Bonnie Parker is a beautiful young woman obviously thirsty for a life more exciting than the one she leads. One dusty morning, she catches Clyde Barrow, handsome ex-convict, looking like he was about to steal her mother’s car. She is a struggling waitress, hungry to make something out of herself while he is a small-time professional criminal from Texas who decides to begin a new career as a bank robber. After a flirtatious banter took place between the two of them, Clyde confesses that he is an armed robber.
Bonnie then dares him to commit an armed robbery right then and there, in broad daylight and right smack on main street. Incredibly, he complies. What ensues then is a coming together of two kindred spirits as Bonnie becomes Clyde’s main accomplice in the robbing and killing spree that ensued right after. They slowly form a group, eventually known as the ‘Barrow Gang’ consisting of a gas boy attendant, Clyde’s brother Buck and Buck’s demure wife, Blanche. When one consciously bears in mind the spirit of the time in which Bonnie and Clyde was released, appreciation for this film doubles.
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It truly was an artistic form of rebellion; a type of rebellion that reflected the progressing times. The sixties was truly a dynamic period that gave a new direction to women’s empowerment. Gledhill articulates the underlying logic of film when she said that, “melodrama deals with what cannot be said in the available codes of social discourse; it operates in the field of the known and familiar, but also attempts to short-circuit language to allow the ‘beneath’ or ‘behind’--- the unthinkable and repressed---to achieve material presence.
” The film is actually all about identity and the conflicts that occur when such identity is found outside the bounds of acceptable behavior imposed by society and policed by the state. A testament to the fact that the film cuts across many issues and opens up new frontiers in terms of film presentation is how cross-cutting its genre is. It can be filed under action-adventure, romance, gangster, crime and drama; it is perhaps more than what was just mentioned. And just like it’s genre, the film cannot be pigeon-holed into one neat category, much like its characters.
While both Bonnie and Clyde cut interesting personalities, one cannot be discussed without the other. In terms of female empowerment, Bonnie does present an interesting role model. A murderous thief if rarely seen as good idol material; however, if one looks past the fact that her choice of ‘career’ is immoral by any standard, she is brave enough to break the mold of women’s role at the time. Scene after scene, she rubs her nose against the norms that society dictates for women. “Ever since the 1960s, the women’s movement has been concerned with media portrayal of women.
Major studies of the most pervasive medium, television, and particularly its commercials revealed the same subordination of women we saw in film. In commercials, most voice-overs were done by men and overall, men were featured more often than women. The women who were featured were limited to family roles. Women were shown doing housework and men were the beneficiaries of their work. On the other hand, men were employed, had careers, and were doing something outside the home. ” This portrayal of women in the film is quite apparent and much more recognizable given the fact the Clyde was made less ‘manly’.
It is indeed quite interesting how the writers and director presented the film: the female is a strong character that displayed very ‘male’ characteristics (albeit in a very sexy way) while Clyde’s masculinity is put on a chopping block with his sexual impotence. Whether or not this sexual incapability is accurate in terms of the real Clyde Barrow is irrelevant. What is significant here is the importance found by the filmmakers in making Clyde less ‘masculine’ or atleast what society perceives as masculine.
Initially, the director suggested that Clyde’s character be homosexual but when Warren Beatty refused to play a homosexual man, they decided that impotence would give the same ‘castrating’ effect to Clyde Barrow; an effect that inevitably led to the ‘masculinization’ of Bonnie Parker. This ‘castration’ of the main male character furthered strengthened Bonnie’s character. Furthermore, the other male characters are either dimwitted (C. W. Moss) or simpleminded and ignorant (Buck Barrow). It was as if the creation of the other male characters had for a goal to make Bonnie---and in consequence, women---look better and appear smarter.
At this juncture, it would be quite interesting to ask oneself if Bonnie truly is a picture of female empowerment or is she merely a case of making a woman more male? Bonnie’s character finds its anti-thesis in Blanche (Buck’s wife). Blanche is the stereotypical female of the sixties. She is demure, conservative and relies on her husband for everything. Buck’s chauvinistic comment---It’s the face powder that gets a man interested; it’s the bacon powder that keeps a man at home---paints only two roles for women: as housekeepers and as sexual objects.
