I Feel Abused

         Most of my interest walking into Elia Kazan's 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, was in Marlon Brando. I loved him when he worked with Francis Ford Coppola and with Johnny Depp, and I even enjoyed that Frank Oz heist flick with Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, although he did not like Oz and De Niro directed his scenes. He is a fantastic actor, and I hoped for the best . . .then I read Tennessee Williams' play, and I feel a little abused myself.&

         Maybe somebody could get something good from Streetcar about abuse that is productive, but I am not really sure how. Maybe you could see that Stella (Kim Hunter) is kind of stupid, or maybe you somehow felt that in the end she left for good. When she runs upstairs at the end of the film, did anybody really think people would cheer her on for that bold step? The reason for my feeling abused is the film and play's story pyrotechnics. There is place for some fine acting and all, but the story, I felt, did nothing special. I reached the point of rage at the climax. This is what the whole thing was building up to? A willingly abused Stella is wife to a lumbering, one-dimensional man who seeks only what he wants and will break anything for it. Why does he want to rape Blanche (Vivien Leigh)?--for readers to say, "Oh, look. What a risky writer!" Well, ain't that special. Throw in a bunch of symbolism to be clever, and voilà, a praised work of art.

         I felt similarly distressed with the recent Pedro Almodóvar film, Talk to Her, which I will spoil here for the sake of my point. Talk to Her also resorts to a rape and does so with a supposedly lovable character who was spending time with the woman he loved. Instead of the potential sweetness in the relationship between a comatose woman and a caring doctor, I felt dirty afterward. The whole time, the film lingers on this woman's naked body as he massages her and so forth. Is this all based on a twisted perversion? It got everybody's praise, so for award's sake, the film makers won with an artsy-fartsy, well-shot,well-performed film--a shame, really.

         I do no mind when a story takes us into dark corners. One of my favorite films is David Fincher's Seven, for example. And I also love Requiem for a Dream. These films and stories plunge into dark psychological territory, leaving me breathless; and, when they were over, I found myself emotionally pulled and psychologically intrigued. There was a genuine humanity in the films, and that is what Streetcar lacked, I think. It is hard to put what exactly failed into words, but the difference is monumental. Requiem is just like that, a love song for the dead. A heart and humanity exist here, and neither is lurid for the sake of being lurid and vying for critical accolades. It genuinely worked, and nobody, in my opinion, looking for an eye into abuse or craftsmanship need bother with Streetcar.

Jesse Gilstrap

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