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Stillman’s Vision

The ‘WASP Woody Allen’ in search of moral truth.

May 21, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 34 • By IAN MARCUS CORBIN
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And yet, Damsels doesn’t feel like mere smarted-up escapism. None of Stillman’s films feels that way. He clearly admires the moral seriousness and altruism of the Seven Oaks girls, even if they are somewhat preposterous. Some enduring part of him longs to be a moralist, and, indeed, he is plainly suspicious of the bohemian ethos that exalts free love, total candor, and self-expression above all. Again, he is nostalgic for a steadier time, and a lingering sadness haunts his recollections. But here, now, given what we have to work with, Stillman’s goals are humble. He doesn’t advocate a wholesale return to the pre-Woodstock world; what good would that do? But what he does advocate, implicitly, is that we keep asking serious questions about how to live, live in accord with our best answers, and, from time to time, let our seriousness dissolve into the sumptuous, inarticulate joys of sensual reality. 

That, Stillman seems to be saying, will be enough—and maybe, more than enough.

Ian Marcus Corbin is a writer in Boston.

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