Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Bonnie and Clyde and Jake

The pride that I feel - being a little behind in my studies as I am - at having further neglected them by going out tonight to the cinematheque to see this film and now by writing about it, is kind of thematically appropriate to what I'd like to talk about.

Watching this film tonight (this wasn't my first viewing) I was suddenly very forcefully reminded of Raging Bull. For one, both movies are very commonly misrepresented. They call Raging Bull a boxing film and they call Bonnie and Clyde a crime adventure. They're not. They're both individualist tragedies about bad people - or at least people who do very bad things - but who "at least ain't no liars", as Clyde says of himself at one point. These guys are real. They have no lie in them. For Jake La Motta this is possibly his one, solitary saving grace; for Bonnie and Clyde this makes them veritable heroes - it exonerates them in the eyes of the audience from the fact that they actually kill people, without having these killings glossed over.

All three of these people are, frankly, stupid, impulsive, destructive individuals. They seem about as close as you can come to being human trash without being actually evil. But they're not phonies. They're not that type of person whose very existence is exhausting and depressing to contemplate. In this film particularly, every authority figure - every representative of the "establishment", whether he's actively trying to repress them or not - is Nurse Ratched. Let them be murderers, but don't let them be so fucking fake.

I don't actually think killing people is alright. But it's a good image, especially for a tragedy. Beating up women, for instance, is less successful (or relatable) as a metaphor for breaking out of a repressive society, which is probably part of the reason it isn't. I think the place where we relate is in the reaction of people to these behaviours. Bonnie and Clyde and Jake would be good people, if they weren't so stupid and childish and irresponsible. They try to be who they are, presumably because that's the only thing they know how to be, and society reacts with disgust - a disgust mingled with a measure of primitive admiration, but still essentially disgust, with no actual respect.

And this reaction is appropriate here. Jake La Motta is a thug who abuses his wife, and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are murderers who seriously jeopardise the rule of law. And these are historical people who actually did these things. BUT - to come to what will stand in for my point here - it is not only destructiveness such as this that is responded to in exactly the same way, under the same paradigm, with the same feeling of sanctimonious justification.

My experience of human beings is - and I'm sure many would take issue with this claim - that all expressions of eccentricity are generally met with an essentially moral condemnation - an implication and accusation of childish, untenable, dangerous recklessness. Most often this will come in the form of mockery - of casual de-legitimisation, but sometimes it will be more honest and, at least to me, more immediately ridiculous. You'll be told you're not a part of the group enough, not Jewish, Zionist, leftist, cosmopolitan, anarchist enough. Still, more often mockery. The people who have the courage to be who they are without dousing themselves in bullshit expose themselves to ridicule. They will tell the world who they are and the world will respond with a hearty condescending smugly disapproving laugh.

This is where I get stuck. I can't decide whether I want to or can have anything to do with the people who respond to things this way. There's got to be a better option than shooting at them until you are outshot. The least you can do is not take it lying down. To learn, as I keep trying to practise in this blog, to say "fuck you then".