Bonnie breaks this mold and carves another role for herself---a partner. In many ways, Bonnie represents what women can be if only they dared and Blanche represents what they are. “This dual recognition---how things are and how they are not---gives popular culture much of its strength, suggesting the way it may be drawn to occupy gaps in political, ideological and cultural systems and how the subordinated may find a negotiable space in which certain contradictions and repressed desires are rehearsed.
” According to Arthur Penn, the film’s director, “Violence is one of the most powerful themes in Bonnie and Clyde. The central point is that crime and violence are interrelated; that one can not exist without the other (…) Once the match of violence is lit, it has no choice but to burn until all flammable ends have been destroyed. ” This use of violence as a central concept in the film led to change in the film industry as a whole. Bonnie and Clyde are not depicted as the usual murderers.
They are charming, beautiful and for all intents and purposes, are of a refined manner and as the tag line goes: they are in love; definitely not the usual criminal sort. However, the film is interesting in its depiction of a criminal life as the audience finds it increasingly difficult not to sympathize or root for the ‘bad guys. ’ Even though the odds are against it, we the audience, find ourselves wishing that the couple will make it out alive and perhaps grow old together and leave the life of crime behind for an idyllic setting.
But even Bonnie’s poem foreshadows their eventual fate. Someday they’ll go down together; they’ll bury them side by side; to few it’ll be grief; to the law a relief’ but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde. Here the film gives us the moral of the story that if one lives by the sword, one dies by the sword. The attempt of the film to ‘subjectify’ the criminal life was definitely successful and the message is clear: not everything is black or white and good or bad.
The audience is left with the feeling that although the actions of Bonnie and Clyde cannot be condoned by any moral person, we can sympathize with their situation. This is indeed a powerful effect considering the murders and the thievery that occurred in the film. On the negative side, the film probably opened up a tradition of cinematic endeavors to treat murder and crime in a casual and non-chalant way. The criminals in this film are portrayed in such a manner that makes them icons and idols of sorts---which is actually twisted in a way.
The iconography of the film, as examined by Mary Elizabeth Strunk in the American Studies Journal explains that. “Yes, Bonnie and Clyde commit reckless acts of violence, but they look so good doing it. Against the film’s stagy Depression-era backdrop, the couple becomes the embodiment of youth, romance, and yearning. By contrast, their victims barely register, save as faded cardboard cutouts lacking names or narrative. The camera affirms Bonnie and Clyde as the only living things on an otherwise inert and colorless landscape. ”
Violence is not only the central theme of the movie but is also the anchor in which the personalities and characters of Bonnie and Clyde are based. The issues relating to identity are also underlying themes for this film. For Bonnie, she knows that she is cut from a different cloth altogether and would like to be remembered for being different. Clyde, on the other hand, grappling with his inner demons (mostly, brought on by lack of sexual potency), thirsts to be remembered by many. For him, it does not seem to matter what he is remembered for, just as long as he is remembered.
If one were to psycho-analyze this film, one might even say that it could have been Clyde’s sexual malfunction that led him to a life of crime with the gun serving as a substitute for sex. This misplaced pride they both have in being recognized is clearly seen as they proudly read to each other what the newspapers have wrote about them---even if it is merely a catalogue of the crimes they have done or thought to have done.
- Internet Movie Database. Bonnie and Clyde. Retrieved on May 11, 2008 from http://www.imdb. com/title/tt0061418/ Gledhill, C. (1986).
- Dialogue on Stella Dallas and Feminist Film Theory. Cinema Journal 25, No. 4 BOOKRAGS STAFF. "Bonnie and Clyde: Themes". 2000. May 12 2008.
- http://www. bookrags. com/films/bonnieandclyde1967/themes. html> Strunk, M. E. (2007).
- Bonnie and Clyde’s Other Side. American Studies Journal No. 50. Retrieved on 12 May 2008 from http://asjournal. zusas. uni-halle. de/85. html
- FLIPOUT E-ZINE. Women In Film. Retrieved 12 May 2008 from http://www. geocities. com/albanystudent/wif. html
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