Arthur  Penn’s American Apocalypse:  Part Two: Bonnie and Clyde

When Jane Fonda’s Anna Reeves stands at the crossroads of that small Texas town at the end of “The Chase,” she is about to cross over into the Twilight Zone, where she has transformed into Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker, standing nude in a window, waiting for the right man to help her escape from this Depression-era hellhole in which she has found herself.

Not a lot has changed in  35 years since Sheriff Calder’s daddy lost his farm. In the depression, honest people were even then being robbed by the banks.  But Clyde Barrow is putting himself and Bonnie on the line by living out a reversal of this scenario.  Not to whitewash Bonnie and Clyde, as Woody Guthrie did Pretty Boy Floyd, by making them out to be some kind of Robin Hood saints.  They were thoroughly bad. But we don’t cheer on the outlaws because of their badness.  We cheer them on because they are alive and everyone else in their world seems stupid and dead.

Even the characters with personality, such as getaway driver C.W. Moss (Michael J.Pollard) and Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) are borderline retards. Clyde himself is a nickel short of a ten-cent brain, but at least he has passion, even though he is a sexual deadbeat. He has drive and ambition.  The depression hasn’t turned him into a straw-filled zombie.  Like Dr. Miles J. Bennell in Don Siegal’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” all he really needs to do is stay awake.

And kill anyone who threatens him.  When we cheer the killing, we are not registering the fact that Clyde is murdering human beings.  He is clearing out the zombies that block his escape route.  If only he had knocked off  brother Buck’s wife Blanche before her incessant whine escalated to a four-alarm screech. Nobody watching “Bonnie and Clyde” can convince me they wouldn’t have taken pleasure in blasting her out of the picture. But Clyde still respects the tradition of family ties, and endures her regardless of the danger she puts everybody in.

With Jane/Faye we are in completely different waters.  This is a woman who crisscrosses history with a burning fuse in her chaos box.  And always with the wrong man.  Clyde is a reverse Joe Buck.  He ain’t no stud, but he’s a hell of a bank robber.  What Bonnie needs is a stud, not an impotent ex-con on the run like Clyde or Bubber Reeves. It is only a matter of time before she becomes bored with a suitcase filled with money  that she cant spend and a bed partner with numb nuts.  But compared to Blanche and the undertaker’s wife Velma, Bonnie Parker is a prize.

As the road gets tighter, there is no place Bonnie would rather be than close to her mother.  But she is a fugitive with no hope of settling down.  The only family she has is Clyde, and he is on a straight run to death.  The movie’s final scene always shocks us, not because of its slow-motion violence and excess of bullet holes, but because it reinforces our own feeling that there is no escape from this world of morons and zombies.  And for Jane/Faye it is even worse.  Because after she gazes on Clyde for the last time before death closes her eyes, she will find herself in another time and place, as trapped as ever, with no hope of ever breaking the chain.

 

Next:  Alice’s Restuarant

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