"Slow, Sleazy Story of Feminist Patricide"
LIZZIE is a lurid drama about the brutal, infamous 1892 axe murder of Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, which was probably the act of Andrew’s younger daughter, Lizzie, who reportedly was upset by her father’s gifts of significant portions of his property, Lizzie’s inheritance, to other family members. The movie also speculates Lizzie had a lesbian affair with the family’s young Irish maid, allegedly abused by Lizzie’s father, and it ends up being a subtle but obvious feminist tract against the evils of a society run by callous men like Lizzie’s father.
The movie opens on the day of the murders, August 4, 1892, as Lizzie, age 32, apparently finds the bodies. She orders the family’s 25-year-old maid, Bridget, who’s washing windows outside, to get the police.
Cut to six months earlier. Bridget, a poor, shy young immigrant from the Irish lower class in Fall River, Mass., starts working for Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby. A successful property developer and bank manager, Andrew has two unmarried adult daughters from his first wife, who died when Lizzie was two. Lizzie’s sister, Emma, is nine years older than Lizzie. Andrew married Abby when Lizzie was about five.
The move depicts Andrew as a strict, demanding leader of the house. Shortly after Bridget arrives, according to the movie, he starts visiting her bedroom late at night. One scene shows his wife pretending to be asleep when Andrew returns from his illicit sojourn with the maid. Also, Andrew is shown making secret plans with Lizzie and Emma’s maternal uncle, John, to transfer significant portions of Andrew’s property.
Lizzie and Bridget have a same-sex attraction. Sure enough, they have a torrid rendezvous in the small barn, while Lizzie’s father secretly watches outside through a window. Before that occurs, Andrew used an axe to kill all the pigeons in the pigeon coop Lizzie has installed in the barn (Lizzie was an animal lover). He tries to make Lizzie eat one of the pigeons at family dinner that night, but Lizzie walks out, refusing to eat the cooked bird.
Eventually, Lizzie is arrested for the murders of her father and stepmother. Lizzie pleads not guilty. However, when Bridget visits Lizzie in her cell, a flashback shows how Lizzie did the murders. The flashback shows Bridget knew what she did but chickened out when it came time for Bridget to hit Lizzie’s father with the axe, leaving Lizzie to finish the job. Despite this, Bridget gives exculpatory eyewitness testimony for Lizzie at her trial, and the jury declares Lizzie not guilty. Finally, a title card says Bridget went to work as a maid in Butte, Montana, and Lizzie died at the age of 67 in Fall River in 1927, having never married. According to MOVIEGUIDE®’s research, Lizzie and her sister, Emma, had an argument in 1905, whereupon Emma moved away and never saw her sister again.
LIZZIE portrays Lizzie Borden as a stubborn independent woman who can be just as icy cold as her father. However, she’s often clearly angered by her father’s ill treatment of her. She becomes especially angry when she discovers he’s been sleeping with the maid, Bridget, and when he kills her beloved pigeons. The last straw for Lizzie occurs when she discovers her father may be writing a new will that limits her inheritance in some way (the movie never reveals how much, because it depicts Lizzie burning the new will after the murders). In contrast to Lizzie, who’s played by Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart plays Bridget as a quiet woman who can be overcome by intense emotion to the point of inaction or illicit lust.
There are some raw emotions in LIZZIE, but the movie overall comes across as being too dispassionate. In fact, Lizzie seems more upset at what happened to her pigeons than she is when she delivers the vicious blows to her father and stepmother, and even when she and Bridget are consumed by their lesbian lust in the barn. The movie’s final shots also seem rather cold or dispassionate. MOVIEGUIDE® assumes all this was intentional, but, if so, it doesn’t quite work. (Note: The movie’s star, Chloë Sevigny, created the project with her friend, Screenwriter Bryce Kass, but they hired the director after another director suddenly dropped out.)
That said, by the end of the movie, it’s quite clear that the filmmakers of LIZZIE have turned Lizzie Borden’s story into a feminist tract. In the murder scene, Lizzie isn’t so much taking her hatred out on a mean father and stepmother as she is striking a bunch of blows against the evils of a society controlled by callous men. Ultimately, therefore, the brutality of the two axe murders really doesn’t fit the motive that the filmmakers have assigned to them. If indeed Lizzie Borden was the guilty party, contrary to what the jury found at the time, then why couldn’t the motive just be good old-fashioned greed??? After all, after the murders, Lizzie’s inheritance from her father made her one of the richest, if not the richest, women in Massachusetts. In fact, she and her sister received the inheritance because it was determined that their stepmother was killed before their father. If the father had been killed first, his money would have been dispersed according to the stepmother’s will, if she had one.
LIZZIE is a lurid drama, set in Fall River, Massachusetts, about the brutal, infamous 1892 axe murder of Andrew Borden and his second wife. Andrew’s younger daughter, Lizzie, probably committed the murders because she reportedly was upset by her father’s gifts of significant portions of his property, Lizzie’s inheritance, to other family members. The movie also suggests Lizzie was upset about her father trying to write a new, unfavorable will. Finally, it speculates Lizzie had a lesbian affair with the family’s young Irish maid, who was allegedly sexually abused by Lizzie’s father.
There are raw emotions in LIZZIE, but the movie comes across as being too dispassionate. For example, Lizzie seems more upset by her father killing her pet pigeons than when she delivers the vicious blows to her father and stepmother, or when she has a tryst with the maid in the family’s small barn. The movie also shows Lizzie committing the murders in the nude, apparently to avoid getting blood on her clothes. Ultimately, LIZZIE is a subtle but obvious feminist tract against the evils of a society run by callous men like Lizzie’s father.