Stanley versus Torvald: Who Is Worse?

     Society not only takes the responsibility of shaping the world into who we are, but it also takes the responsibility of showing how we are. In the film industry, writers, directors, and actors have the opportunity to portray humans as we really are or dress us up and keep negativity on a low key. Whether the viewers of a film recognize the characters as true portrayals or not is up to them. But in two distinct movies, A Streetcar Named Desire, directed in 1951 and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play by Elia Kazan, and A Doll's House, directed in 1973 by Patrick Garland and based on Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, the lifestyles of two men are depicted on screen. Though the stories are quite different, the roles of these men, Stanley (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Torvald (A Doll's House), are very similar.

     In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley (Marlon Brando) is married to Stella (Kim Hunter), and they are about to have a child together. However, things are disrupted when Stella's sister, Blanche (Vivien Leigh), comes to visit. Since the movie basically begins at that point, we never get a glimpse of how Stanley and Stella interact before, but from what we do see, we can guess it is no different.

     Stanley is very abusive towards Stella. He is loud, always yelling at her and her sister to be quiet. It appears that Stanley is a hard worker; and, at the end of the day, he takes his frustrations out on his frail wife. Every fight ends with Stella running upstairs to get away from Stanley. However, she returns to him later; they make up, have sex; and everything is peachy until the next fight. The relationship is very weak and damaging to both people, especially Stella. But, in the end, she leaves Stanley for, what we are supposed to believe, the last time. Unfortunately, I do not buy it. I believe Stella does return to Stanley because they have a baby to take care of and raise, and society tells women that they need a man to survive.

     Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) is no different in A Doll's House, though his abusive behavior is more emotional and mental. The couple does have children to raise, but they are pushed to the sidelines, and the focus is on Torvald and Nora (Claire Bloom). Torvald belittles Nora to the extreme, in my opinion. He calls her by pet names such as "mouse," "sparrow," etc. These are not cute names for someone's wife. These are names of frail, naive, and timid animals. The problem with Nora is she sees this attention as love. And even worse, Torvald does not realize the damage he is doing to Nora. Because of society's social rules and traditions, it difficult for Nora to leave. She cannot even have her own bank account!

     The problem with these characters portrayed like this is not the negative influence it might have on viewers, but it is the fact that times were actually like this. Thankfully, times have changed. However, these images of men and women are still very much with us. And I long for the day when more movies like Thelma and Louise, and Waiting to Exhale come out, celebrating women and their strengths as individuals.

Barbara Kern

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