Tuesday, February 18, 2020

#2020PopCultureResolution - A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire

Director: Elia Kazan

Length:  122 minutes

Cast: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter

Release Date: September 19, 1951

Synopsis: Blanche DuBois, a young woman, must take a streetcar to her sister's house in New Orleans. She faces scorn from her brother-in-law and simultaneously gets attracted to his friend.

**Spoilers Included Below**

A Streetcar Named Desire was my introduction to Tennessee Williams plays. This Southern Gothic is, perhaps, one of his most well known. It was also my introduction to Marlon Brando. I had not seen a movie with him in it previous to this. Pretty unbelievable, right? I am sure everyone is screaming at me to watch The Godfather immediately (don't worry, I am on it).

I have a bunch of jumbled thoughts about this movie. My main takeaways were that Stanley Kowalski is the absolute worst, and that young Marlon Brando was ridiculously good looking.    

A very basic description of the plot would be that a woman who is attempting to run from her scandal filled past goes to see her sister and her sister's husband. Things do not turn out well for her at all. 

This might just be one of the most well acted movies that I have ever seen. The entire cast is at the top of their game, but special mention must be made of Vivien Leigh's ability to play fragile and broken so convincingly. She's on another level entirely.

Marlon Brando's performance showcases why he became as revered as he was. He is captivating, and mesmerizing while on screen. You cannot take your eyes off him. Much is made of Marlon Brando being the one to popularize the Stanislavski  method of acting (aka method acting). His style was something new and electric at the time and I think that comes through in this performance.

I didn't know much about the plot before sitting down to watch. I knew of the iconic 'Stella!' scene and another iconic line of dialogue but otherwise I was not familiar with the major plot points.  Needless to say, I was not prepared for the complete awfulness of Stanley Kowalski. He is a brute, and exudes a particular kind of toxic masculinity that is wrapped up in violence and aggression. 

Stanley cannot be seen as anything other than a villain. He is antagonistic from the moment he meets Blanche because he feels she has withheld an inheritance from his wife (and her sister) Stella. Blanche and Stanley are at odds as he finds her Southern Belle demeanor infuriating, and she considers him unrefined and vulgar. Blanche very much represents the past and the Old South, while Stanley represents the harsher present of the New South. Blanche's fantasy world is encroached upon, and finally violently decimated, by Stanley's more boorish nature. His behaviour leads to the fracturing of Blanche's already fragile mental state and finally, in one violent act, the complete breakdown of it. 

A Streetcar Named Desire is a story of realism and fantasy. It's also a story of desire and sex in a lot of ways. It also focuses on rape and its connection to the downfall of women. We see that the rape of Blanche is responsible for the fracture of what remains of her already fragile mental state. However, we also see that her desire has caused her financial ruin when she lost her job because of an affair with a student, and destroyed her reputation because of her behaving in other ways that society deemed improper This affair would, if the student was young, be considered statutory rape today. Her desire is ultimately what leads Blanche to these events and her downfall whether that is the desire for someone or something (such as her desire to remain young and beautiful).

Based on this, and the few other details I have heard, I am going to guess that most of  Tennessee Williams' plays are as bleak as this one. It may not have a happy ending, but it does offer up a fascinating character study. The story itself is heightened by the incredible performances of the entire cast. Definitely worth watching for those looking to have a well rounded knowledge of classic Hollywood 

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