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Introduction Bonnie Parker Thelma Dickinson & Louise Sawyer
Alabama Worley Conclusion Femme Finale

bonnie!       Barring the snapshots shown in conjunction with the opening credits, the first image presented to the audience in the film Bonnie & Clyde (co-written by David Newman and Robert Benton and directed by Arthur Penn) is an extreme close-up of Bonnie’s (played by Faye Dunaway) lips. Penn brings the camera in tight, focusing only on them as Bonnie applies some gloss. This is undeniably a very strong image. One’s mouth is usually the major source of communication and can often define the self and exemplify autonomy. Here, Bonnie’s mouth is shown in a disjointed manner, not connected to her entire image. Also, Penn lingers on the process of her applying the gloss or covering up her source of communication. All of this is further amplified by the lack of sound during this slow sequence. Penn then pans back to show Bonnie (naked) gazing at her reflection. This scene echoes Lacan’s theory of the ‘imaginary’:
"The ‘imaginary is a state in which there is no clear distinction between subject and object: no central self exists to set object apart from subject. In the pre-linguistic ‘mirror phase’ the child, from within this ‘imaginary’ state of being starts to project a certain unity into the fragmented self-image in the mirror (there does not have to be an actual mirror [but Penn provides one]); he or she produces a ‘fictional’ ideal, an ‘ego’. This...image is still partly imaginary,...but also partly differentiated as ‘another’. (Seldon)

      Automatically, the extreme close-up of Bonnie’s mouth works to objectify her. And, as Penn widens the shot, and one can view the interplay of Bonnie and her reflection, this juxtaposition between object and subject lends to the idea that she is looking to find a ‘self’. Bonnie then goes back to the bed, lies down, and beats her hands against the bars of the bed, further conveying this sense of confusion and frustration. It is in this mode, that she first encounters Clyde, spying him through her window.

      Here, the window becomes a symbolic ‘mirror’, framing both Bonnie and then Clyde in a shot to shot sequence during their first conversation, and the first dialogue of the film. Through this exchange, the substitution of Clyde as ‘another’ or the ‘ego’ for Bonnie becomes actively apparent. Sharing a coke and the secret of his gun, Bonnie asserts that surely Clyde does not "have the gumption to use it." Easily goaded, Clyde quickly proves Bonnie wrong and their adventure ensues.

      Although she exercised some power or say in the initial events of their encounter (telling him to stay, and then getting him to rob the store) one immediately notes how far her control goes (not very) when she becomes amorous with Clyde in the getaway car and he soundly rejects her. Clyde then proceeds to tell her that she is worth more than that (‘physicality’) and so begins the process of Bonnie assuming both Clyde’s own identity and the identity he wants for her as well. As all road movies go, Bonnie and Clyde end up ensconced in a booth at the obligatory American Diner. And, as if the previous scene beside the getaway car was not enough, Clyde literally goes on to tell Bonnie her past completely and unabridged, stumbling only over the color of her waitress uniform (pink) and the profession of her ex-beau (pass). Bonnie accepts all of this somewhat eagerly, quickly changing her hair after Clyde points and says "I don’t like that, change it."

      One car theft later and a nap, brings the audience to Bonnie’s final stage in her pseudo-metamorphosis. The scene opens with Bonnie waking up on a car seat (symbolic of her birth on the road) in the middle of an abandoned/repossessed farmhouse. Disoriented and confused, she frantically calls for Clyde. No need for mirrors here, Penn graciously offers a hollowed screen-door frame that Bonnie and Clyde approach together, shown in a follow shot so it appears that Bonnie is seeing her image when she looks at Clyde. This image becomes cemented and the process fulfilled when Clyde places his gun into her hand. Perhaps thinking his potency (represented by the gun here) too much for her to handle, Clyde shows some deference to Bonnie’s last vestige of femininity and assures her that he would get a Smith & Wesson for her "cause its easier to handle."

      As the rest of the story unfolds, Bonnie comes to physically resemble the image of Clyde more, complete with rakish hat, tie and gun. "The imaginary relationship with the other occurs in a dual situation which is primarily narcissistic. Aggressiveness and identification with the image of the other predominate at this stage." (Penley, 25) Although there are a few instances where Bonnie seems to be holding her own, one is suddenly reminded that she is only ‘mirroring’ Clyde’s actions, and that she is still capable of being reduced or signified, or in Levi-Strauss’ terms "no more than an ‘empty sign’ exchanged by men." This happens when Clyde’s brother Buck comes to visit, and finding himself alone with Clyde immediately asks, complete with lecherous bravado, "what I want to know is son, is she as good as she looks?" To this, Clyde (impotent lying fool that he is) replies "Better." Now, that is a truly ‘empty’ sign exchanged by men. The camera effects work to perpetuate this theme, with Penn focusing solely on parts of Bonnie’s face and only showing her in a shot alone in response to something directed by Clyde, during most of the film.

      When Bonnie gains/re-gains some footing during parts of the film, she inevitable loses it as soon as the plan is executed. Such is the case when she suggests that they pose with the Sheriff that they capture, and later, when she wants to go visit her mama. There she is acutely isolated from the rest of the family, and after trying to force this uncomfortable situation is shown physically removed as well, silently traversing an empty field. critic Pauline Kael refers to this scene as "...perverse...unconvincing---incompletely motivated [Bonnie] doesn’t seem to belong...as the others do."(Kael, 58) Later, during the fatal (Buck dies) attack at Iowa, Bonnie is shown fighting as violently as Clyde and they each sustain a wound to the shoulder. Where Clyde does not drop or appear to be phased, Bonnie is depicted in direct opposition. Almost leveled , she has to be carried through the river by C.W. and Clyde. After which, Clyde is shown saving the day (moment, really) when he steals yet another car to drive them to safety.

      Towards the end of the film, Bonnie composes a poem depicting their exploits which serves to establish Clyde as a legend through the medium of print. Thrilled with this version of immortality, Clyde rewards Bonnie with sex. Somehow, this movement back to things natural provides room for Bonnie to re-assume some feminine qualities (indicative of the times) with softer dress, pillow talk, and grocery shopping. In the end, however, no journey has been made, no ‘self’ found. Bonnie dies where she was ‘symbolically’ birthed, on a car seat not far from Clyde. score one for the femmes!


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