Sunday, January 10, 2016
Bonnie and Clyde
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
The beginning of this film is seductive, as we are drawn into the world of its two main characters. We see Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) looking into a mirror, like Alice wanting to escape her world and enter a new life full of, well, wonder. As we follow her with her guide, Clyde (Warren Beatty), who, if we follow the metaphor, is the White Rabbit, we go down the rabbit hole with them. The audience is, in the early going of the film, held captive by their adventure, and suffers from Stockholm syndrome, as it sympathizes with the criminals’ activities.
We can understand why these two want something different out of life, given the poverty and decrepit living conditions of the Depression era. The civilized, law-abiding world had failed most of the country. Banks appear to be the enemy, because they are foreclosing on the widespread misfortunes of poor people. When Clyde asks a customer whose money he has, he says his own. Clyde won’t take money from the farmer, and this act makes him likable. (But stealing money from the bank was stealing from everyday people, since there was no insurance backing deposits at the time.) And, at least at the beginning, they seem harmless. Clyde can’t even steal Bonnie’s mother’s car without her seeing him sizing up the vehicle. After she goes with him, Clyde looks like a Keystone Cop, as he picks a bank to rob that has failed and has no money left. In a scene out of a screwball comedy, he tries to rob a grocery store, almost acting polite about the heist, and is confronted by a manic meat cleaver wielding grocer. They recruit C. W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard) as their wheel man, who wedges himself into a tight parking space, making a quick getaway impossible. But, at the end of that scene, the tone turns dark, as a bank guard jumps onto the car and Clyde shoots him in the face. The audience now realizes that these reality escape artists can’t avoid the real world of law and order without violently tearing themselves away from it. In the beginning, Clyde says he cut off some toes to avoid a work detail when he was in prison. The violence he used on himself is now aimed at others in his rebellion against society’s laws. We start to sober up, shaking off the intoxication of their no longer fun-filled ride.
There is a great deal of glass breaking in this film. Clyde is first inspired to call himself a bank robber when he encounters a farmer at the house that the bank has forced him out of. They throw rocks at the building, breaking the windows. Symbolically, the glass can represent the established order, and the breaking shows how the economic system is also broken. The throwing of the rocks can also be an act of anger against the financial institutions that have compounded the misery of the poor. This glass breaking is repeated with similar effect by Clyde when he shoots out the window of the failed bank. But the integrity of the glass can represent any system, including the gangster family of Bonnie and Clyde, which includes Moss and Clyde’s brother, Buck (Gene Hackman) and his new wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons). The windows of the rooms they rent on their crime spree are sometimes shot up by the authorities in various shootouts. They at first seem safe in the cars they steal, they being movable means of transportation, and which echo their rootless existence divorced from restraining, fixed buildings and homes of society. But, eventually, as their crimes include murder of policemen, the windows of the cars are also shattered, as is their crime family, and the massacre at the end is also a symbolic killing of the vehicle that allowed them to escape the controlling arm of the law.
The film extends the window metaphor to eyes, as they have often been likened to “windows to the soul.” The shooting near the eyes of the bank guard on the car shows how Clyde’s vision of their future is not clear as to the consequences of his actions. Toward the end, Clyde rides to his death with broken sunglasses, also reflecting his failed moral vision. His inability to see the reality of his situation is shown when he says all he was trying to do was get something to eat when he was robbing the grocery store. and he was attacked by the grocer. He leaves out the part that he was breaking the law, stealing from the man. Their self-delusion is symbolized early in the film when they hide from the police in a movie theater, and the musical number “We’re in the Money” is being played. This scene shows how we, the audience, also try not to see the reality of our situation, “escaping” into a fantasy when we go to the movies. Clyde’s shooting of the bank guard comes back to haunt the gang as Buck is killed by a gunshot to the temporal area, his eyes seen as bloody, clouding his vision. And, Blanche is also wounded in the eyes, which are bandaged, blocking out her actual sight and moral insight when she reveals the identity of C. W. which allows the authorities to track down Bonnie and Clyde. Here the human windows, the eye, are broken, and mirror the destruction of the criminal family which was doomed from the start due to their lack of clear thinking.
Even when we are being seduced into the bank robbers’ world, there are several foreshadowings of the how the path they have chosen will not be a happy one. At the very beginning when we see Bonnie, naked in her room, like a baby ready to be reborn into a new life, she grabs hold of the bed frame which seems to imprison her. She looks like she wants to break free of her dead end old life, but the bars also tell us that society will imprison those that break its rules. When the gang takes Eugene Grizzard (Gene Wilder) for a joy ride, Bonnie kicks him and his girlfriend out when she learns that he is an undertaker. She is in denial about the consequences of her new life, and doesn’t want any reminders, at least not at this point, that they are on the rode to their demise. When Bonnie visits her mother, a young boy plays on a mound of dirt, and rolls down it in slow motion. The action is repeated by Clyde’s body as it rolls on the ground after he is killed in the ambush at the end of the story.
The relationship between Bonnie and Clyde is a complicated one. The association between guns and sex is shown right at the beginning. When Clyde shows Bonnie his gun, she strokes it like it’s a male organ. Clyde emphasizes the connection by flipping the toothpick in his mouth, suggesting a throbbing phallus. Later, Bonnie has her picture taken holding a gun and smoking a cigar, suggesting the sexuality aspect of the criminal life she has chosen, unchecked by prudishness. (Of course when she mockingly kisses the lawman they have captured, he spits at her, showing the reaction of a restrictive society to her uninhibited sexuality). But, Clyde is “not much of a lover boy.” Perhaps the limp associated with the loss of his toes refers to more than one appendage, since he is impotent. He wants more than just a sexual encounter – he wants a partner. Together he wants them to rise above the dreary, impoverished world they inhabit. He says to her “Bet you are a movie star.” He says that she deserves so much more than what she has, and they go about making themselves celebrities, even contacting the newspapers themselves. But, the press prints deceptions, assigning crimes to them in which they were not involved. When they write that Clyde betrayed Buck and left him for dead, the celebrity they attained turns around and bites the hand that feeds it, tearing the gang apart, as their notoriety makes them prime targets for the police and leads to the betrayals at the hands of Blanche and C. W.
Clyde is impotent until Bonnie empowers him in her poem sent to the newspapers. He says “You told my story, right there, right there. One time I told you I was gonna make you somebody. That’s what you done for me. You made me somebody they’re gonna remember.” He then is able finally to consummate his love for Bonnie, and they become true partners. They have become successful in the only way they knew how given the circumstances of their time. But, that way will not be tolerated by society, as Bonnie now realizes, when she ends her poem by saying the price for their type of notoriety is, “death for Bonnie and Clyde.”
The next film discussed will be The Subject was Roses.