Bonnie and Clyde Analysis

December 10th, 2010

A scene that can be referred to as the climax of Bonnie and Clyde (Arther Penn, Warner Bros., 1967) happens towards the end of the film, where a major shootout between the Barrow gang and the police occurs. The pacing of the scene, going from long, somewhat uneventful shots to shots that are rapidly cut and filled with action is a good expression of the inner turmoil being experienced by these main characters, they are constantly on the run and the moment things seem peaceful a disaster occurs. This is one of many violent scenes in the movie, a trait which categorizes it under New Hollywood cinema, referring to a genre which appealed to a new audience, less uptight and more interested in seeing films that involved sex, violence and other elements which were taboo for the previous Classical Hollywood style.

The scene starts out very calmly, with a shot of the area right outside of where the gang is staying. It then cuts to Buck and Blanche, sleeping soundly, and shows C.W., also asleep in a chair in the other room. Bonnie walks into the room and starts discussing the fit of her dress with Clyde, and there is then a cut back to outside where it is still silent. This sequence takes place at night, it is very dark and somewhat peaceful outside, the sounds of crickets and other bugs can be heard. Throughout this, music is also heard, the song “I Love to Spend Each Sunday With You” by Eddie Cantor plays lowly as if from a radio. The song is soft, mellow and very smooth, fitting in well with the calming night feel of this scene.

We then see a cop begin to tap on a door, and Buck and Blanche immediately pop up from their bed. Blanche quickly covers Buck’s mouth and yells “The men are on the other side!” It is interesting to note the change in character for Blanche at this point, in the first shootout scene where Blanche was involved, C.W. has to cover her mouth to try get her to stop screaming, though was ultimately unsuccessful. We see she has now sort of grown into the role of a bandit, covering her own husband’s mouth as was done to her, feeling confident enough that she can react properly to the situation.

The scene remains calm as Blanche and Buck begin to prepare to make a run for it, and the cop walks away from their room. More cars pull up and all of a sudden the feel of the scene changes entirely. The sound of a gunshot fired by an officer breaks the night air silence, and the soothing music cuts out. There is a quick cut to a mirror shattering from the bullet and then it cuts directly to Bonnie and Clyde, jumping up and lunging themselves forward over the bed. We also see shots in between this, of C.W. jumping up from his chair with a gun and Blanche and Buck scurrying around their room. The manner in which the mirror shatters, with Bonnie’s and Clyde’s image reflected in it, shows how their world is about to be further shattered. They’ve already realized at this point that they will always be on the run, but this is the moment when it becomes clear that they are not going to survive for much longer.

More cars pull up and there are multiple shots of cops shooting alternated with shots of the windows they are aiming at. There is an up close shot of a window frame crashing down, and in the midst of all these rapidly cut shots, this image is dwelt on for a bit. The window falling down is a barricade being broken, the gang no longer has anything to hide behind, and they know it. Even if they manage to get out, the chances of them ever being able to stay hidden are slim. Next we see more quickly paced cuts between several officers shooting, the return fire coming from the windows, over the shoulder shots of both Clyde and Bonnie shooting out of the windows, and Buck and Blanche tripping over eachother in a panic. There is a short break in all of this where Bonnie yells “C.W. grenades!” followed by an up close shot of C.W.’s hand grabbing a grenade from a box. The attention given to this shot shows how dire the situation has become, usually they would just shoot their way out of the situation and quickly escape in a car, but here, they need to use grenades as distractions.

Again there is a series of rapid cuts from C.W. running, to Clyde shooting, to Bonnie shooting, to the cops shooting, to up close shots of Clyde’s hand shooting. There are two moments where an establishing shot is put in between these quick cuts, a far away shot of the entire scene which shows the cars across from the building and the fire being let out between them. This reminds us of the space, since the rapid movement makes everything going on inside of it so disorienting. Aside from the rapid and very short cuts being destabilizing, this scene going on at night adds to the mayhem. We can not always make out what is going on in every shot because it is dark and often difficult to see.

While all the shooting and running around is going on, Buck and Blanche eventually make it out of their room using their mattress as a shield from the bullets. There is something almost comical about this, obviously a mattress isn’t bullet proof and not going to protect them very much. Buck begins to shoot at the cops while he and Blanche are slowly on the move, while C.W. throws a grenade towards one of the officer’s cars. Following the shot of this, is a shot of the car bursting into flames, and two subsequent shots of different men ducking. Bonnie and Clyde take this opportunity to get into the car, and there are several shots continuously alternating between C.W. shooting, officers shooting, Buck shooting, and an officer falling down having been shot dead. There is an up close shot of an officer shooting from behind a car, it then cuts to Buck being shot in the head, he holds his head and falls over, blood starts to run down his face and hands as Blanche screams.

At this moment the car Bonnie is driving bursts through the garage doors, we see an officer run into this space and get gunned down by Clyde. In the next few shots we see Clyde attempting to get Buck into the car as Bonnie continues to shoot at the officers. There is a shot where we see Bonnie shooting repeatedly and then it cuts to the officer dead on the ground, a pile of dust and smoke forming around him as she continues to shoot at his dead body. This foreshadows what will ultimately happen to her and Clyde, and her continuously shooting at him after he is clearly dead shows how panicked she really feels and how terrified and desperate she is to get out of this situation.

When everyone is finally in the car and on the move, there are several shots of them driving, alternated with shots of C.W. running, ducking and shooting. A police officer runs up to the car and shoots directly at it, there is then an up close shot of Blanch yelling and holding her eye as she has just been shot right below it. The next shot is the officer falling over dead, having been shot by someone in the car, though it is not clear by who. The next shots follow the car, they drive through two gates and rush by a line of houses, this particular shot we see from the cars perspective and hear continuous gun shots as this goes on. There is then a shot of C.W. as he continues to run, duck and shoot. We return to the car as it drives through a field and shots continue to come from it, C.W. continues to run and the two eventually enter the same space. Bonnie yells “Get on!” and he jumps onto the side of the car. The car continues to drive way and eventually disappears into the night.

This scene overall is a turning point in the movie, the gang is no longer in control as they were in most of the earlier shootout incidents. Two of their own get shot, one fatally wounded, and they have no clear plan of what to do. The way each shot is composed expresses how hectic the situation has become. Almost half of the time the characters are ducking or running or just trying to do anything they can think of to get out, the rapid pace of the cuts show us how little time they have to plan their next move. There are few moments in this scene where someone is not shooting or being shot at. In Classical Hollywood cinema, although there were occasionally violent scenes, it was never to this extent. Exploring new themes, such as glorifying the criminal, was what the audiences of the 1960s were looking for. Bonnie and Clyde was one of the first movies to show such brutality, something entirely new, well, as the trailer puts it “There has never been…You have never seen…A motion picture like this one!”

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One Response to “Bonnie and Clyde Analysis”

  1. Amy Herzog on December 29, 2010 2:13 pm

    A belated note to compliment you on a fantastically detailed analysis– you make a very strong case for this scene as a pivotal turning point in the film. And thanks for all your insights and challenging questions all semester– I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts!

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