Friday, February 24, 2017

A Streetcar Named Desire

HEY STEEEEELLLLLLAAAAA! The Film Registry Project is back!

So... this is one of my favorite films of all time, as depressing as it is. I got an opportunity to watch with a dear friend who had never seen it before, and the big thing that struck me again on why I love this movie so much was the conversation we were able to have about the film. Sometimes it's great to have a movie you can just watch and enjoy, but the movies that get you talking afterward... though to enlighten our discussion, I had to bring up my reading of the original play. The Hayes Code did make some really peculiar choices about homosexuality in film. You'd think, given the mores of the time, that a woman telling a gay man she is horrified and disgusted, leading to him shooting himself, would actually be allowed in an adult film. Or at least a film shunned by the League of Decency (I have on first-hand information that all good Catholics were told never to watch this film), which is as adult a rating as you could get before the formal codifying of film ratings. But then again, maybe they figured the idea was so poisonous, that even a guy shooting himself for shame wouldn't erase the horror of his "crime". Instead, Blanche just loathed her husband for being "weak", which doesn't really seem enough to cause a person to shoot themselves at a dance.

The character I've always been the most fascinated by, however, is Stella. Even if Stella doesn't leave Stanley in the play, my friend pointed out that they believed that Stella's flight of the film would last maybe a day. Maybe. Probably more like four hours. Because hey, as horrible as it is to have your husband rape your sister while you're having his baby, what are you going to do? Leave a man that handsome?Stella's motivations are largely unexplored, beyond that she's the big motivating factor for the bigger personalities of Blanche and Stanley. But that's precisely why I find her interesting. Blanche could grate on the nerves of a saint, with her melodrama and snobbery, while Stanley is, as Blanche said, a "survivor of the Stone Age". While Kim Hunter was a beautiful woman, she's dressed plainly and has a rather unflattering hairstyle. She's got her delicate, beautiful sister on one side... imagine growing up in that house! Stella seems the type to always be shunted aside in favor of the needier Blanche. Yet Stella's marriage is to an incredibly handsome man who is sexually exciting to her, pays her all kinds of attention, and is possessive of her. She has some standard characteristics of a battered woman, but her sexual need of Stanley and his way of being helpless without her seems to be the biggest thing holding her there. Finally, there's someone who really prefers her to her sister. Finally, she has won and Blanche has lost. No wonder she refuses to believe Blanche about the rape - how could her adored husband do that ultimate act of betrayal?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but to me, the sibling issues are one of the most fascinating angles. There's the archetypal reading, where one views Blanche as the Old South (courteous and courtly, but frail and overdramatic) and Stanley as the New South (vigorous, but raw and violent). There's the perspective of mental illness, the psychological impact of enforced closeting, the study of PTSD causing acting out in a way besides the typically depicted violence, the study of domestic violence, the portrait of female sexuality... the best movies are the ones that you don't run out of discussion fodder for, and if you're willing to spend two hours being thoroughly depressed, you can also get a ton of things to think about.