Is This Real Life; Is This Just Fantasy?

         In the words of the great Freddie Mercury, there is “No escape from reality.” While many would argue that movies should merely entertain and set a good feeling type of a tone, I would strongly disagree: what better outlet for the pains and sufferings of real life than the silver screen?

         While actors and actresses, screenwriters and directors may want to believe that they can change the course of the world, they simply cannot. Sure, many have a strong following and can be quite influential, such as the case of Oprah Winfrey campaigning for presidential hopeful, Barack Obama. However, those who campaign wildly for radical change in politics or society rarely make the impact that they were hoping to see.

         With this being said, the 1951 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire, by Elia Kazan, seems to bring certain social issues to light in an open and intelligent way. Throughout the film we see selfishness, jealousy, and physical and emotional abuse plague the characters, especially that of Stella Kowalski, played by Kim Hunter.

         In today’s society emotional abuse is seen as a very real and very harmful threat towards a person. While even today, a certain amount of these emotional attacks are tolerated or overlooked by society, the abuse suffered by Stella is far beyond the threshold of tolerable action. The character of Stanley Kowalski, played by Marlon Brando, demonstrates a selfish, jealous man who thinks very little of his wife and more of what she could bring to him. Many parts of the film really leave the viewer with a terrible feeling and a harsh glimpse of reality. But there are two that really show the degree to which Stanley disrespects women.

         One such moment is evident when Stanley, Stella and Stella’s sister, Blanche DuBois, played by Vivien Leigh, are sitting at the supper table and the phone rings. Blanche is expecting a call and informs Stanley that it is probably for her, to which he responds: “Just keep your seat, I’m not so sure!” When Stanley begins to speak with the person on the other end of the line he abruptly stops speaking to shout at Blanche to “shut up” in a voice loud enough to be heard on the other end. He then proceeds to announce to the caller that there is “a noisy woman in the house.”

         This display of disrespect towards women is very blunt and in my opinion, quite significant in showing the social issue of treatment of women. A respectable man would never say such things to a lady in a serious manner, let alone in the angry and hateful tone that Stanley uses with Blanche. This is only compounded by the fact that Stanley is on the phone with another individual who could hear the entire thing, which surely leads to undue embarrassment for Blanche.

         The second such event comes when Stella and Stanley are in the room with all of Blanche’s possessions. Stanley begins to snoop around in the belongings of Blanche only to become paranoid and jealous. As he pilfers through Blanche’s travel chest he pulls out dresses and firs and feathers that he believes to be far from affordable on a teacher’s salary. As he digs deeper into the chest he also finds strands of pearls and golden bracelets and what he believes to be a diamond crown. These discoveries lead Stanley to believe that either Blanche is hiding money from Stella or that Stella is even hiding an inheritance from Stanley himself.

         If not for jealously and selfishness, what reason would Stanley have for questioning the origin of these belongings? He even goes so far as to tell Stella that under Louisiana’s law (based on Napoleonic code) he would be the rightful owner of any property that is owed to Stella. This makes it extremely clear that to Stanley, Stella is nothing more than a possession.

         The character of Stanley is further revealed in a culmination of the story ending with his raping Blanche and basically driving her to insanity. While many would argue that Blanche was never fully sane, the fact remains that, had it not been for the time spent with Stanley and the abuse that he has inflicted upon both of these women, Blanche would have ended up in a much different situation.

         This movie, without a doubt, does an excellent job in depicting the social issues such as abuse that have been discussed. While it is entertaining to and exciting to watch a fictional movie without addressing social issues, it cannot be denied that the depiction of such intense scenes seems to solidify the importance of such issues. Without such depictions these social issues may otherwise have taken much longer to be brought to light and may have slowed the process of correcting these moral wrongs within American society. While it is hard to point out specific events that turned the tide for women’s issues in this country, it is certainly fair to say that Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan did a service to all of us by bringing these issues to the forefront in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Jayson Spain

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