When we meet Bonnie Parker, she's your typical small-town girl. She's a waitress. She lives at home. And she's bored, bored, bored.
We're going to hand the mic right over to Clyde, who has her pegged from the moment he sees her:
CLYDE: You were born somewhere around East Texas, right? Come from a big ol' family? You didn't take to school much because you was a lot smarter than everyone else, so you just up and quit one day. Now, where you were sixteen—seventeen—there was a guy who worked in a […] cement plant. And you liked him, 'cause he thought you were just as nice as you could be. And you almost married that guy. But then you thought no, you didn't think you would. And then you got you your job in the café. And now you wake up every morning and you hate it. You just hate it. You put on your […] uniform, and them truck drivers come in there to eat your greasy burgers. […] So you go on home, and you sit in your room and you think, "Now when and how am I ever going to get away from this?" And now you know.
This is totally perceptive on Clyde's part—but it's also just common sense. Because Bonnie Parker, before she was the Bonnie Parker, was a normal, restless girl. It doesn't take mind-reading on Clyde's part to suss her out—it just takes a knowledge of how small-town girls with big dreams tend to live.
But while Bonnie may live like a small-town girl, she doesn't think like one. She's headstrong and adventurous enough to get up and go…and she's drawn to bad boys enough to want to go with the baddest boy she can find.
This film makes it clear from the very beginning—and we mean the very beginning—that a big part of Bonnie's small-town frustration is sexual. The very first shot of the film (after a few old photos of Bonnie and Clyde) is of Bonnie licking her lips. We then move to a shot of Bonnie looking longingly into the mirror, and then lying (buck naked) on a brass bed, petulantly hitting the bedframe.
Um, yeah. If this opening doesn't scream, "Bonnie needs to get laid," we don't know what would. (Maybe a title card that actually says, "Bonnie needs to get laid"?)
After that, Bonnie gets up to go to the window—and, yes: she's still in her birthday suit. She sees Clyde trying to break in to her mom' car, and so she says:
BONNIE: Hey, boy. What you doing to my mama's car?
Normal, right? But then, Bonnie says, "Wait there."
Wait there? Wait there?! Is she going to handcuff him herself? Nope. She's going to…go on a date with him. It's obvious from the get-go that Bonnie's not just attracted to Clyde's Warren Beatty-esque good looks. She's attracted to the fact that he's a criminal.
When they go into town, she's awed by the fact that Clyde spent time in state prison. She's intrigued by the fact that he mangled his own foot to get off work detail. She thinks it's hot that he was arrested for armed robbery. She very salaciously licks the rim of a Coke bottle as she asks:
BONNIE: So what's it like? […] armed robbery?
And this isn't even the cherry on top of the sexual imagery sundae. When Clyde pulls out his gun (it's a gun in his pocket; Clyde isn't happy to see you) and holds it at crotch level, Bonnie murmurs "Yeah," and strokes his gun.
No, seriously. We don't have dirty minds—the beginning of this film is just that innuendo-licious.
Liora Moriel's analysis backs us up:
Bonnie caresses his gun and urges him to "use it" pressing the connection between repressed sexuality and the need for some physical action to sublimate it. (Source)
Finally, when Clyde actually robs a store, Bonnie goes over the top. She leaps into his lap as he's driving (tsk, tsk—so dangerous) and starts smooching him.
But here's the thing: Clyde's impotent. This is a massive twist in the storyline—the frustrated small-town waitress leaves with the sexy bad boy…only to find that he can't perform.
Bonnie doesn't turn tail and leave, though—even though she initially wants to. But why not? Why doesn't she find someone to satisfy her sexual desires?
Part of the reason why she doesn't leave Clyde's side is that she's not just looking for sex. After all, she can get plain ol' sex any time she wants. As Clyde says:
CLYDE: [The truckers] kid you, and you kid them back. But they're stupid and dumb boys with big ol' tattoos on 'em, and you don't like it. They ask you for dates, and sometimes you go…but mostly you don't, because all they're trying to do is get in your pants, whether you want them to or not.
