I watched this academy award winning movie from 1951, A Streetcar Named Desire for the first time the other night. I was reminded once again that Vivien Leigh, who of course starred in Gone with the Wind, was a brilliant actress. In this acclaimed movie, Leigh plays the character of Blanche DuBois.
In the plot, Blanche unexpectedly moves in with her sister and her brother-in-law. A very young and strapping Marlon Brando plays the character of the brother-in-law, Stanley Kawalski. Kim Hunter plays Blanche’s sister, Stella. Each of the actors does an amazing job developing the characters. And each of the characters has major issues. Blanche shows up on her sister’s doorstep, because she was quite literally run out of the small town, where she seduced a seventeen year boy. Stanley is a rough and often crude character with little sympathy for Blanche’s problems. Stella is an enabler. She refuses to believe the truth about her sister.
I enjoyed the show. The quality of the acting coupled with the difficulty of the script made it especially interesting. But as the plot unfolded, I started thinking more about the psychology driving the story. Blanche’s character is so troubled. In fact, I think there is no doubt that she was dealing with rather serious emotional problems. No one around her made choices that would ultimately help her.
Stanley is just plain mean to Blanche. His cruel and even violent demeanor toward her just aggravated the situation. A young man named Mitch played by Karl Mauldin is enamored by her good looks and charm. He is unable to help her too, because he is fooled by her outward magnetism. And then there is sweet Stella the enabler. She just refuses to face reality.
As I reflected on the movie, I thought: How can we help someone close to us who is dealing with mental illness? I don’t have the final answers by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a few ideas.
• Reality is our friend. We can’t pretend like nothing is wrong.
• Enabling bad behavior does not help anyone in the long run.
• Being sarcastic, mean spirited, or verbally cruel in any form only makes things worse.
• People dealing with mental illness can be a serious danger to other people as well as themselves. (Such was the case with Blanche’s character)
• Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness.
Tennessee Williams won a Pulitzer Prize for the original play by the same title. Vivien Leigh won the academy award in 1951 for best actress. Kim Hunter won best supporting actress. Karl Mauldin won best supporting actor. Marlon Brando was nominated for best actor. Their roles were challenging, because each of the characters had layers of problems they were facing. In real life, there are no academy awards for dealing with the drama of life. We are called on to do the best we can to serve one another in a spirit of true unconditional love. The actual expressions of such love can be a real challenge.