I have not been able to stop thinking about this film since viewing it for the first time yesterday afternoon. Quite remarkable. As always, plenty of reviewers have provided first class descriptions of the actual story already, so I will cut to the chase.
For me this film deals with several themes:
'When I was a child, I thought as a child' (Rudyard Kipling 'If')
It is no accident that the young girls who are the foci of this tale are living in an isolated English boarding school, ON AN ISLAND. This works both literally and metaphorically. The island, named 'Stanley Island' seems to me to have allusions to Miss. G's 'stories' of her travels around the world, particularly her stories of adventures in 'exotic' locales. 'Stanley' was the explorer who, upon meeting up with fellow explorer Livingstone, apparently said: 'Livingstone I presume.' He was also a self - mythologiser and - according to fellow explorer - a brutal racist.
Considering the self mythologising of Miss G. and her eager for information about the World outside of their 'Island' girls, this is entirely appropriate.
Words create truth. Words weave a truth.
While Miss G. tells her stories of her 'travels' and constructs her own World through her words and her audience of young girls, the girls do not yet have the experience or maturity to fully understand just what is going on. To me anyway, right from the beginning, this is a hint of the abuse to come. Children who have been abused, both physically and mentally, often speak much later in life of not having the words to articulate what was going on. The vulnerability of the girls is always there, even in some of the most beautifully filmed scenes - of which there are many.
Look out for the opening scenes where Di and Miss G. are in the rowing boat, Di is clearly smitten by her exotic teacher. The camera shots here tell us a lot. We see Miss G. through the misty eyes of a young, inexperienced, isolated girl - those early scenes of Miss G. are the creation of the girls' idolatry.
Watch how this breaks down. When Fiamma arrives from Spain, a young girl who is well traveled and has experienced life in the wider world, the 'cracks' of the title begin to appear. We start seeing Miss. G through Fiamma's eyes, she looks a bit more 'crazed', a bit more mad.
Also, watch out for the scenes when Miss. G is not in the school grounds - perhaps the most telling scene in the film for me, which genuinely chilled me, was when Miss G goes into the little village to buy a few things. She is talking to herself, distracted and clearly unstable.
This is how you and I would see her.
It is how Fiamma sees her. Her terror is real and totally understandable. She 'sees' clearly the unstable creature Miss G. actually is.
When the girls celebrate the Feast of St. Agnes, drinking and eating a midnight feast, someone is going to be the offering. St. Agnes is the Saint of Virgins. Fiamma, drunk, is led away by Miss G and raped. The young girls, once again knowing something isn't 'quite right' but not having the experience of maturity to articulate in their heads just what is happening.
The victim becomes the pariah, as Di cannot cope with what she has seen her previously adored teacher doing through the 'crack' in the door.
Di - short for Diana - is the Goddess of the Hunt, and she leads the girls through the woods chasing the asthmatic and traumatised Fiamma. Fiamma is the Virgin Martyr.
Di escapes the Island, clutching the map she drew for Fiamma earlier in the film. All of the young girls are victims of abuse to some extent. Their minds have been toyed with and manipulated. What is more, no adult seems to notice - or care.
Probably Miss G as well. We never learn her 'back story' but something has happened to her during her time at the school. When the older teacher points to an old school photograph of her, she also refers to some 'scandal' in her past. She has never left 'the Island' and probably never will. Again, literal and metaphorical.
I heartily recommend this film. It's study of abuse is subtle and all the more horrifying for it. It is a reminder of just how vulnerable we all were as children at school, boarding or day school. Before we had the words and worldliness to articulate the many different kinds of abuses there are in the World.