Bus Stop - Know Your Place

Quick Thoughts: Bus Stop (1956)

A naive, brash cowboy tries to fight for the girl he wants.

I'll start with an: I love this picture. It's not perfect, the writing isn't flawless, neither is the acting, but that's all ineffectual. This is an undeniably great film. It's simple, but damn does it make its point poignantly. And on top of the Marilyn Monroe, so, I mean, can you really go so wrong?

In short, this is a film about what it means to fight for your place in society, with people, with yourself. The cowboy, Bo, is raised as an archetypal manly man. He's tough, loud, aggressive, and always gets what he wants. He of course stumbles upon a bit of trouble when he finds himself wanting a woman, wanting love and affection. As anyone even slightly socially adept will tell you, you can treat relationships like you do a bull fight. There's no physical scuffle, no tangible coercion. Everything is subtextual, unsaid, implied, insinuated. However, just like fighting a bull, when you interact with people blows are being exchanged, you're wrestling them into what you want them to be. This is true for all relationships, not just that of the romantic type. In short, we want to see ourselves in others, it's why we argue, debate, find joy in conversing. Without conflict, minor, major, whatever, nothing can happen. If we were all the same person, if we all got along perfectly, we'd never have to say anything at all. There'd be no need for relationships, as who needs a clone of themselves reciting their every thought and feeling?

What this film then makes clear is the convoluted way in which relationships function. There is a social exchange of weakness, passivity, assertion and aggression - and to varying degrees. To get along with people you merely need to find balance in how you treat them, in how aggressive you are in asserting yourself, teasing them, giving your view on things, as well as accepting their words, listening, letting go. Sounds simple, sounds scary, sounds complex, sounds confusing. I know. But we're used to it - it's just the way things work. Why? It all comes back to conflict. We can't be completely equal because that's boring, nothing would happen. That doesn't mean we need chaos, people fighting to the death, having spontaneous sex, in the streets. Like I said, varying degrees.

So, what becomes very obvious an irrefutably essential, is an idea of hierarchy in social settings. Hierarchy isn't there to tell us where our place is, but let us figure it out. To clarify, we aren't born ranked, we have to figure out where we stand in this world - and where we stand is completely dependant on who we stand with. This is the overall story of the film. The naive cowboy is the man of a small town, the best of all 30 people he's ever met. Drop the fish into a bigger pond and he finds out he's no longer top dog. And this is essential to an idea of self. When you have delusions of where you stand in society, you aren't realising that you are the only person who thinks you are the best. The hierarchy is not under your control, it's decided by committee. People know where others stand - it's just a shame it can be so hard to look down at our own two feet. But, this is the conflict of the film and is resolved with a simple beating that humbles - that shows the boy where he truly stands.

What is the end result? He gets the girl he's practically tortured for the past few days. It's easy to say that's a manufactured and fake ending, but there's truth in it. Cherie knows her place in her world, she's not too different from Bo. And when they realise that, well, two imperfect puzzle pieces, do, despite what they may look like, fit.

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