Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

         “Hey, STELLA!!!” Stanley Kowalski famously shouts for his wife in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire. Based on the 1947 play by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan, Streetcar shows a theme of desperation through the three main characters: Stella, Stanley, and Blanche DuBois.

         Sexually, Stella (Kim Hunter) is desperate for her husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando). Throughout the film, it seems the only thing attaching her to the abusive Stanley is sexual attraction. For this is first demonstrated when her sister Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh) arrives in New Orleans on the streetcar named Desire. Having never met her brother-in-law, Blanche is curious to know that her little sister is in good hands. Yet, the only thing that Stella really has to say about her husband is his handsome looks. She immediately shows a portrait of Stanley in his army gear to show off her man. Then, Stanley arrives after a night out with the boys, drunk and brutish acting more like a Neanderthal than a loving husband: “He has an animal's habits. There's even something subhuman about him. Thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is. Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the Stone Age, bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle.” Blanche already was less than thrilled with her sister’s life after seeing the rundown living space, but seeing the wild animal bursting through the door sent her spiraling down in disapproval.

         As the movie progresses, many of Stanley’s actions even more support his image as an animal, and the audience is left wondering why Stella puts up with this behavior. For, Stella appears to be a down-to-earth, strong girl from a good upbringing. Yet, the audience also sees the dashing, sexy good looks of Stanley. Made up of defined muscle, deep-set brown eyes, and dark hair, Marlon Brando is a beauty, and he also sports a sexy uniform in this movie: a tight white t-shirt belted with fitting dark trousers. Besides his good looks, he exudes a primal sexuality that adds his list of animalistic characteristics. His sexuality seems to be magnetic and is so powerful that it completely fills the rooms of his apartment. This magnetism prevents Stella from wandering away, as seen after he violently hits her in the apartment after a drunken rage. Stella runs out and seeks solace in her neighbor’s place, claiming to never see him again. Yet, when Stanley sobers up and realizes what he did, he desperately calls her. The magnetic attraction is too strong; and Stella, almost appearing to be sexually entranced, walks out of her neighbor’s apartment despite the warnings of her friend and sister. Stanley is her siren; and, responding to his voice, she slowly and sultrily descends the stairwell back into his arms. They passionately embrace, and he carries her back into the apartment to make love. The next morning, Blanche, worrying about the safety of her sister, runs in to find Stella still in the bed naked wrapped up in the sheets. Blanche is aware of what is going on: “What you are talking about is desire--just brutal Desire.” Content and fulfilled, Stella seems to have forgotten any violence that Stanley exhibited. She still seems to be under the sexual spell of Stanley, yet reality soon sets in.

         Despite his powerful demeanor, Stanley also is a character that exhibits deep desperation. He too is dependent on Stella, for there are two sides in a codependent relationship. Without Stella, Stanley appears to crumble as exhibited in the stairwell scene. He believes that he needs her in order to continue living, but his dependency appears to be more emotional than Stella’s. Being about as brutish as it gets, Stanley needs the opposite of his characteristics to complement him: gentleness, support, and graciousness, and Stella possesses all three of these. In addition, Stanley is desperate for power. He wants to rule over everyone around him and have the last word, no matter what consequences. If Stella is taken away, however, then his power diminishes. His thirst for power is not only seen with his wife, but also with his friends on boys’ night out. It seems that throughout the whole movie, Stanley is shouting; this shouting suggests desperation to be heard and taken seriously. This is most greatly shown through his treatment of Blanche. Stanley immediately feels Blanche’s judgment of him and quickly responds in a condescending fashion, for he does not want anyone to make him feel inferior, especially in his own house. In the way he responds to her calling him a Pollack, there is an implication that Stanley has had a history with discrimination: “I am not a Pollack. People from Poland are Poles. They are not Pollacks. But what I am is one hundred percent American. I'm born and raised in the greatest country on this earth and I'm proud of it. And don't you ever call me a Pollack.” This influences his extreme need to be in control: “What do you think you are? A pair of queens? Now just remember what Huey Long said--that every man's a king--and I'm the King around here, and don't you forget it.” The maximum demonstration of his desperation for control is seen through his rape of the fragile Blanche while his wife is in the hospital about to go into labor. Stanley seems to be at a breaking point.

         Lastly, the character of Blanche exhibits severe emotional and mental desperation. Blanche, having run away from the demons in her past, has created an alternate reality for her mind to live in so that she can cope with the world. Haunted by her young love’s suicide, Blanche seeks everyday to hush the voices and sounds of gunshots in her head. Her attempt to do so has led her to get completely lost in her alternate reality with no way out without help. After she is kicked out of her teaching job because of a sexual affair with her young student, the fragile Blanche is inches away from her breaking point when she arrives in New Orleans. Despite her instability and low stature in society, she still sees herself above others around her and most prominently, Stanley. She still keeps the illusion that she is a young, well-bred virginal beauty unaware of the ways of the world and charming her way through life. Yet, this is all a façade: “I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don't tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.” She stays in her fog through various methods including veering away from lighting: “I can't stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.” In order to avoid admitting her true age, she floats around in the shaded areas of life literally and figuratively. According to what she says, Blanche used to be a true beauty and made her looks her greatest identity on which to rely. After aging and hard times, Blanche still believes that her image is her only identity and constantly obsesses over her weight and appearance by wearing frilly dresses and pearls. In truth, Blanche is quite a catch, for she is attractive, highly educated, and familiar with the ways of the rich. For instance, while she stays with her sister, the apartment slowly receives a makeover. Yet, her fake image can only last so long with the new audience in New Orleans, and not much longer even with herself. She is about to be pushed over the edge by Stanley who is seeking to humble the only person he feels inferior to in order to gain his power back. Blanche immediately plunges into insanity and complete abandonment of reality. This leads to Stella calling the Doctors to take her away into a psychiatric facility.

         Desperate times call for desperate measures, and all three of the main characters are panging for different needs to get them through life. After Stanley’s rape of Blanche, he feels that he gained his power back and that he is the one at the top of the hill, yet the exact opposite is true. For Blanche, the victim, ends up influencing everyone around her, serving as a catalyst for action. Therefore, her influence is power that proves to be stronger than Stanley’s. For, Blanche goes willingly to seek help and solace in a facility and gives Stella the courage to finally leave Stanley. Ironically, the only one remaining in desperation is the muscled, animalistic character of Stanley. He no longer has the last word.

Sarah Landolt

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