What Bonnie can't get is excitement, and the thrill of something different. Clyde gives her that, even if he can't actually do the deed…or give her much in the way of material comfort.
Here's an exchange they have, when Clyde's trying to convince her to go back home:
CLYDE: I ain't a rich man. You could get a rich man, if you tried.
BONNIE: I don't want no rich man.
CLYDE: You ain't gonna have a minute's peace.
Here we have it, explained in two glorious Texas drawls: Bonnie doesn't want the security of a rich dude's love, much like she doesn't want the familiarity of a trucker's love. The idea of that is boring—and repellent—to her. What she wants is action. She wants a dude who will prevent her from having a minute's peace.
It turns out that when Bonnie was caressing Clyde's pistol so seductively, she wasn't just turned on by its resemblance to a penis. She was also turned on by its potential to turn her world upside-down.
For a chunk of the movie, we see Bonnie on top of her upside-down world. She loves her notoriety. She loves that her name's in the papers as Clyde's "yellow-haired companion." She poses for photos with a stogie in her mouth and a pistol at her hip—and she also poses for photos while she's smooching a tied-up cop.
(Someone give this girl an Instagram account, stat.)
Sure, there are some upheavals. She doesn't like Buck's wife… but a little in-law-hatred is perfectly natural. In general, she's able to laugh during car chases and snuggle Clyde contentedly in their off-hours. She also gets a promotion from driving the getaway car to helping stick up banks—and we see that she's an ice-cold, consummate professional when it comes to robbery.
But all good things come to an end. Especially a life of crime.
Maybe you've heard the military adage "too much horseplay leads to sickbay"? If not, then you've probably heard "too much laughter leads to crying."
And both are true in Bonnie's case. She was so psyched about getting her life of crime on… until she realized that she can't stop. Once the papers know who she is, her fate is sealed.
She cries to Clyde:
BONNIE: You know, when it started to happen I though we was really going somewhere. But this is it. We're just… going.
Her life is a bleak whirlwind of bank robberies, car chases, and dingy motel rooms. And there's an ever-present sense of impending doom.
During one of the most light-hearted scenes of the movie, the Barrow Gang picks up a young man and his sweetheart. They all eat burgers and laugh…until Bonnie asks the dude what his occupation is. When he says he's an undertaker, Bonnie flips out. She says:
BONNIE: Get them out of here.
She knows that death is the logical next step in their life of crime. She knows this, seemingly, before the others do. When Buck Barrow is shot in the face, Blanche Barrow shouts, "It didn't happen!" When Malcolm Moss sets up Bonnie and Clyde, C.W. Moss says, "Nobody catches Clyde. Never."
But Bonnie knows the end of her own story well enough to write a eulogy for her and Clyde before they're ever dead. The last lines of her poem "The Story of Bonnie And Clyde" reads:
Someday they'll go down together
They'll bury them side by side
To a few it'll be grief
To the law, a relief
But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.
When the time comes, Bonnie can tell that they're about to be gunned down. Her last act is to look lovingly—and maybe even a bit seductively—into the eyes of Clyde. This shows the nuance and complexity of her character: she's still the same bad boy-crazy girl she was at the start of the movie, even though she's become wise and knowingly morbid by the film's final acts.
Clyde's last name is a word referring to…a burial mound. Yup. This guy basically has the last name "Grave" or "Tomb," and he still decides to pursue a life of crime.
Now we're not actually suggesting that you have to dictate your life based on your last name. If all "Bakers" became bakers and all "Smiths" became smiths, the world would be a boring place.
But we can't help but read into Clyde's willingness to go through with what's a super iffy occupation despite the morbid overtones of his own surname. He's an impulsive, willful dude. At times, he seems like a Tasmanian Devil-type tornado, whirling towards his own destruction.
After, he's a guy who chopped off his own toes in order to get out of work…shortly before being released from jail:
BUCK: I heard up in prison you had a little trouble there. You was cutting on your toes?
CLYDE: I did a little toe-cutting. That isn't half of it. I did it to get off work detail—you know, breaking them damn rocks with sledgehammers night and day? And you know what? The very next week I get paroled. I walked out of that godforsaken jail on crutches. Ain't life grand?
