Admirable for an Agenda

         If I were to teach one of the film-literature combinations to a group with a specific agenda, and say that agenda would be abusive relationships. I would first choose Tennessee Williams' 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan. One would be hard pressed to find a better example of an abusive relationship in the works we have studied throughout the duration of this class. They make the Helmers of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House look like Ozzie and Harriet.

         We find classic traits of a dysfunctional couple when observing the blue loved shared by Stanley (Marlon Brando), and Stella (Kim Hunter) Kowalski. The term "blue" love is term that describes a number of characteristics in said relationship that stand out to me. It is a reference to the blue-collar livelihood of Mr. Kowalski; furthermore it refers to the blue misery that seems to be the lifeblood of this twisted love affair.

         Stella thrives off of Stanley's rage. She is sexually attracted to his animalistic side, which he is never hesitant to show. She makes no secret of this; she told her sister, Blanche Dubois (portrayed by Vivien Leigh in the film and Jessica Tandy on stage), that she had been excited by him when he had gone throughout the apartment shattering the light bulbs in an uncontrollable rage on their wedding night. We see an example of this attraction in one of the film's most famous scenes. As Stanley bellows Stella's name in the courtyard up to the window of their upstairs neighbor's apartment, Stella finds herself overcome with desire for her hotheaded husband. She descends down the terrace radiated sexual heat and, desire; a desire that only an animal like Stanley can bring out in her. Not unlike woman that stay with the men who beat them, Stella is in love with the violence of Stanley.

         A well-known fact about A Streetcar Named Desireis that the film's story is altered due to censorship from the original Tennessee Williams play. The differences are subtle; however, they do much to change the story. One of the changes is the ending. In the play Stella goes back to Stanley. She has built a reliance on the brute to powerful to overcome. This is important to the story. In the film, however, open to interpretation, she leaves him. The reason of course is the rape of her sister, Blanche; a desperate act of control on Stanley's part. In the original work Williams wanted to make it clear that she cannot live without the abuse. Stella is by all means a glutton for punishment.

         Many women in such an unhealthy relationship find that they would rather stay with their spouse than leave him. There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes the woman feels that she has a responsibility to take care of the wavered man.

         "What will become of him if I were to leave?" Is a question that such a woman may ask? Then there is the overwhelming emotion of fear.

         "What will he do to me if I try?" There are many women who prefer the status quo to the unknown, however unpleasant the present may be.

         The reaction of my group to my choice of example would undoubtedly be positive. It is easy to understand why this choice of literary work would serve as such a fine example in this particular study. The only other couple that comes to mind when studying the issue of abusive relationships is the Helmers. Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) and Nora (Claire Bloom) as portrayed in one of the 1973 film versions. The abuse in that twisted love affair is of course of a different nature then the former example. It is an emotional disrespect; the cruelty of a man who does not see his wife as an equal, and the manipulative skills of a woman using her husband for her own benefit. This marriage may not be as violent as the Kowalski's down in the Big Easy, but it is every bit as abusive. The Helmers are a fine example of a marriage that is sour due to a lack of mutual respect. Some of the members of my focus group may or may not agree with my choice here. Some people are under the impression that there must be some form of physical violence for a relationship to be abusive.

         Now that examples I would use have been presented, I shall present some examples that would not make the cut. My Fair Lady, directed in 1964 by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, Although not intimate, the relationship Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) shared with Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) was indeed a relationship. Although seemingly unhealthy there is a mutual respect between the professor and the flower girl. It may be hard to see in the beginning, but at the end it is obvious.

         Another couple I would exclude from my exclusive club would have to be Catherine (Merle Oberon) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) of Wuthering Heights, written in 1847 by Emily Brontė and filmed in 1939 by William Wyler). Even though the two suffered a tragic end, and I am not denying that Heathcliff could have used some form of therapy, they really did have a sweet love for each other.

         One may wonder why I am excluding Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) and Morris (Montgomery Clift) of Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, filmed in 1949 by William Wyler. The answer is simple. The two never had a relationship. They came close, but they would not ever quite make it to that point.

         At any rate I trust my examples have made my points for me. I believe that the very human dramas we have focused on in this class are true examples of various types of realistic relationships and would prove a fine study for such a focus group.

Andreas Shabaan

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