune of a Best Actress Oscar win) by a pre-Damehood Maggie Smith, is a charismatic and dedicated school teacher who shares her love for art, theatricality, and romanticism with a select cadre of young students, over whom she wields great -- and, at times, unknowingly malicious -- influence. Through her clashes with the conservative Headmistress (Celia Johnson), love affairs with two fellow teachers, and subtle manipulation of her chosen students, we see the consequences of living life too far into the realm of shorthand ideas and signifiers to notice the tragic realities beneath.

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