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Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Hybristophilia // Bonnie & Clyde Syndrome

In Cinema, History, Psychology on February 10, 2010 at 8:10 am

they told me that

when they got ready,

they were going to

tie us up to a tree



::SOPHIA STONE (1933 Kidnap victim of Bonnie & Clyde)::

Jennifer Tilly, in the horror-comedy flick Bride of Chucky, hires a man to bring her the remains of her dead lover. She uses black magic to resurrect the psychoslayer, because she’s been unable to find another guy who can satisfy her freaky needs like he once did. Once reawakened, Chucky’s still an asshole, slapping her and chiding her for wanting to be his bride, but the fire between them still burns like hell.  The murder and mayhem begin anew, the gore starts oozing, the bodies fall. She purrs to him, “You always did know how to show a girl a good time.”

The demented dyad from Bride of Chucky are reminiscent of Depression Era media darlings Bonnie and Clyde.  There is something altogether attractive about the fated lovers.  Are Bonnie and Clyde just Romeo and Juliet in a getaway car?  What makes them such provocative icons?  So unabashedly erotic, wild, and popular?  Instantly intimate.  Infinitely imitable.  They are prime slices of American celebrity.  Their story is lacquered with mythos.  Time has not dulled its impact, its force, and its sense of winking nihilism.  And as Valentine’s Day draws nigh, we can still feel the psychological sweat stains they left on our culture… lingering impressions like the after-images that appear after vigorously rubbing your eyes with your fist. As one witness to the couple’s death says, “I guess I will never forget the sight of that car. It looked like where hogs had been slaughtered.”

Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome,” or, more accurately, Hybristophilia (from the Greek root Hybridzein: to commit an outrageous offense) is defined by sexologist Dr. John Money as “being sexuoerotically turned on only by a partner who has a predatory history of outrages perpetrated on others.”   It may result in an irresistible compulsion to seek out and partner with heinous sexual sadists in crimes against others.  There is no profile of hybristophiliacs that covers them all except this: They have an overwhelming lust for outrageous violence.

Young lovers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate epitomized the teen couple on a killing spree—their true story provided the foundation for movies like Badlands, Natural Born Killers and Wild at Heart. In 1958, 14 year old Fugate’s family forbade her to marry 19 year old Starkweather, a bowlegged, ne’er-do-well punk with a history of violent assault. So her mother, stepfather and infant sister were all summarily murdered as the couple kicked off an infamous eight-day killing spree.

Though Caril Ann aided and abetted Starkweather, collecting newspaper clippings of their adventures as they ran from police and racked up bodies, she later claimed to have been forced against her will to stay with him. She witnessed her family’s death, then stayed in the house with Starkweather for five days afterwards, screwing and playing house while keeping relatives at bay. She guarded some of their captives while he napped, and she held a loaded gun on others, but she swore that she was a hostage and not an accomplice. The courts didn’t buy it, sentencing her to a hefty term behind bars, and even Starkweather, on his way to the electric chair, testified to her powers. Caril was “something worth killing for,” he said before his death. “She put the spark and thrill into the killing.”

There in lies the magic.  The eroticism inherent in exploring the horrors of our anarchic impulses.  We are all innately perverse, capable of enormous cruelty and paradoxically, our talent for the perverse, the violent, the alien, the obscene, may be a good thing.  This is the nekyia or the archetypal descent into the enigmatic land of the dead, the realm of the unconscious.  We have to go through this phase in order to reach something on the other side; it’s a mistake to hold back and refuse to accept one’s nature.  “One has to,” as Joseph Conrad said, “immerse oneself in the most destructive element, and swim.”

University of Georgia literature professor Joel Black stated that “(if) any human act evokes the aesthetic experience of the sublime, certainly it is the act of murder.” Black goes on to note that “…if murder can be experienced aesthetically, the murderer can in turn be regarded as a kind of artist — a performance artist or anti-artist whose specialty is not creation but destruction.”  André Breton’s 1929 Second Manifesto on surrealist art stated that “L’acte surréaliste le plus simple consiste, revolvers aux poings, à descendre dans la rue et à tirer au hasard, tant qu’on peut, dans la foule” [The simplest Surrealist act consists of running down into the street, pistols in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd].”  It is no wonder that these vigilante lovers have been thoroughly embraced in cinema.

