It’s Not Really a Man’s World, Either, but it Still Wouldn’t Mean Nothin’…

14 Aug 2013: Bright Star (DVD, 2009, Jane Campion)

Halfway through this movie I realized it serves as a great comparison with much of the work of Terrence Malick: frequent recitation of poetry, an emphasis on the beauty of the natural world and its intermingling with deep emotions, subtlety and silence rather than intense drama and chattering. But where Malick sometimes leaves me cold, unmoved and skeptical of his excessive vagueness (Tree of Life or To the Wonder), Campion in her story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne seems to get at the heart of that for which Malick only sketches a vena cava. Maybe it’s a question of the specific – a tortured romance with characters defined by personal actions and dialogue – feeling more universal than the general (e.g. fleeting glimpses of The Man and The Woman spouting platitudes in anytown USA). In Bright Star everyone is full and flawed and sympathetic and all of this in their own ways, and they are allowed to live in their scenes and sustain emotions throughout them, such as a lengthy wordless shot of Fanny lying in bed with wind billowing the curtains of her opened window after a wonderful time with Keats. As writer-director, Campion’s way of framing the story by making Fanny (and even at times the ambiguously motivated friend of Keats’, Charles Brown) more of a main character than John – a total reversal of the traditional biopic, which tends to keep the famous figure’s lover well within the dim shadows – forces us to reconsider whether our conception of history and art and their notable personages is anywhere near as complete as it should be.

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