A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 black and white film based off of the 1947 play by Tennessee Williams. Deep in New Orleans, the film follows Blanche as she moves in with her sister Stella and Stella’s husband, Stanley. The exact reasons for Blanche’s early arrival aren’t quite clear at the beginning of the film, but it is clear that she is on edge. Over the course of the film, we learn more about how the family’s estate was “lost” while also discovering the means by which she lived in the months after it was lost.
Desires and passions play a strong role throughout the film. Blanche, despaired after the death of her husband and the loss of the estate, is aging, now in her 30s. She constantly seeks approval from men, frequently remarking “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” She seeks the reaffirmation of her youth, not wanting to admit that she has grown old, a prospect that she tries to hide by surrounding herself with compliments, clothes, jewelry, and “enchantment.” Stella, her younger sister, is already married and pregnant, as well as being in a deeply passionate relationship with Stanley. She tries to protect Blanche as she is perfectly aware of how fragile she is. But Stanley, however, will have none of it. He consistently breaks down Blanche’s façade, exposing the frightened, battered, and hardened woman within. Stanley realizes that Blanche is trying to escape from the past, but he despises the lies and deception that she uses towards her desire to escape.
Blanche’s escapism, it seems, is primarily for two reasons. The first is a desire to escape from the death that has surrounded her in the past. Her husband killed himself and she was at Belle Reve when the rest of the DuBois family was dying. The sounds of this past haunt her constantly. At multiple points in the movie, she hears the sounds of the casino before her husband’s suicide; she is also haunted by an old woman bearing flowers for the dead and there is a distinct possibility she is imagining this as well. The second reason is to maintain her perceived status as a young woman. Blanche needs men to compliment her in order for her to feel validated. It even reached a point where she attempted to seduce and ultimately kissed a young newspaper boy in order to remember what the good times felt like. Blanche in many ways is representative of the American society post WWII. Many of the soldiers returned from combat trying to find their way back into society, only having difficulty doing so because they found it impossible to forget the death and trauma that they had undergone while at war.
The film also demonstrates part of the shifting American dynamic, with Blanche representing the older Southern values while Stanley representing the new immigrants. Blanche constantly attempts to belittle Stanley with the slur “Pollack,” showing her discomfort as his non-traditional, brutish ways. Stanley, on the other hand, accepts nothing of the smoke, mirrors, and gentleman callers that Blanche was accustomed to. Inevitably, they clash, with Stanley’s rape of Blanche ultimately destroying her sanity, an act very representative of the disappearance of the American aristocracy and the old South. Stella is part of both worlds, the bridge between the two trying to find compromise. However, her efforts are in vain as Blanche ultimately succumbs to insanity, unable to find her place in the new world.