If you enjoy smart, well-acted and beautifully filmed British movies where psychological nuance drives the story rather than plot, then be sure to see Cracks (2009), starring Eva Green.
This exquisite film was directed by Jordan Scott, and produced by her father Ridley Scott and uncle Tony Scott. Based on a novel by Sheila Kohler, Cracks revolves around a charismatic teacher Miss G (Eva Green) at an English boarding school for girls, located on Stanley Island in the year 1934. Miss G’s influence on her “team” of students recalls the way Maggie Smith enthralled and shaped her own young proteges in The Prime of Miss Jean Brody (1969), though with more sinister undertones.
Miss Brody was narcissistic and self-deceived; Miss G suffers from crippling agoraphobia and takes flight from reality into grandiose fantasies of herself as a world traveler. While she inspires her students to believe in themselves and their potential, she also relies upon their adulation and belief in her lies to sustain those delusions.
The fine ensemble cast features Juno Temple as Di, Miss G’s favorite at the film’s opening. Di worships her teacher and believes every word of her fables; she also identifies with Miss G and aspires to resemble her in every way. Unfortunately for Di, her place as favorite is soon usurped by Fiamma (Maria Valverde), a teenage Spanish aristocrat whose family has shipped her off to boarding school (according to her father’s letter) because of a failed elopement with a neighbor boy and a scandal that shamed the family.
In addition to her racy past, Fiamma has traveled the world with her father; she has actually been to places such as India which Miss G pretends to have visited. The teacher instantly latches on to her new student, attempting to incorporate Fiamma into her sphere of influence and thereby annex the girl’s worldy sophistication unto herself.
I refer to this type of relationship as “growth by annexation,” where a person who lacks certain desirable qualities seeks to attach herself to someone with those attributes, rather than trying to cultivate them within herself. It’s a particular type of merger, where one person seeks to “live inside of” another; it’s related to but different from the vicarious experience because it denies separateness. In growth by annexation, even when the person may seem timid and submissive, in fantasy, he tries to control the other person, to take possession of the desired qualities by usurping the other’s identity. A superb example of this type of behavior, even more disturbing, is to be found in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).
While there are lesbian overtones to Miss G’s fascination with Fiamma, the relationship isn’t deeply sexual. When we see Miss G leaving school grounds and entering the local village in a state of panic, it becomes clear that her desire for Fiamma is driven by a longing to repair her own damaged and fearful self. She seems to believe that, by entering into a special relationship with the girl where they are “everything to one another,” their identities will merge and Miss G will absorb the truly courageous, passionate nature she can only pretend to possess. As with many delusions, when this one is challenged, it leads to trouble for all concerned. But I won’t spoil the story for you.
Though she loses faith in Miss G, at the end of the film Di sets off on her own adventures in a way that shows her lingering identification with her teacher. At one point in The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, Jean says “give me a girl at an impressionable age, she’s mine for life.”
One suspects the same may be true for Miss G and her most devoted disciples.
Photo by Lara604, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.