Movie Notes: Bonnie And Clyde

February 24, 2009

Bonnie And Clyde

5 stars = 5 stars

Starring Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman
Directed By Arthur Penn

I first saw Bonnie and Clyde in high-school film class. I don’t know if I completely understood its sexual themes but I did remember its uncompromising violence. I hadn’t seen the film again until recently, almost two decades later.

At its most basic,¬†Bonnie and Clyde concerns the recklessness of youth. Taking place during the depression-era American west. Clyde (Warren Beatty) considers himself above the law and free to do anything he wants. Unfortunately, he uses this freedom to rob banks. Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) runs away from home, thinking her love for Clyde will be the answer to everything. They recklessly embark on an path toward inevitable destruction: a liberating crime spree, complete with guns, cars, and rebellious attitude. It’s a familiar tale (Rebel Without a Cause) but what’s different is the way it’s told – largely visually, and punctuated with extreme, sudden violence.

Some condemned the film for glorifying violence and making the criminal duo too sympathetic. I feel the only sympathetic thing they do is early on, allowing a sharecropper who lost his farm a few shots at a bank sign. Everything they do from then on out is deplorable, decadent, and stupid. Most abhorrent is dragging Clyde’s brother and wife down to their level of criminality. But the in-laws’ audacity provides much of the film’s humor, as their recklessness nearly destroys the whole operation. Despite the humor during high points of their crime spree, a shadow hangs over everything, as we know this can only end badly. The film’s magic is how sudden, brutal, and final this end feels when it does arrive.

A side story is Clyde’s problem with impotence (this is well before Viagra). It’s implied his condition is a driving force behind his criminality. So when he brings his brother and a young boy into his life on the lam, is he perhaps symbolically having sex with them, too? Judging from Bonnie’s jealousy and distaste at having to share Clyde’s attention, maybe so.

Personally, Bonnie and Clyde represents the inevitable death of youthful ideals. It’s a subconscious mood, never explicitly stated, but neither Bonnie nor Clyde want to grow up. Clyde wants to continue the boy’s fantasy of cops and robbers, and Bonnie is insistent the man she loves is worth sticking with through no matter what – love is all they need.¬†Perhaps is a condemnation of the sixties from whence it came, when reckless youth (both the people in office and the hippies) were taking the nation in childish, idealistic directions, living in the now, not caring much for the consequences and dragging a lot of innocent people with them.

Maybe the final images of the doomed lovers slumped within a bullet-ridden car feel so brutal because they remind us of that decade’s violent protests and assassinations, when a nation lost its innocence and faced an uncertain, more cynical future, where everyone had to grow up.

IMDB: Bonnie And Clyde
Wikipedia: Bonnie And Clyde
Rotten Tomatoes: Bonnie And Clyde 94%

Comments

  1. technology says:

    The impact of watching Bonnie and Clyde for the first time is incredible, no matter where or when you see it… It's not just a relic of its time, the way Easy Rider is; it's a real, living movie that doesn't lose its power to confuse you…

  2. no matter what “old is gold”…Bonnie and Clyde will always be one of my favorite movies…hats off to ya!