Bonnie & Clyde (1967)


Published 9/2/2015

Ride or Die.

Bonnie and Clyde, directed by the late Arthur Penn, is the type of movie that I like to watch for two reasons: intense action that kept me on the edge of my seat, and most importantly, a female lead that embodied everything there is to love in a companion.

Bonnie Parker, played magnificently by the gorgeous Faye Dunaway, was a down-home country gal that had high hopes and dreams that were shunned by the reality of small-town living. She saw Clyde as a way out; an instrument of change that she so desperately needed.

Smothered by the tedious nature of her rural existence, mixed with the pressures of growing up in a large household, Bonnie Parker never stood out. She was a nobody; stuck in the same situation that the majority of the women in her town were accustomed to: marriage, children, and taking care of house and home.

However, when Ms. Parker ran into Clyde, she realized that he was her only chance of leaving the monotony of home.

A visceral view of violence and viciousness in rural America.

Clyde Barrow was a simple man with a simple motive: getting money. Mr. Barrow, played by Warren Beatty, wanted to make a living during the Great Depression by any means necessary.

From stealing cars to robbing banks, and even thieving from local groceries, Clyde Barrow did not have a sense of consequence and repercussion, even though he had previously spent ample time in jail. With his narrow mindset, mixed with the thrill of impressing an attractive woman like Bonnie, Clyde Barrow was a true criminal.

For example, in the beginning of the movie, when Clyde shows off his gun to the sexually charged Bonnie, she asks him, “Do you know how to use it?” Sexual connotations aside, Clyde then proceeds to rob a local grocery store, just for the recognition from the astonished woman.

Most people would find the endeavor too stupid to even fathom, but Clyde disregards this sense of the law. The world is his for the taking, and Bonnie basks in their dark rapport.

Violence always casts a dark shadow on any situation, but the relationship between Bonnie and Clyde did not seem to alter their camaraderie. In one instance, during a botched attempt to flee the scene of a bank crime, Clyde resorts to killing a man by shooting through a side window directly into the victim’s face.

The framing of the “shot” was quite grotesque due to the realism imposed by having the face explode front-and-center. After fleeing their pursuers and a faux moment of bereavement by Clyde, the couple never falters in their intense love for one another.

Most couples would question their motives and their future together after witnessing or engaging in a horrific experience, but Bonnie and Clyde thrive off of the “thrill of the kill,” and with Clyde in particular reaffirming his masculinity to his insatiable girlfriend Bonnie.

This mix of violence and sexuality is a potent one because the sexual relationship between Bonnie and Clyde is non-existent in the foremost portions of the film. Whenever Bonnie tries to seduce Clyde, often following a violent scene, Clyde forcefully rejects her and states, “You know I’m not a lover boy.”

Emasculated by his sexual impotence, Clyde tries so hard to please Bonnie in every way possible. Even though he eventually satisfies her sexual appetite, the aura of manliness exists in the choices that Clyde makes in the film.

For example, after Clyde fails to sexually perform for Bonnie, he whispers in her ear, ”Least I ain’t a liar.” That notion of loyalty and trust coming from Clyde to Bonnie (whom he barely knows) is a way of showing that he has more to give than just sex: he can get you whatever you want by any means necessary. That’s how Clyde becomes a man in the film.

Why screen Bonnie and Clyde?

Bonnie and Clyde is a perfect example of films being made during the American Renaissance. Its unconventional editing techniques and camerawork, mixed with sexually and violently explicit overtones made Bonnie and Clyde the type of film that Hollywood would have never made previously.

Director Arthur Penn pushed the boundaries on what was deemed appropriate for cinema in the states, and indirectly affected the current MPAA rating system Hollywood still uses today.

For example, the final scene showing the brutal execution of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is still gruesome by today’s standards. Unarmed and unsuspecting, the duo was gunned down by multiple machine guns, ripping and tearing their limbs apart. While most viewers would find the violence appalling, Arthur Penn considered it “relevant” due to the brutality that was prevalent in the US during the time of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.

Penn also argued that Hollywood could not be “soft” while the nation was watching cruelty explode all over their television screens, and he garnered the same beliefs as many filmmakers during the American Renaissance.

Although Bonnie and Clyde was panned by critics initially, its influence on cinema is absurdly apparent in today’s films. Notable directors such as Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher all draw from sequences in Bonnie and Clyde. The film itself has been deemed “culturally significant” and selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry.

In my honest opinion, the film deserves praise because I was thoroughly moved by Arthur Penn’s insistence on upping-the-ante for Hollywood films. Without him, without Bonnie and Clyde, Hollywood would still be stuck in a rut.

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