There, ladies and gentleman, is Clyde in a nutshell. He's the kind of guy who will cut off his own toes because he's too lazy to work another week (which is almost like cutting off your own nose to spite your face). And he's also the kind of guy to follow up a story of self-mutilation and self-destruction with the quip "Ain't life grand?"
Spoiler alert: Clyde isn't happy to see you. For most of the movie, he can't get it up.
And this is super-duper important, character-wise. Much like Bonnie's lustiness informs her character, Clyde's impotence informs his.
There are a few ways of looking at this, so we'll break them down:
In Freud's sexed-up universe, sublimation refers to channeling your libidinal energy into other channels. We can read Clyde's life of crime as a kind of sublimation—he can't, um, shoot with his pistol… so he shoots with a pistol. He's frustrated to the point of blowing off steam by robbing banks, chopping off his toes, and generally being reckless.
Look at the way he justifies himself to Bonnie:
CLYDE: If all you want's a stud service, than get yourself back to West Dallas and you stay there the rest of your life. […] But you and me travelling, we could cut a path clean across this state. And Kansas. And Missouri. And Oklahoma.
Clyde can't give Bonnie (or himself) sexual gratification, but he can give her a life of crime filled with enough phallic pistols to make Freud blush.
But it might not be that Clyde's necessary impotent. It might be that he'd rather have a lad on his arm than a lady.
Check out this exchange:
CLYDE: Looky here. I might as well tell you right off: I'm not much of a lover boy. That don't mean nothing personal about you. I never seen no percentage in it. Ain't nothing wrong with me. I don't like boys.
BONNIE: Boy. Boy, boy.
CLYDE: Huh? Boy what?
Whoa, now. That's a double shot.
We have the classic "the lady doth protest too much" situation happening when Clyde says, "I don't like boys." Who asked, Clyde?
And there's also a bit of nervous reading on Clyde's part: when Bonnie says "Boy," (as in "Oh, boy,") Clyde's ears perk up and he says "Boy what?" Chill, Clyde. No one is talking about dudes.
We also see Bonnie get miffed with Clyde in one crucial scene. When the Barrow gang is in their rental home, Buck Barrow and his wife are canoodling on the sofa. Meanwhile, Clyde is hugging…C.W. This leads Bonnie to grab him and take him into the next room and attempt to seduce him. He leaves, saying that he's hungry.
Even in 1967, overt gayness wasn't portrayed all that often in the movies. And certainly Depression-era Texas wasn't the easiest place to be out. We'll leave it up to you to decide, but there's a strong argument for Clyde's disinterest in Bonnie stemming from a "love that dare not speak its name."
Towards the end of the film, however, Clyde's able to perform sexually. And what prompts this miraculous occurrence? What gives Clyde his groove back?
In a word: fame.
After Bonnie publishes her poem "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," Clyde looks positively gleeful:
CLYDE: You know what you done there? You told my story. You told my whole story, right there, right there. […] You made me somebody they're gonna remember.
He then kisses her, and the camera pans away. When the camera returns, they're bathed in a post-coital glow. So was Clyde kind of narcissistic? Did he just feel removed from Bonnie until she'd proven her love by "telling [Clyde's] whole story"? Or is it that the ending of the poem—which states "it's death for Bonnie and Clyde"—made Clyde figure that he should get down as long as he was alive and kicking?
We'll leave that conclusion up to you.
But there is, of course, more to Clyde than just a less-than-impressive ability in the sack. He is, first of all, insanely perceptive. Shortly after meeting Bonnie, he's able to tell her her whole life story:
CLYDE: You were born somewhere around East Texas, right? Come from a big ol' family? You didn't take to school much because you was a lot smarter than everyone else, so you just up and quit one day. Now, where you were sixteen—seventeen—there was a guy who worked in a […] cement plant. And you liked him, 'cause he thought you were just as nice as you could be. And you almost married that guy. But then you thought no, you didn't think you would. And then you got you your job in the café. And now you wake up every morning and you hate it. You just hate it. You put on your […] uniform, and them truck drivers come in there to eat your greasy burgers. […] So you go on home, and you sit in your room and you think "Now when and how am I ever going to get away from this?" And now you know.
