Discuss the way in which Rebel Without a Cause and Bonnie and Clyde deal with the issue of community and identity formation. How is this portrayed differently in each film? How are the social and...
Discuss the way in which Rebel Without a Cause and Bonnie and Clyde deal with the issue of community and identity formation. How is this portrayed differently in each film? How are the social and cultural backgrounds affected by creating the world of the characters?
Rebel Without a Cause is a film that tells a story within the context of its time—the 1950s—while Bonnie and Clyde is a film that takes place during the Great Depression in the 1930s, though it was produced in the 1960s.
Nicolas Ray's 1955 film starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo addresses a theme that was common in a number of films from the decade: alienation due to an inability to conform. In a decade that valued conformity, some of the best films were those that challenged the norms of the era and explored how it felt to be someone who could not fit in.
The three actors portray teenagers who find solace in each other because they cannot find it in their communities, and they are particularly alienated from their families. The character played by Dean struggles against an overbearing mother and is desperate for a role model in his meek father. Wood's character wants affection from her family, particularly her father, but does not get it. Her father's violent reaction to her desire to kiss him affectionately reveals a subtext of discomfort with the girl's burgeoning sexuality, given his emphasis on Wood's character not being a little girl anymore. Mineo's character has no parents, but he is wealthy and cared for by the family's black maid. Wood's and Dean's characters are romantically interested in each other; Mineo's character is romantically interested in Dean. The film gives clues to the character's homosexuality by including a photo of the male movie idol, Alan Ladd, on the inside of his locker. Mineo's death in the film is necessary in order to facilitate the romance between Dean and Wood, but it is also a sign that Mineo's character is so outside society's norms that he cannot exist.
Some critics also think that Bonnie and Clyde has a queer subtext. The original script was originally going to have Barrow portrayed as a bisexual, as a result of "a claim by the author John Tolland in The Dillinger Days." (It should be noted that this claim was refuted by a member of the Barrow gang, W.D. Jones.) However, the film's producers decided against it and made Barrow impotent instead—a detail that is presented during a failed love scene between Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, who played the title characters.
As with Rebel Without a Cause, Bonnie and Clyde examines a group of misfits who form their own community with its own rules for living. The film glamorizes the pair: they are young, beautiful, and dangerous. Their main targets are banks, whose reckless proprietors had caused the Depression. Additionally, they only seem to kill authority figures who get in their way. In this regard, the film was perfect for 1967, the year in which it was released; it mirrored youth culture's own disdain for authority—particularly the police—as well as its desire to live and eke out a living on its own terms.
Unlike the characters in Ray's film, Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed as poor, restless young people from small towns who are acting out of desperation. Under these circumstances, it becomes much easier for the audience to sympathize with them and find their actions justifiable. In real life, Clyde Barrow murdered small business people, such as grocers. According to his accomplice W.D. Jones, most of their robberies were at the expense of small businesses, not banks. This fact undermines the romantic image that the film has created.