Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – Ace Long Review

Ace review #100!

Bonnie and Clyde
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty
Written by: David Newman, Robert Benton
Directed by: Arthur Penn
U.S.A., 1967

I was prepared for Bonnie and Clyde to be violent.  I was prepared for it to be cynical.  I was prepared for it to be full of dislikeable characters and to present a dark view of life in the Depression-era United States.  What I wasn’t prepared for was it to be a very ace-relevant movie about an ambiguously asexual character in a functionally asexual relationship.

Clyde’s lack of interest in sex is established at the beginning of the movie.  When Bonnie first sees him rob a store, she is obviously very turned on and immediately tries to initiate sex.  But, after fending her off, Clyde explains, “I ain’t much of a lover boy.”  He’s quick to point out that he isn’t gay; it’s just that, as far as sex goes, “I never saw no percentage in it.”

However, Clyde is clearly taken with Bonnie.  He is quick to call her “the best damn girl in Texas,” and to ask her to run off with him.  And he insists that, though he can’t give her “stud service”, he has something much better to offer her: an escape from her boring, workaday life, and a new life full of adventure and glamour.

Bonnie, though initially offended and disappointed, is intrigued by this offer.  When we first saw her, it seemed like she was feeling trapped and frustrated.  In movies, frustration in women is often presented as a need for more sex, but Bonnie seems to accept that something other than sex might also meet her needs.  And so, she agrees to go along with Clyde and try life as a bank robber.

It’s not clear how we’re meant to understand Clyde’s sexuality.  From a modern perspective, it’s easy to view him as asexual, but a contemporary audience may well have seen him as impotent.  We might even read him as suffering from sexual trauma, since the real-life Clyde was a rape survivor, though this fact does not make it into the movie.

However we interpret him, Clyde clearly represents the experiences of many asexual people.  And, despite being a criminal, he manages to do so without slipping in to the asexual sociopath trope.  Clyde is more roguishly charming than coldly emotionless.  He clearly cares for Bonnie and for his brother, Buck, and he acts as peacemaker in the gang they form.  He also takes no pleasure in murder, expressing distress after killing his first man.

Clyde’s relationship with Bonnie looks a lot like an asexual-allosexual romance.  Though they don’t have sex, they share a bed and seem to view each other as romantic partners.  Everyone in their gang accepts that Bonnie is Clyde’s girl, and Buck welcomes her as part of the family.

The relationship isn’t always easy.  Bonnie clearly experiences sexual frustration, while Clyde seems to regret that he can’t give Bonnie what she craves.  There are moments of tension between them, such as when Bonnie upbraids Clyde for his “peculiar ideas about lovemaking”.  But she immediately apologises, and throughout the film she remains committed to their relationship, while he continues to be caring and protective towards her.

Of course, you can argue that the life Clyde gives Bonnie isn’t really healthy and that she would be better off in a more conventional relationship.  Still, the lack of sex between Bonnie and Clyde is never really stigmatised.  If anything, the fact that they stick it out despite their sexual challenges underscores their devotion to each other.  Indeed, the love and loyalty these two characters share is presented as the brightest aspect of this otherwise very dark movie.

Towards the end of the movie, Bonnie and Clyde do finally have sex.  Bonnie is clearly happy about it, and Clyde also seems pleased.  Arguably, the moment undermines the film’s aceness a bit.  Still, the characters only have sex when they are both ready and because they both want to.  Bonnie never pressures Clyde into unwanted sex, nor does he try to force himself to be more sexual than he really is.  And so the movie ends up being about a relationship where there is little sex and a mismatch in sexual desire, but the characters still treat each other with love and respect.  That’s a pretty ace-friendly dynamic – even if the relationship is weird in other ways.

4 Stars; 4 Aces

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