This shows us that Clyde is phenomenally canny. He's met enough small town girls to know the kind of life they lead… and he's cocky (no pun intended) enough to state back to Bonnie without questioning himself. In fact, he's also brazen enough to finish off this telling of Bonnie's life story with an order for her to fix her hair—he doesn't like her spit curl.
But Clyde's cockiness isn't that terribly interesting: we expect a man who feels entitled to the contents of a bank safe to feel entitled to a lot of things.
Instead, the surprising counterweight to Clyde's hardened criminal side is the fact that he's so devoted to his fam. He loves his brother Buck—so much so that he literally jumps for joy when he sees him pulling up to the rental cabins.
By proxy, he loves his sister-in-law…and protects her from Bonnie's ire:
BONNIE: Get rid of her.
CLYDE: I can't get rid of her. She's Buck's wife.
BONNIE: Then get rid of them both. […] She doesn't have a brain in her head.
CLYDE: What makes you any better? What makes you so damn special? You're just a West Texas waitress…
Yeah. This is coming from the same guy who told Bonnie that she was the "best damn girl in Texas." She may be that, but once she messes with Clyde's sis-in-law, she's downgraded to "just a waitress."
Later, when Bonnie's feeling "blue," Clyde tells her that:
CLYDE: I'm your family. […] I love you.
This is the first time that Clyde's mentioned that he loves Bonnie—it's important to note that he brings it up in terms of familial love rather than romantic love.
So there we have it: Clyde Barrow, in all of his complexity. He's cocky yet impotent, hardened but a total family man, eerily perceptive yet unable to see his own downfall staring him in the face.
In other words: he's one well-rounded character.
When a character's first line is "Dirt," you just know they're going to be unimportant.
We jest—sort of. C.W.'s importance to the plot of Bonnie and Clyde (and to the Barrow gang in general) comes in two flavors: loyalty and idiocy.
Let's deal with the latter first. C.W. not only has the affable face of a five-year-old, but he also seems to think like a five-year-old. He decides to parallel park while he's manning the getaway car during a robbery. He decides to flash his pistol when he's going to grab a few chicken dinners for the Barrow Gang hideout.
And, worst of all, he decides to take Bonnie and Clyde home to his less-than-approving daddy.
Sure, Bonnie and Clyde are wounded and bleeding when C.W. decides to get help from his paw-paw. But we really want to smack this kid over the head because, in the scene before, we see C.W. get help from a group of migrant farmers who completely idolize Bonnie and Clyde.
When C.W. gets water for B & C, the farmers gather around the car, muttering:
FARMERS: It's Bonnie and Clyde. What happened to them? Are they famous? Sure enough.
One of the farmers reaches out to touch Clyde's hand gently. A woman gives them some soup. These farmers care about Bonnie and Clyde, and we're guessing that C.W. could have easily asked them for some bullet-extraction tips.
But oh, no. He had to run home to his dad… who promptly makes a deal with a Texas Ranger to have Bonnie and Clyde offed, and C.W. jailed.
But our cherubic sidekick isn't just a dolt. He's also a loving, super-loyal dolt. Just look at the rousing speech his gives his father when Mr. Moss tells him that the Texas Rangers are planning a shoot-out:
C.W.: You think laws are going to catch Bonnie and Clyde in town? Clyde's got a sense. Don't you know that, Daddy? Nobody catches Clyde. Never. Never!
This is very, very sweet…and very, very untrue.
We see C.W.'s loyalty in other ways as well. He stands guard at Bonnie's depressing family reunion. He offers to drive Blanche to a chicken restaurant to relieve the tension in the crowded tourist cabin, and then asks her about her life.
And, as we see by the pained look on C.W.'s face as Bonnie and Clyde drive away to their certain death, he cares for them. He's a young kid who got in too deep… but he's a young kid with a good heart.
