This film is infused with such an intense eroticism that, having recently seen it for the first time, I asked myself, how did I ever miss seeing this great movie up until now?
Now, this film, based on the play by Tennessee Williams, as produced in 1951, has no nudity, no sex scenes, nothing, and yet it is one of the most erotically charged movies I have ever seen. Set in the sexually sultry world of New Orleans, the film explores the power of eros, especially the destructive power of eros. The two main characters, Blanche Dubois (played by Vivien Leigh who won the Best Actress Academy Award) the troubled, highly flawed Southern Belle, a woman who knows she is past her sexual prime but still clings to whatever beauty she has left, while trying to escape her sexual past and the primal, animalistic, sensual Stanley Kowalski (played by Marlon Brando in an Academy Award nominated role), are two of the great performances of all time. I won’t say much about the plot here, except to say that the encounters between Brando and Leigh are intensely erotic. She is clearly a highly sexed woman, whose sexual desires have brought chaos and destruction into her life; and Brando, as the tough, unbridled man of animalistic and sexual masculinity is intensely attracted to her, and vice versa. It ultimately ends the only way it can: disaster for both. In many ways Brando portrayed the first great bad boy, alpha role and was an immediate sex symbol afterward. His is the first real expression in film of a raw, primal, unbridled, utterly masculine and visceral sexuality that most women find intensely attractive.
There is some nice dialogue in the movie which reflects what is often discussed in the manosphere: the attraction women have to aggressive, masculine, even violent men and their disliked of weak men. At one point Blanche is talking to her sister, Stella, the wife of Kowalski. Stella informs Blanche that Stanely often breaks things, that he is violent, and that this was true even on her wedding night. Blanche wonders why Stella did not leave, and Stella informs her that she did not leave because, in fact, she found Stanley’s violence exciting. She was turned on by his aggressive, masculine nature. Can we say “Rhiannon and Chris Brown”?
At another point in the movie Blanche, who is clearly getting the gina tingles from Stanley, calls him an “animal”. Here is the full quote. Blanche is talking to her sister, Stella about how she, Blanche, looks down on Stanley, even though we know she is deeply attracted to him:
“May I speak plainly?… If you’ll forgive me, he’s common… He’s like an animal. He has an animal’s habits. There’s even something subhuman about him. Thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is. Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the Stone Age, bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle. And you — you here waiting for him. Maybe he’ll strike you or maybe grunt and kiss you — that is, if kisses have been discovered yet. His “poker night” you call it. This party of apes.”
And yet both Blanche and her sister Stella are deeply turned on by this “animal”.
The movie is based on a play by Tennessee Williams, whose work often deals with erotic themes. Williams was gay, and although he wrote the screenplay for the movie, the movie removes all references to homosexuality, which is part of the original play, and important to the overall plot. The censors at the time did not like such allusions. The Christian conservatives today would probably still feel the same way. If they had their way, most likely Williams would be thrown in jail and his worked destroyed. I think Williams homosexuality, existing at a time when it could have gotten him jailed, lead to his ability to create such highly charged depictions of erotic passions, passions that were in turn trapped and ultimately repressed in the strictures of the society around them. Such a phenomena usually leads to something explosive, whether in life or art.
The film also contains other important characters: Blanche’s sister, Stella (played by Kim Hunter in an Academy Award winning role) who is married to Kowalski and Kowalski’s buddy, Harold Mitchell, (played by Karl Malden in another Academy Award winning role). Malden’s character is a classic beta who falls for Blanche, white knights her, and suffers in the end. Stella is the somewhat demure, steady sister who keeps coming back to her abusive husband Kowalski, who needs her as much as she needs him. These act as effective foils to the two main characters and offer a nice contrast to the heated, unbridled sensuality that exists between Blanche and Stanley. All in all the film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards.
What is nice is how this film, without any sex scenes or nudity whatsoever, so effectively conveys a world of intense erotic drama and sensuality. This is due both the great performances of Brando and Leigh, and to the great writing and cinematography. It just shows that often the most sophisticated and long lasting forms of erotic expression are found in those genres where the eroticism is more implied than explicit, such as in art, poetry, novels or good films. To hint at something erotic is often the most effective way to convey the true eroticism of life: since so much of our erotic encounters are first experienced through the mystery of nuance and innuendo, they are first visual and verbal without being tactile. We meet someone, feel attracted to them, and then begin to wonder where it might lead. And that can be a most pleasurable experience of the mind. If it leads to the bedroom, even better. The ensuing physical, erotic experiences are often quite intense.
So I highly recommend watching this movie. Not only are such subtle yet powerful depictions of sexual desire and consequences something that is becoming rarer and rarer in the film world of CGI dominated plots, if you can call them “plots” anymore, but the film displays true insight on the deep and perpetual motives of sexual desire and attraction that lie hidden within most of us, often trapped and unable to be expressed out of our own fears and repressions. After all, great art has a way of shedding a bright light on our inner natures like that, and this film is truly great art. As mentioned above, this movie was based on a play of the same name by Tennessee Williams, and Williams best work is up there with Euripides, Shakespeare, and the other great dramatists of erotic passion.