I think from a young age we all hear about Bonnie and Clyde but it wasn’t until I was older I actually understood who they were and I think that’s pretty much the case for most people. We hear those names as an integral part of pop culture. We see the love story of the outlaws played out again and again throughout history, sometimes without even realizing it but why? Why despite being deeply flawed and unhealthy relationships, is this type of love story so important to us as a society? Why has it stood the test of time and changing fashions? Today I look at 4 of my favorite “Bonnie and Clyde” stories through the years, finding the similarities and trying to piece it together.
1. Lifetime’s Bonnie and Clyde (2013)
I realize that Lifetime movies have a notorious reputation for being bad but this mini-series actually did pretty well and I enjoyed it, both from an artistic point of view and also for pure entertainment value. I also realize that this movie is by no means the most honest account of their story but even as it was actually happening the story was glamorized by the media and it’s very difficult to tell what was true or what wasn’t. We will never know the intricacies of their relationship but considering this post is about Bonnie and Clyde’s role in media and pop culture this version seems like the best to analyze. The opening scene of the movie, portraying Bonnie as Clyde’s angel, reveals two things very important to the story. It first presents the idea that their love transcends the ages and the bounds of reality, that they are so incredibly meant to be that before either of them even knew what love was, they knew of each other. However, the fact that such an ethereal sequence is their first encounter it also leads us to question the validity of their relationship. If in the first scene Bonnie is portrayed as this being that’s not quite real that could be making a statement about the character or the rest of the relationship. Just like Bonnie is an unattainable vision in a dream then could that be a statement of the unattainable love they try to achieve. One of the main flaws of the relationship portrayed in this movie is Clyde’s willingness to fuel his lover’s obsessions. His entire life he has been trying to get Bonnie Parker and she’s always been just a little out of his reach, now that he has her he will promise her the world to make sure it stays that way. On their first date he promises to be the man who will make all her dreams come true and for a woman who has been denied her dreams again and again and feels like her life is wasting away in the pursuit of them, a promise like that is important. From her fits to her obsession with fame we see that Bonnie is not altogether mentally healthy and Clyde only helps to fuel this small level of insanity (most vividly in the sequences where she is dancing on stage in an empty theater with only Clyde to cheer her on). This is one of the main driving forces of the plot and from little things like the first job to the photos that were sent to newspapers so Bonnie would be happy, Clyde will eventually “get shot 37 times trying to give my Bonnie Parker her big ending.” He realizes that her obsession with fame isn’t normal but he wants so badly to make her happy he doesn’t care what it takes.
This film follows Wynona Rider and Christian Slater as two teens (Veronica and JD) trying to right the social structure of their 1980’s high school in a pretty twisted way and it is one of my absolute favorite movies (I will say that it is best to go into it with very minimal knowledge and while I will try to keep this spoiler-free I can’t promise it’ll be perfect so proceed at your own discretion). Once again we see a pair where one person wants to escape their current situation and the other borders on a serious mental illness. Veronica knows at the back of her mind that what they’re doing isn’t right and that JD himself isn’t altogether sane (most obviously displayed in the dream sequence, showing that Veronica’s subconscious recognizes these flaws while her waking self may not want to admit it). Veronica ignores her instincts and her morals because she trusts JD and she believes he is the key to leaving her old self behind and maybe his extremist ways are the way for her to truly shed the popular girl skin she used to wear. Just like Clyde offered Bonnie fame, JD offered Veronica abandon and a way to truly express herself and rise against those who she felt had held her back or forced her into a box and in both instances, the pursuit of these gains led to more loss than any of them thought possible. Another similarity between the two stories is the idea of trying to break the constraints of your time period and rising above them. Bonnie and Clyde took to crime to rise against the economic situation and government authority of the 1930s, JD and Veronica find their own way to rise up against the idea of high school popularity in the 1980s. Both JD and Bonnie want to do something that will live beyond them, something monumental, to be a part of something bigger.
3. True Romance
This film follows Christian Slater (can you tell I like him?) and Patricia Arquette as Clarence Worley and Alabama, a regular joe and a “calling girl” who fall in love at a moments notice and embark on a dangerous journey to sell the cocaine that Clarence stole from Alabama’s pimp. Just like any Bonnie and Clyde story, there are car chases and guns and two people in love just enough to survive it all. Once again we see insanity peek out of Slater’s character in his hallucinations of Elvis and in his sudden outbursts and Alabama who accepts it all because for the first time somebody truly cares about her. After her experience as a calling girl comes Clarance, someone who she connects with and above all promises to protect her. The promise of a new life and a new love leads them both to risk everything after only a few hours together to search for this new life far away from what they know (a theme also seen in Lifetime’s Bonnie and Clyde when they claim all the robberies are simply to fund a lake house where they can leave everything behind).
4. The 1975’s Robbers
This may only be five minutes long but it is one of my favorite pieces of art and I don’t think anyone could explain it better than Matty Healy himself:
“Robbers is an ode to those relationships. The type of relationship all humans long for. All or nothing…an escape story where love is the highest law and conquers against all odds…couples so intoxicated with one another that they fear nothing in the pursuit of the realization of each other, actions fueled by blind, unconditional love.”
Both the song and the video were partly inspired by True Romance itself and the parallels are tender and obvious throughout, from the phrase “you look so cool” to the scene in the movie theater and the napkin with the words “you look so cool” written on them in marker, even down to the clothing there are subtle touches paying homage to the film. The two characters often fight and threaten to leave each other but when it really comes down to it she is there to take care of him and he is there to protect her. They are completely and absolutely involved in each other, intoxicated by each other and despite the danger, flaws or anger that love never seems to die out.
All of these films cover a pretty wide range of time (excluding the 1967 version of Bonnie and Clyde), so why is it that we continue to produce them? Why is it that despite passing time this type of story continues to fascinate us? Why is it that we continue to ignore the downright unhealthy and dangerous tendencies in these relationships? Simply because we as humans want something to believe in. We want to believe in a love so extreme that it transcends the ages, a love so strong that it beats policemen and Sicilian gangsters and depressions and mortal wounds. We want to believe in a love that is truly “meant to be”, that there is someone out there so perfect for us it seems they have been waiting for the perfect moment to appear and that it will only take one moment to know it’s right. We want to believe in a love that will engulf us entirely, push us to do what we never thought possible. Humans want to believe in each other, they want to have the type of secure grip these couples had on each other, a grip stronger than the one reality had on them. We want to believe that there is love out there that sparks and burns and envelops us entirely, almost like a raging forest fire, and we just hope we won’t suffocate when the smoke settles. We want to believe in an infinite kind of love where danger and doubt fall dull in comparison to a burning flame and despite insanity or danger or flaws that belief is a beautiful thing.