Wild at Heart, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, True RomanceNatural Born Killers.  Each of these films follows the crime spree of a pair of lovers for whom sex and violence become entangled in an imaginary world of white trash aesthetics and 50s pop culture references.  There are many parallel themes and imagery. Tony Scott intentionally pays homage to many road movies and couple-on-the-run classics that formed the implicit basis of the screenplay. Setting the tone is the film’s opening that re-uses the signature music from Badlands, while Patricia Arquette’s lazy voice-over nearly draws the scene into the realm of parody.

Style is synonymous with identity for these characters.  Note that both Sailor and Clarence are obsessed with Elvis Presley to the point that they imitate the King’s mannerisms almost reflexively.  Sailor is practically glued to the inside of his jacket, “a symbol of my individuality, and my belief… in personal freedom.”  And it is impossible to forget that critical getaway scene in Badlands where Kit fixes his hair in the mirror.  The sleazy white-trash style and bleach-blonde hair of Mallory, Lula, Alabama are almost identical.  The protagonists in these films are outsiders, usually poor, and with very distinct almost neurotic behaviors, and they all hold an insurmountable love for rock-n-roll and American iconography – a theme that Tarantino and Lynch constantly revisit in their movies.  The protagonists of these films were never properly introduced to the world we live in.   They are from strange and idyllic parallel dimensions; the characters live in an animated state of constant kitsch.  In an interview, Terence Malick explains how the psychic milieu of Badlands transcends its chronology:

I tried to keep the 1950s to a bare minimum. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling; it can drown out anything. I wanted the picture to set up like a fairy tale, outside time, like Treasure Island. I hoped this would, among other things, take a little of the sharpness out of the violence but still keep its dreamy quality. Children’s books are full of violence. Long John Silver slits the throats of the faithful crew. Kit and Holly even think of themselves as living in a fairy tale. Holly says, “Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, but this never happened.” But she enough believes there is such a place that she must confess to you she never got there.

This gets at the crux of what we desire in outlaw couples: to be in a constant state of abandonment.  To be out on the lam, letting your primal urges take control, being constantly reborn.  A baptism of blood that wipes the slate clean.  Adam and Eve in the Garden but with the dramatic satisfaction of a whirlwind romance.  The Garden is a getaway car (or an RV).  A state of flux that implies release from the prisons of domestic responsibility.  The Bonnie and Clyde archetype delves deep into the psyche fusing Pagan eroticism of antiquity with an Abrahamic creation mythos.  “I see angels, Mickey. They’re comin’ down for us from heaven. And I see you ridin’ a big red horse, and you’re driving them horses, whippin’ ’em, and the’re spitting and frothing all ‘long the mouth, and the’re coming right at us. And I see the future, and there’s no death, ’cause you and I, we’re angels…”  Indeed.  Mickey and Mallory confer a perpetual of divine opposites  akin to that of Shiva and Kali.  Their dance is the dance of creation, the dance of destruction, the dance of solace and liberation. Beneath their foot ignorance is crushed; from their heads springs the life-giving waters.  The rhythm they dance to is that of a world perpetually forming, dissolving and re-forming.

Hence the snake imagery in Natural Born Killers and Sailor’s Snakeskin jacket.  Shiva too, was laced with snake imagery.  Snakes are symbols of cosmic rebirth and fertility. This trait is connected with the practice of snakes of shedding their old skin and growing a new one. The snake’s venom has the power to either heal, poison or provide expanded consciousness and even immortality through divine intoxication.  It is an animal with chthonic properties connected to the afterlife.  Bonnie and Clyde represent the archetypal twin cosmic serpents in permanent embrace, providing a ladder to the unconscious.

I had a hard time with the scene where Clarence tells me he’s killed Drexl and I say, “What you did was so romantic.” I couldn’t jump to that reaction. My acting coach and I came up with the idea that here’s a man I barely know, who killed someone and is eating a burger. He could kill me next. As a female, the way to stay safe is to be in a love bubble. But part of her does think it’s romantic, like, kill all the mistakes I ever made.

::Patricia Arquette::

I just fell in love with these two characters and didn’t want to see them die.  I wanted them together.

::Tony Scott::

It is much better that they were both killed, rather then to have been taken alive.

::Blanche Barrow::

I’m glad Bonnie and Clyde went out like they did because it’s better then getting caught.

::Roy Thornton (Bonnie’s husband)::

Bonnie Parker: You know what, when we started out, I thought we was really goin’ somewhere. This is it. We’re just goin’, huh?
Clyde Barrow: I love you.

::Dialogue from Bonnie and Clyde::