Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bright Star

I've never been much of a reader of poetry.  As a reading glutton, I tend not to have the patience to read as slowly as one must read to enjoy and appreciate poetry.  But this movie about John Keats sounded decent, so I picked it up, and I was not disappointed.  Bright Star was nominated for an Oscar, but for the costume design.  The costumes were great, of course, but the movie certainly stands above the level of a costume drama.
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel forever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

Keats and Fanny Brawne were neighbors.  They were acquaintances, but at one point they shared a duplex and Fanny's family and Keats became very close.  Their bedrooms shared a wall; they tenderly reveled in the awareness of the other on the other side of the wall each night.  I am assuming the chastity with which they carried on their love affair accurately reflects real life.  They did kiss and express their deep physical attraction to one another, but the movie never implies that they consummated their relationship.  In fact, on the occasion of Keats's going abroad, Fanny says, "You know I would do anything," seeming to offer herself.  Keats simply replies, "I have a conscience."  Besides, Fanny's little brother and sister are constant chaperones for the young lovers!

At first Fanny is not sure what to think of Keats's poetry.  She openly expresses disdain, and sends her sister Toots to purchase a copy of his recent book of poems.  Toots explains to the bookseller, "My sister has met the author and she wants to read it for herself to see if he's an idiot or not."  Fanny comes around and seeks Keats's tutelage.  He explains, "A poem needs understanding through the senses.  The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water.  You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought.  Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery."  I don't know if this is from something he wrote, or is something he may have said that the screenwriter put in his mouth, but I like it.  Similarly, he tells Fanny that writing poetry "ought to come like leaves to a tree, or it better not come at all."

The love between Fanny and Keats inspires, but more than that, I was inspired to pursue his poems.  The movie gives a context to some of his poems, whether addressed to or inspired by Fanny, or simply by revealing some of the personality and events behind the poems.  Visually beautiful and dramatically captivating, this is a great movie for romantics, and for any present or future lover of Keats's poetry.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

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