If you want to hear the dumbest joke about a man feeding brandy-laced milk to his mother, look no further than Buck Barrow. (Especially if you want to hear it multiple times.)
Buck Barrow is the cheesiest man in the world. He tells dad jokes, and has a smokin' dad bod to match. He routinely yells out "Woo-hoo!" and throws fake punches. He calls Bonnie "sis" as soon as he meets her, and asks her if she's taking care of his baby brother, Clyde.
In short, he's the perfect guy to have around if you want to diffuse a tense situation.
The gang needs him for just this reason. Bonnie's too moody. Clyde's too manic. C.W. is too slow on the uptake. And Blanche is—well, Blanche is kind of useless.
But Buck's the life of the party, and he's the perfect right-hand man for the B & C team. He's no stranger to a life outside the law: he's done time in prison and knows how to fire a gun. When he kills a police officer, he knows that he's in it to win it (or, most likely, to lose it).
Some of the movie's most uplifting and funny moments come straight from Buck. When the Barrow Gang kidnaps Eugene and Velma, Buck keeps the mood jolly:
BUCK: What's your names?
EUGENE: I'm Eugene Grizzard.
VELMA: I'm Velma Davis.
BUCK: Well, we're the Barrow Gang. That there's Clyde driving. I'm Buck. That's my wife, Blanche. Bonnie Parker. C.W.
[BUCK cocks his gun.]
BUCK: [to EUGENE] Now, boy. When you going to marry the girl? [BUCK starts laughing uproariously.]
Buck's like a very hospitable frat boy: he'll introduce you to everyone, pretend to threaten you with a gun, start laughing, and then buy you a burger. Even when the rest of the Barrow Gang is looking bored with the fact that Eugene and Velma are along for the ride, Eugene is yukking it up with his lame jokes.
Although there are plenty of grim moments throughout the movie, it's when Buck dies that we know the end is truly nigh. Buck's death (and Blanche's capture) signals the end of the liveliness of the Barrow Gang, and therefore the end of its life.
Without Buck around to be his dopey, carefree self, the reality of outlaw life sets in. In his absence, Bonnie and Clyde realize the extremity of their own situation… and they can't even think up a corny joke to take the edge off.
If Bonnie is Princess Leia, Clyde is Han Solo, Buck is Chewbacca, and C.W. is R2D2, then Blanche is…C-3PO.
She's nervous. She's insecure. She's sometimes hysterical, and becomes unhinged when violence goes down. Sure, she doesn't have C-3PO's English butler-like mannerisms, but she's just as uptight.
A preacher's daughter, Blanche married Buck when he was a reformed ex-con. We get the feeling that this reformation was exactly what attracted her to Buck—unlike Bonnie, who was attracted to Clyde's lawlessness.
BLANCHE: Oh, lord.
C.W.: Why don't you go back to your Pa's house?
BLANCHE: If I only could. If I could only just do that one thing. There's no telling how all this happened. I was a preacher's daughter! […] He thought the world of Buck, my daddy did. Even though Buck was serving time in jail. He forgave him because he paid his debt to society.
We feel sorry for Blanche; she's in over her head. But Bonnie hates her. They're polar opposites: Blanche is dowdy while Bonnie is glamorous. Blanche is nervous while Bonnie's a free spirit. But what really gets on Bonnie's nerves is Blanche's desire to take a cut of the earnings from the robberies.
Ultimately, Blanche is blinded by a stray bullet and left behind to tend to the body of her dead husband. The police apprehend her, and use her to find out more about the Barrow Gang.
The last time we see Blanche, he head's wrapped in white bandages. She breaks down in tears and gives the police as much information as they want. She also starts to tell her version of the story:
BLANCHE: I didn't want to go. I didn't want to. And Buck said we was just going on a visit, and we wouldn't do no stealing or robbing. And we went up to Joplin all of a sudden. And all of a sudden they just started shooting…
But the cop questioning her walks out of the room as she's talking. He shuts the door to her cell and her words are cut off. That's the last time we see poor Blanche Barrow.