Bonnie and Clyde The birth of Violence in Cinema by yud98542



                        Bonnie and Clyde: The Violence of Cinema

       Although Arthur Penn‟s Bonnie and Clyde wasn‟t the first scene of violence to

light up the sliver screen, it certainly is a memorable one. The last scene depicting

Bonnie and Clyde being shot to death was an epic and violent blood bath that shocked

audiences. Even today such a violent scene shocks the already desensitized audience.

The violence shown in Bonnie and Clyde is used to create a dramatic effect as well as

create parallels of the characters to the zeitgeist of time period (1967) when the film was


       Many scholars have criticized the violence in Bonnie and Clyde as too abstract

and with no justification (McKinney, 61). The violent ending that swallows up Bonnie

and Clyde in the film‟s last scene is surprising and a rather harsh reality for the viewers.

Bonnie and Clyde become the hero‟s of the film, with all the rising action around the two.

The couple is shrewd at manipulating the public eye, and of the viewer. They embody

the idea of a modern day Robin Hood, demonstrated in the scene where Clyde lets the

homeless farmer shoot sign on his repossessed house. This sense of fighting the „man‟,

and going against the law is what captivates the audience. The exhilaration of cop chases

and shoot outs draws parallels with the original „gangster‟ Robin Hood himself. The

ending violent scene of Bonnie and Clyde where they are both brutally shot is shocking to

the viewer as we have identified with their characters and felt as though we are cheering

on the underdogs.

       Perhaps this violent end is to shock the viewer back to the realities of the

situation. After all, we have in a matter of words been „consorting‟ with criminals for the

entire film. The effect of this violent end on the viewer leaves us socked and out of sorts

with the ending. Although Bonnie and Clyde perhaps brings a moral closure to the film

with good wining over evil, the ending still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the

viewers. The violent end of the lead characters gives a strange ending scene that has

more shock value than concluding ending. The ending scene has so much violence and

gore compared to the mostly innocent shoot outs in the rest of the film that it causes a

shock to the viewer who always expects Bonnie and Clyde to getaway unscathed. As

McKinney puts it, “Bonnie and Clyde does not offer great reward, and that its reward of

violence is hollow in every way but formally.” (62)

       Though the controversial ending scene of Bonnie and Clyde may be argued as

hollow and shocking, it is still rather dramatic scene that leaves the viewers thinking at

the end of the film. Without such a memorable scene, the film may not have made such

an imprint on the viewers resulting in the film being so memorable. This is perhaps why

many films including Bonnie and Clyde have taken advantage of the shock value of

violence, such that was depicted in the closing scene. Bonnie and Clyde was filmed

during the youth movement of the 1960‟s and 1970‟s when protests and riots were

becoming violent. Bodroghkozy writes, “One could argue that the film and these

readings perpetuated the aestheticization of violence and „revolution‟ outside any context

possible.” (46) The films of the era, including Bonnie and Clyde were depicting the

influence of the zeitgeist of the day, and the resulting violent fall out. The violence

however was used to appeal to the youth audiences of the time and create a stronger

attraction to the target audience by depicting the drama and violence that the audience

would have perhaps experience in the time and the violence was therefore not so out of

context for the time.

       The Original Bonnie of the iconic Barrow gang was in real life a much less

violent person. It has in fact been reported that Bonnie was never seen to fire any of the

firearms. The portrayal of Bonnie in the file Bonnie and Clyde as a more active member

in the Barrow gang was purely for dramatic effect, but is also more appealing to the

target audience of the time of the 1960‟s revolutions. The active role of Bonnie in the

1960‟s would have appealed to the female audience because of the Bonnie‟s active

rebelling against and oppressive society (Bernstein, 18). All of the Barrow gang is

involved in rebelling against society at that time. As Bernstein puts it,

       “The final scene in the car as the couple drive to Ivan Moss‟s home from town,

       sharing and apple with Clyde wearing John Lennon-style sunglasses with one

       lens missing and Bonnie tossing her hair with a huge smile, makes them 1960‟s

       flower children in 1930‟s garb.” (19)

       The style in which the film is made makes the viewer sympathetic to the plight of

Bonnie and Clyde. Throughout the film we have been conditioned feel for the Barrow

gang, and cheer for them, despite the moral dilemmas one might have with robbing a

bank. The audience of the 1960‟s would have identified with these „revolutionaries‟ as

well as the violence the ensued them, drawing parallels to the civil rights movements that

were ongoing in the United State during this time.

       Bonnie and Clyde are captivating characters; in fact there is hardly a scene

without them. The joie de vivre of the characters and their spontaneity captures the

hippie culture of the 1960‟s. Although the film is set in the depression of the 1930‟s,

Bonnie and Clyde is able to bridge the gap between the two time periods, while being

accurate with the 1930‟s and attractive to the culture of the 1960‟s. The „Robin Hood‟

theme in the film is also attractive to the viewers in the it captivates the feelings of

fighting the oppressor which was a common feeling due to the civil rights movements of

the 1960‟s. Bonnie and Clyde win their popularity due to their take from the rich and

give to the poor attitude, though the poor would be themselves. The Barrow gang

justifies their criminal actions with the depression- they cannot survive any other way.

