Content Note: dubious consent
It’s midsummer night and Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain) is alone at home. That is, her father the Baron is gone and most of the servants are at the festivities, but Jean (Colin Farrell) and Kathleen (Samantha Morton) have stayed behind. Jean and Kathleen are an item and they are rather disturbed by Julie’s presence in their kitchen. Jean, with the power of propriety, tries at first to push Julie away, but when Julie, with the power of her social position, pushes back, both of them get caught in a sexually charged power struggle.
Miss Julie is an intense film with extraordinary performances that fails to subvert its heteronormative perspective in the slightest, thus becoming too hopeless for its own good.
Miss Julie is a film about power, especially in a patriarchal (and feudal) society. Julie’s social station is obviously above Jean, while he has power over her because he is an experienced man. When they face off, it becomes obvious that sex, desire and lust are a way for them to carry out this power struggle. With the choice of these weapons, Julie doesn’t actually stand a chance, though. And so we can only watch as she gets ruined.
Of course, there is a certain realism to that. That’s how patriarchy works after all. Nevertheless, it would have done the film some good if things had been more balanced between the two. It would have made it possible to root for either one of them (at the beginning, when Julie still manages to score some points, if you will, she seems cruel to do so. Later, it’s Jean who is too cruel for sympathy).
And honestly, I’m just really tired of framing the relationships between men and women as power struggles, almost inherently. As if there was no other way to understand hetero relationships than a competition where one always has to be the winner and one always the loser. I want visions of how things could be different instead.
That being said, all of the three actors deliver absolutely stellar performances. You really don’t know who to watch first. And Ullman manages to both give them the room to perform (also by having rather static shots that feel very “theater-y”), and conjuring up a cloying, suffocating atmosphere. The question is whether you want to submit yourself to that atmosphere for 2 hours. I’m not sure I’m happy I did.
Summarizing: many strengths, but possibly too hopeless.