Very recently I rewatched a movie I had not seen in a few years, Bright Star. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to watch it, because my taste has unfortunately lately been inclined toward noisier films, but I made myself sit down and watch it. And I am extremely glad that I did.
Bright Star, if you haven’t heard of it, is so-called after one of Keat’s sonnets. It (the movie, not the sonnet) chronicles Keats’ relationship with one Fanny Brawne up until his untimely death at the age of 25. Though not perhaps strictly factually correct, the movie conveys the Romantic and romantic spirit very well, and is in itself a work of art. The direction, the cinematography, the acting, the music–all are used to great effect. The colors are vibrant and yet muted, bold yet unassuming; music supplements certain scenes (including a particularly nice one with men singing a capella) but does not intrude on every scene.
Creation appears in all its glory, beautiful flowers and animals and grass and trees–certainly a focus for the Romantics, though they unfortunately made a religion out of it.
The movie is also extremely sensual and visceral, even outside of scenes with a more sexual sensuality. By this I don’t mean to imply that there is anything sexually explicit, for there is not, but that the movie requires the viewer to make use of his senses and his sensory imagination. The aforementioned lack of music in every scene serves to heighten this experience.
As far as plot goes, it has lots of good things to say. It points to both the beauty and tragedy of life; the value of both the poetical and the practical; how even though it may seem to be thwarted by many circumstances, omnia vincit amor. The only pitfall I see is the possibility that one might come to think the worship, rather than simply the appreciation, of sentimentality and emotion a good thing (and some may find the movie too sentimental for their tastes either way). But I think there is much more to this movie than that, as I have mentioned, and that with proper formation a viewer may appreciate: Fanny and Keats are not merely in love, though the attraction is stressed, but rather each has touched something in the other. Fanny’s practicality and industry appeals to Keats, and Fanny is mystified and intrigued by Keats’ poetry. Beauty and mystery are shown to be as important to life as practicality, as more material matters.
Death is not white-washed, either: Keats dies as he did in real life. There is no happy ending for the couple, in that sense. Yet despite the fact that the movie ends with Keats’ death, there is a quiet sense of hope that remains; perhaps because though his death eventually seemed inevitable, the lovers did not despair but continued to love each other; and perhaps because there seemed to be a sense of some kind of immortality (and even an oblique allusion to an afterlife).
I do not wish to present this movie as more than it is; but for what it is–a celebration of poetry, romance, of the beauty of life, of John Keats–it is beautiful and good.
(And if you’re interested, here’s another articulation of this movie’s good qualities.)