As one scholar puts it, “Bonnie and Clyde nevertheless seem up-to-date […] but because

of an attitude which persuades the viewer to swallow its violence: the attitude-it is

precisely nothing more- that society and normality are frauds.” (Samuels, 18) Because

the Barrow gang embody the counter culture attitude of the 1960‟s they are able to appeal

to the target audience despite their violent end.

        Violence in American culture is not new or unprecedented. The violence depicted

in the final scene of Bonnie and Clyde is accurate with the historical evidence of Bonnie

and Clyde‟s deaths. Although the violence in the final scene is in no way out of place

historically, the audience is given a jolt due to the brazenness of the violence against our

protagonists. Director Arthur Penn does not shy away from showing every aspect of the

violent ending of Bonnie and Clyde, in a very graphic and disturbing way. The love story

that began Bonnie and Clyde gave way to the war story which ended the film.

        The violence in Bonnie and Clyde is by no means glamorized. The violent scenes

in the film are increasingly violent and increasingly graphic. By the time we have

reached the climax at the end of the film, one would expect an epic shoot out. In fact

Bonnie and Clyde are aware that at some point they must die, which Bernstein

characterizes as Bonnie‟s tragic self knowledge. Bonnie demonstrates this knowledge in

the reading of the Trails End poem by the original Bonnie Parker in the film, “[…] Some

day they‟ll go down together;/ And they‟ll bury them side by side; / To few it‟ll be grief/

To the law a relief/ But it‟s death for Bonnie and Clyde.” Because of this prophecy in the

movie, we expect that eventually Bonnie and Clyde will meet a disastrous end, and

therefore the violent ending scene should not be such a shock but a more expected finish.

The violence is very real in the end and very graphic and not glamorous; perhaps why it

is so jarring to the viewers, that it is so life like. The nature of the violence isn‟t comical

or vindicating in any way, it is more of a needed finish to story of Bonnie and Clyde.

        The diagetic media in Bonnie and Clyde, are the ones guilty of any glamorizing of

the violent tale of Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie and Clyde were shrewd manipulators of the

media, and captured the heats of the public with their robberies and exploits by use of the

media being sympathetic to them. Bonnie and Clyde become celebrities in the eyes of

the mass media and its readers, because of their violent behavior, yet this glamorization

of the violence isn‟t transferred to the audience of the film. The effect that the very

graphic scene has on the audience at the end forces us to reconsider our position on the

virtues of Bonnie and Clyde‟s behavior. The jolt of action at the end of the film would

force one to reflect on our sympathizing with the main characters during the entire film,

forcing the audience to be more critical on our treatment of Bonnie and Clyde throughout

the film. Director Arthur Penn uses this shock of violence in Bonnie and Clyde to give

the audience a chance to reflect on the use of violence throughout the movie and how it

has manifested itself in the plot. The violent scene may seem unprovoked and unneeded

to some, but it would be important to note that the scene would also cause the audience to

come to terms with their treatment of the protagonists throughout the film and reflect on

the use of violence throughout.

       As one critic argues, “[…] „Bonnie and Clyde‟ is presumed to be making serious

comments about crime. So far as I can see, the comments are these: crime is joyless, it is

sick, it is less concerned with money than fame.” (Samuels, 10) Samuels argues, the

film of Bonnie and Clyde is making a commentary on the idolatry of celebrities, and that

crime does not pay in the case of Bonnie and Clyde. As the bank robberies begin to turn

violent, it is as if the film begins to punish us for enjoying the crimes of Bonnie and

Clyde. (qtd. in Samuels, 12). Bonnie and Clyde could, according Samuels be a fable

based Bonnie and Clyde‟s life in crime, through the use of the escalating violence in the

film. This being true, Samuels neglects the fact the crime was not joyless. In fact, the

crime mostly provides for the comedic relief in the film, and for the most part plays an

enjoyable part of the film. The audience, particularly the original audience of the 1960‟s,

would have been thrilled to be watching of the crime scenes in Bonnie and Clyde as it

provides the viewers with the feelings that by cheering on the protagonists, and that they

are also protesting against an oppressive society.

       Arthur Penn‟s Bonnie and Clyde makes a criticism not only on crime and

violence, but on the social culture of the 1960‟s. Bonnie and Clyde uses violence to

shock the viewer and question their moral stance that the audience held on the actions of

Bonnie and Clyde and the rest of the Barrow gang during the film. Violence in Bonnie

and Clyde is not glamorized or used as an appealing part of the crime life style; rather,

the violence is used to send a message to the viewers about the morals of crime, and the

viewers sympathizing with the criminals. The counter intuitive morals of Bonnie and

Clyde are used as an appeal to the audience of the 1960‟s era where revolution and

opposition are popular themes within society. The nature of the film Bonnie and Clyde is

to appeal to and audience, and teaches the audience a lesson on moral stance that they

take when watching the film.

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