Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On the simplest level one might say that the readers and the audience of “Bijou” both get an obvious message about repression and violence, about the brutalization of peasants and the audience’s involvement in the cruelty because of the CIA’s role in overthrowing the rebels. The thematic thrust of the film also concerns freedom of speech, so it might be argued that the film is an allegory on that theme. The narrator speculates that although the audience may gasp and stare in silence, they have been conditioned to accept, even to expect, such violence on screen. Of course the same might be said for the readers, who also accept the violence of this story.

While the film audience within the story reflects on the significance of the terrifying film they have been watching, readers reflect on both the content of the film and the narrator’s description of the audience’s reactions. In effect, the story is about being an audience. Readers are told that members of the audience think they are at the festival not to “censor but to discern.” That is, they see their role as essentially passive, simply to respond to what they see, not to think about it or to take action. They seem most concerned with issues that appear abstract and “academic.” Is the film’s violence a “statement,” or “merely further exploitation”? “Is this perhaps the Cinema of Cruelty?”

The fact that the audience is so stunned and confused at the end (are they angry at the “oppressors” or at the film?) and that one critic even claims that the “ultimate praise” for a film is that it causes us “to confuse celluloid images with flesh and blood” suggests how powerful art, whether a film or a story, can be. It implicitly warns people against complacency or neutrality (the comfortable objectivity of the audience and critic). The image of the indigo tongue working on a husk of popcorn mocks the audience, which at the end is reminded that they, too, are actually part of the human drama they have witnessed. The readers might add their own names to the credits as well.