M/PG. It's so bizarre when there's no PG-13, things get really icky. The movie is about controlling people through sexuality. Admittedly, the movie dodges or only hints at a lot of things, but the film deals with sexual assault, alcoholism, spousal abuse, racism, and suicide. There's just so much stuff going on here that it's strange to think that this movie is PG. It's definitely not for all audiences.
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
I'm having a day. It's one of those days that I almost took off because I just didn't want to deal with it today. Anything I write today is by sheer willpower and determination. Like, I'm sinking fast. Here's the deal: If I write this blog by the end of the day and decide to eat healthy, I win. I win all the points. I will win points that you didn't even know existed. That might keep me writing.
I don't know why I didn't write about this last year. I taught A Streetcar Named Desire during lockdown last year, so maybe I didn't consider what I had watched a real viewing. But I watch this movie every year with my class. (Also, my film class may not exist unless I can get my AP numbers down.) It's always such a hard sell. It's such a bleak and miserable story about such miserable people. Couple that with the fact that it's in black-and-white and that this isn't a film class, I often find people put off by this film. But, not this year. I mean, I had a couple of kids who had their heads down. It's the end of the year and I'm asking for something that doesn't have a grade attached. That's no good. But the kids seemed to really get into it. Part of it came from the notion that we talked about things that were cut from the cinema version of the story and how that drastically changes the experience of Streetcar. Normally, it takes a lot to get a good discussion. Not this year. I have good kids.
But this movie is so prescient. Tennessee Williams dealt with a lot of the motifs that run through the story. His sister battled mental illness. He was a homosexual who drank in excess. The fact that you see these moments in the film, albeit hidden from the 1951 audience, is so earnest and truthful. I know that his other stories dealt with a lot of this stuff, but I don't think it ever gets as distilled as it does in A Streetcar Named Desire. Mind you, it's been a while since I've read The Glass Menagerie. This is a story about sexual power and control. It's one of those universal themes and stories that can apply to any generation. But I really like putting it in the context of 2021.
I'm talking about the absolute end. I mean, I'm going to put it into the context of the other scenes because Streetcar has always been more than just the ending of the story. I used to think of the important element of the story as the rape. When I first experienced Streetcar, I viewed the movie as a power grab for Stella's soul. The climax of that power grab comes from Stanley's sexual dominance over Blanche. The last scene, where Blanche is waiting for Shep Hunleigh to take her away in the midst of a mental breakdown, was always just the denouement. I wanted to think of it as the epilogue to a greater story. But the effects of the women's movement really recontextualizes William's message about women. Williams includes lines about Blanche revealing Stanley's abuse to both Stella and Eunice. I'm going to butcher the line, but Stella and Eunice discuss Blanche's accusation of Stanley. Eunice says something along the lines of "You can't believe her, Honey," and then spiraling into implications of what would happen if Stella believed Blanche's story.
And it was this year that the end meant something. As much as this movie is about sexual dominance, it demonizes not only the Stanleys of the world, the sexual and spousal abusers --but also those who actively choose to avoid being allies. Stanley has a history of physical abuse. Throughout the story, Stanley has been described through his sexuality, often to the point of bluntness by Blanche and Stella. The notion that Stanley would rape someone isn't beyond possibility. It actually seems rather grounded. If anything, it's always there in the background. Stanley is a predator, constantly looking to dominate prey. And Williams ensures that the sexuality is about control and power versus eroticism. Stanley continually points out how unattractive Blanche is with her falsehoods. When Stanley rapes her, he does so to destroy her. It is violence without any frame of arousal or eroticism. But the secondary crime, which is arguably worse, is that Stella and Eunice choose not to believe her.
Stella looks at Blanche being taken away and only finds her moral backbone once she has been carted off to the asylum. And even then, Kazan and Williams leave the ending kind of ambiguous. While Stella has big words about Stanley never being allowed to touch her again, there's the parallel of Stella's actions with the physical abuse she suffered at the card game. When Stanley hits her at the card game, she flees to Eunice's apartment only to return once Stanley screams outside. She quickly forgives him and actually gets mad at Blanche for even questioning their relationship. It's this horribly toxic moment. But it is also a very telling moment for Stella.
Stella is the seemingly normal until this moment. It really looks like the movie is about two toxically unhealthy individuals fighting to justify their own toxicity. But it is in this moment that I realized that Stella might be the most screwed up one of the bunch. The film messes with sympathies the entire film. While Stanley is mostly unlikable throughout, he is fighting for his family to be the way he wants it to be. (It even sounds gross while writing it.) Blanche goes for underage boys and I'm never going to let her off the hook for that. But part of me believes that Blanche is so desperate to reclaim the past that she can't differentiate aging from the person. When her young husband killed himself, the love of her life, she seems to find men that remind her of him. It's really screwed up, but it is also oddly sympathetic on her part. But Stella is the only one who thinks that she is healthy. She believes that she is normal. But it is when she is continually the victim of abuse and she keeps justifying Stanley's actions as love, it becomes apparent that Stella is potentially the most screwed up person in the group.
I love this story. It's one of the AFI's greatest movies and I don't know if I can necessarily sell it that hard. The play is so much of a harder punch that the censorship of 1951 actually hinder the play a lot. The story that Blanche tells about her husband actually doesn't make a lot of sense with the homosexuality removed from the story. But it is still a powerhouse of a film and I continue to dig it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.