Desire is a weird name for a streetcar, a very weird name indeed.
Screenplay By: Tennessee Williams
Directed By: Elia Kazan
Fear and paranoia can be terrible, terrible things. Worse than fear and paranoia is someone that transforms those feelings into brute force or tries to manipulate those around them with niceties. Blanch DuBois may end up raped in A Streetcar Named Desire, but make no mistake about it, she is just as much of an antagonist as Stanley Kowalski. She takes on the role of the antagonist because of her fears and her paranoia and how she manipulates all those around her with fake niceties in order to get away from her fear and paranoia. She may not rape anyone or beat her spouse, but she brings harm to all those she comes into contact with because of the way she chooses to act. She may be a product of circumstance, but that is an assumption on the part of the viewer. All we do know is that from the moment she comes on screen she causes irreparable damage with her lies, half-truths and transparent fakeness. She is a tragic figure indeed, but she is not a pitiable figure. Blanch is an example of someone who doesn’t understand that life doesn’t revolve around her and that other people matter just as much as she does. She isn’t deserving of her rape and ultimate fate, and that is perhaps the saddest part of Blanch’s life. Her end could have been avoided but she was too afraid of her own fears and paranoia to affect any change to the fate that awaited her.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Stanley Kowalski, a reprehensible brute of a man. He isn’t loving or caring, but rather he is a scared little boy that takes out his fears on those that are weaker than him. There isn’t anything pleasant or manly about Stanley, he is the exact opposite of what a man should be. He is domineering, he is brutal, he is an abomination, but most of all he is filled with fear. He fears his wife turning against him, he fears losing his power, he fears looking bad, he fears all that there is to fear in life. This is where Marlon Brando shines and where the majority of the female population in 1951 misunderstood his performance. Brando plays up that fear in creating a monster like Kowalski, and a character that should be taken as a terrorizing rapist was instead viewed as a sex symbol by women the world over. Unfortunately for Brando he was so convincing in his role that women did end up loving him, just as Stella did.
That brings us to the other players in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stella, Mitch, Eunice, etc. are all trapped. They have nowhere to go, no refuge from beasts like Stanley or manipulators like Blanche because their fear traps them. Their fear immobilizes them from being better people, from seeking a better life, from seeing through the lies of the monsters in their lives. They are the worst of the lot because they allow their fear to rule over them and they become slaves to not only their internal fears but their external fears as well. None of them can cut the cord to their fear and none of them ever will, their fear will leave them in a never ending cycle of misery until the day they die. Fear is a great impetus for tragedy because it creates people like Stella and Mitch and it entraps them for all of us to see what real misery and real tragedy look like.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a very visceral and very strong movie with only a few faults. The pacing is a bit off, with long gaps of stoicism that stop the forward momentum of the plot. There is also the performance of Vivien Leigh, lauded by most, but not a performance I was a fan of. She went over the top with her portrayal of Blanch, so much so that at moments I no longer felt I was watching a woman but rather a caricature of one. Still, those are minor flaws in a fantastic movie. This was the launching pad for Brando and it was the launching pad for harder edged stories in Hollywood. A Streetcar Named Desire is well worth a watch and well worth the time, just don’t give in to your fears and all will end up alright.