We get a hint of Claudia’s problems with her parents when she demands that the court address her by using her married name, Draper. She is aggressive vocally and argumentative, interrupting preliminary court proceedings and questioning the actions of the expensive lawyer hired by her mother, Rose (Maureen Stapleton) and her stepfather, Arthur Kirk (Karl Malden). The judge and the lawyers ignore her as if she is not to speak unless spoken to. The prosecutor says that the psychiatrist gave the opinion that Claudia is incompetent to stand trial because she doesn’t understand the charges against her and can’t participate in her own defense. What the male-dominated system is doing is preventing her from having her day in court. She does not behave in the proper demure and submissive fashion dictated by the men in charge. Thus, they must remove her from society. She could have continued to perform as a prostitute as long as it wasn’t brought to the attention of polite society. But, as soon as she attacked a male, who was abusive toward her, the situation is brought into the light of day, and the ruling males must then punish her for revealing harmful male tendencies.
Because Claudia would not agree to a charge of criminally negligent homicide, her lawyer argues that she should be considered incompetent. The irony here is that the family and the lawyers appear to want to protect Claudia from having to go to prison. In their minds they are acting in her best interests, but they do so by presupposing that she is not innocent of the crime of which she is accused, but instead proposing that she is mentally unstable. They assume that her lifestyle and nonconformist behavior requires the need to separate her from other “normal” people. Claudia’s response is to punch out her defense attorney.
A public defender by the name of Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss) happens to be in court during Claudia’s arraignment. He doesn’t want to have anything initially to do with the case after the assaulted defense lawyer quits. But the judge assigns him to Claudia’s case. After a quick review of the records, and because the judge bullied him into taking the job, he decides to challenge the motion to designate Claudia as incompetent to be tried. On his way to question Claudia at the jail, we see colored lines painted on the floor informing people where to get to different locations. It may appear helpful, but it also shows the linear, regimented thinking of how the established authority enforces control over others. Levinsky runs into the state appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Morrison (Eli Wallach), and verifies that Morrison said in his report that Claudia acted “flagrantly sexual.” This phrase condemns Claudia for breaking the rules that men have established about how a woman should act publicly when it comes to sex. This attitude is affirmed by the Latino psychiatrist who says that Claudia is passionate, which is okay in the bedroom, but not outside of it.
In Levinsky’s first meeting with Claudia, she shows contempt for psychiatrists (although Streisand plays an admirable one in The Prince of Tides). She is initially quiet, but when Levinsky asks if she can talk, she says what role does she want her to play. Should she juggle, dance, do card tricks? She says, “What kind of show do I have to put on for you?” Her statement points to the way men force women to play the roles they dictate for them, as opposed to trying to understand the person behind these fronts. She is basically saying that the traditional expectation of men is to have women amuse and entertain them, which denies who they are as complete persons, with their own personalities and aspirations. Claudia immediately delves into Levinsky’s personal life, asking about being married and if his wife is good in bed. She puts her legs up on the table in front of him and spreads them. In a way, she is exaggerating what men expect of women sexually, and is testing Levinsky to see how he will react. He admits to his sexual inclinations and is not like Morrison, who Claudia sees as sexually inauthentic. Levinsky is honest in his responses about how his marriage has had its problems. Claudia wants to expose how the upright appearances of men are deceiving, because under the veneer of respectability lies the selfish need to objectify and possess women to satisfy lustful urges no matter the damage done to the females they desire. Her argumentative ways and in-your-face- sexual references make the audience uncomfortable, which in a way, indicts the viewer for having accepted the male prescribed norms of how women should behave.
When Levinsky mentions that her mother cares about what happens to her, Claudia curses her mother. We again get an indication that there was something in Claudia’s upbringing that points to Claudia not believing Rose is the motherly protector she seems to be. Despite Claudia’s wanting to put everything out in the open, she is not ready to reveal the secrets about the harm done to her in her childhood. She does win Levinsky over as he concedes the possibility that the psychiatric impression that she is incompetent is wrong. She is then willing to go over her case with him. In a subsequent conversation with the prosecuting attorney, MacMillan (Robert Webber), Levinsky says that he has an aunt who is crazier than Claudia, and she is the president of her PTA. Levinsky is acknowledging Claudia’s argument that supposedly proper behavior can be deceiving. A later scene in the psychiatric ward makes this point as Levinsky is fooled by a woman who is a patient, but who pretends to be a visiting psychoanalyst, and who is more insightful than the “legitimate” psychiatrists. Levinsky says the woman seemed so “normal.” Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Shawshank Redemption, here again we have the inmates making more sense than those in charge. Thus the title of the film may be asking who are the people who are really “nuts.”
Levinsky’s impropriety triggers the memory of the man she killed, Allen Green (Leslie Nielsen), and we get the story of why Claudia was arrested. Allen, who appeared to be upstanding, goes through her clothes, acting as if he owns Claudia because he has purchased her sexual services. He wants to stay after having sex and becomes angry and possessive when she has another appointment. He then is verbally abusive, and says she is acting like his wife. He displays the dual attitudes many men have toward women. On the one hand they want females to act socially respectable in public, as a wife is supposed to appear, but they secretly want them to surrender to masculine sexual manipulation. However, they then condemn them for acting slutty. Allen, like many other men, have created the prostitution business to indulge their sexual fantasies, but are ashamed of their unholy drives, and then project their guilt on the women they sought to indulge them. When Claudia resists Allen, he becomes violent, trying to exert his controlling power, and is angry at being rejected. He tries to strangle Claudia, and in the struggle, the bathroom mirror is broken. Claudia is able to grab a shard, and stabs Allen in the carotid area, killing him (possibly an act of vengeful reverse penetration?).
The next film is The Man Who Wasn’t There.