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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 14, 2023



WE LIVE TODAY in a very permissive culture. 

Traditional social norms are now frowned upon for allegedly being so repressive and suppressive, specially when it comes to sexual freedom. 

There is greater acceptance now of premarital sex compared to more conservative days when marriage is a requisite to cohabitation. 

Now, living in, having a child out of wedlock, divorce or annulment of marriage, and even same sex marriage have gained wider acceptance. 

We thought of this after watching the film “The Starling Girl” which a lot of critics praised and commended for denouncing the religious community portrayed in it.

They even side with the lead character when she clearly did wrong. 

This is the directorial debut of Laurel Palmer, who also wrote the screenplay. 

The story is about a 17-year old girl, Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen), who belongs to a fundamental Christian rural community in Kentucky. 

As the eldest in their family, she is looked up to by her siblings. Their closely knit religious group is not as strict as the Amish or Mennonites, but just more traditional in their lifestyle.

Jem is a member of their church’s dance troupe and someone reprimands her for wearing a bra that is visible under the dress she’s wearing. 

At 17, her mom Heidi (Wrenn Schmidt, who’s superb) finds a match for her, Ben Taylor (Austin Abrams), the younger son of their Pastor (Kyle Secor.)

But he doesn’t appeal to Jem, who is more attracted to his older brother, Owen (Lewis Pullman, the son of Bill), who is married and has just returned from being a preacher in Puerto Rico. 

Jem’s burgeoning desires become a problem for her as she cannot reconcile them with her faith. 

She knows Owen has a family, but she still cultivates an illicit relationship with him as she’s obviously attracted to his worldliness. 

Jem’s situation is reflected in what happened to her dad Paul (Jimmi Simpson), who’s a recovering addict. He gets into depression and eventually returns to drinking. 

It is intimated that he became like this because he’s a good country singer who belongs to a band, but he turned his back on his music career to be more devoted to their faith. 

Both Gem and Owen seem to feel trapped in the simplicity of their small town life.

Owen says he has an unsatisfying marriage to Misty (Jessamine Burgum) and when he sees Jem is infatuated with him, he finds it as an escape from his stifling marriage/

They are soon having an affair, making out in the woods in his car, with him assuring Jem that their relationship is blessed by God since they both prayed about it.

But naturally, when their assignation comes out in the open, their parents try to some knock sense into their heads.

But Owen is determined to leave his wife and asks Jem to elope with him so they can go abroad. Will Jem accept his proposal?

The film is clearly about the personal conflicts  one has about one’s devotion to faith versus the call of hormones and sexual awakening. 

Scanlen (the youngest sister in the last “Little Women” who also impressed in the TV series “Sharp Objects”) gives a notably layered portrayal of a young woman who goes through varying feelings between desire and guilt, as she finds it hard to conform to the standards of their religious community while searching for her own identity.

These days, purity is no longer given that much importance by young people who think being conservative is a form of control and sexual repression. 

For them, losing one’s virginity is just freedom of expression but, let’s face it, girls who easily open their legs are considered the temptress, the slut, and in the case of Jem, a homewrecker since she very well knows that Owen is very much married. 

Personally, in the end, we don’t have any sympathy for Jem as she made her own choices.

She knows what she is getting into, but she still listened to the lies of a manipulative man and gave in to her own desires, so she should suffer the consequences.

In the end, ang babae pa rin ang mas dehado at nawawalan.