Miss Julie is a drama movie directed by Mike Figgis in 1999, based on the play of the same title – Miss Julie (orig. Fröken Julie) – written in 1888 by August Strindberg, a Swedish poet and playwright.
The action takes place in Sweden, in the 19th century, on the estate of a venerable Count on Midsummer’s Eve. The Count’s daughter – Miss Julie, the valet – Jean and the cook – Kristin are the three main characters around which the action develops. However, the viewers do not get tired with it even for a moment. Both for the remarkable atmosphere of the movie and for the cast, we are gently trapped in this wonderful play.
Facing difficult times because of her broken engagement with the prosecutor, Miss Julie attends the servants’ party in the castle. At one point, she dances with the valet Jean who has deeply impressed her because he was a really skillful dancer. But when the dance is over, he enters the kitchen where he has an ordinary conversation with Kristin, making a throwaway remark about Miss Julie’s peculiar behavior.
In a little while, she returns here, having a superior attitude, in fact, a somewhat cynical one towards them. The public may perceive her now as having a spoiled and ambitious nature, belonging to a high social class, and considering that everybody must carry out her orders and desires. But this is nothing but a mask.
Miss Julie has been brought up in the spirit of gender equality, and in fact her mother has instilled into her the hate for men. However, the young age and probably the recent broken engagement or the desire of a young and fragile soul to be loved, are the reasons that make her try to seduce Jean. He is in turn a quite interesting character. Being a man who has spent his childhood as part of a poor family, and having almost always dreamed about the luxury of the castle, he realizes this and turns the odds in his favor. I had never been in the castle and I had never seen a building which is as large as the church, but much more beautiful. And afterwards, no matter where my mind wandered, it would always come back to the same place. And gradually, step by step, everything has turned into an ardent desire of enjoying the magnificence and charm of that place one day. He becomes obsessed with this concept of beautiful life, so he opens himself with such an art and strategy that Miss Julie falls prey to this trap and falls in love with him, laying her heart at his feet without even realizing the aftermath of such an action.
Miss Julie realizes soon that there is in fact no love from Jean, it is only deceit, dissimulation and duplicity, and that he is nothing but a coward, a mean reaver driven by greed and avarice. She lets herself in for despair, without knowing how to act, because she has now fallen in front of her own servants and of her own conscience, especially in front of Jean, who tells her directly that she is a cheap and infamous woman. Nevertheless, he continues to aim at fulfilling his dream of becoming somebody in life. I wasn’t born to crawl in front of others, I have qualities, I am a man of character… And if I come to reach only the first branch, you will see how fast I go to the top!
He went on alluring Miss Julie in order to run away with him and buy together a hotel which they would manage by themselves and gain money, and for this plan to be achieved, she would be the first branch used to reach the top.
In the end, when Miss Julie was ready to leave home with him, feeling however emotionally numb, there happens something that astounds the viewer. Jean kills a little bird with such barbarity and disregard that the gesture totally changes young Julie’s attitude towards him. She starts yelling and asking Kristin for help, who meanwhile appears again in the kitchen, but the cook, realizing what happened overnight, refuses to help her and becomes very cold and indifferent.
The movie ends with the suicide of the Count’s daughter. Inferring her future life, Miss Julie begs Jean to order her something, and in order to get rid of his feelings of guilt, and being forced by the returning of the Count to the castle, he suggests that she commit suicide.
Miss Julie: If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
Jean: In your shoes? Let me think! As a woman… noble… infamous… well, I don’t know… Oh, yes! I think I know now…
Miss Julie (takes the razor and makes a suggestive gesture): Do you mean… this?
Wasn’t there any other possible end and the movie had to end in such a sad way? Maybe if Kristin had helped Julie, she wouldn’t have done that. But we can find the answer by reading the first lines at the beginning of the movie:
Miss Julie: This makes me think about a dream that keeps coming back to me: I am up on a high column and I can’t figure out a way of going down. When I look down, I feel dizzy. But actually I have to go down, but I’m not brave enough to jump. I have nothing to hold and I keep hoping that I will eventually fall, but I don’t. However, I feel like I can’t find peace until going down, lying on the ground…And I feel that if I reached the ground at once, I would want to be buried deep in it. Have you ever felt that way?
Jean: No! I usually dream about lying under a tall tree, in a dark forest. I want to go up, to the top of the tree and look about at the beamful view over which the sun is shining and I want to steal the golden eggs from the nest at the top of the tree. And I’m climbing and keep climbing, but the trunk is very big and slippery and the lowest branches are actually too high. But I know that if I could reach the first branch, I would climb to the top as easy as on a ladder.
What a wonderful metaphor to briefly define the fate of the two. One is prone to falling, to self-destruction, to becoming one with the ground, whereas the other tends to desiring and conquering new heights.
The author of the play, August Strindberg seems to have planned this end since the beginning. And no matter how painful the separation from the young and delicate Miss Julie would be, her death was fateful because this is the reason why the movie has become a remarkable and delightful one.