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Film in American Popular CultureVisit the Film Archive
 BOUND AND GAGGED II

I ended my first article, “Bound and Gagged,” which you can find in the film archive on this site, by promising to analyze one of the few films that has broken some of the codes of containment: Bound (1996).

When this Wachowski brothers’ film begins, we learn that Corky (Gina Gershon) and Violet (Jennifer Tilly) have both been “contained” for five years. Corky has been in prison for the “redistribution of wealth,” and Violet has been kept by Caesar (Joe Pantoliani) who controls her or “rules” her just as his namesakes did his subjects in Rome. The first few seconds of the film flash forward in time and show Corky literally bound, gagged, and contained within a closet. This image symbolizes the societal desire to contain transgressive women.

Corky is a thief – just like Electra in the Wachowski brothers’ 1995 script, Assassins; she is a skilled handywoman – a traditionally masculine field; and she is a lesbian.

Caesar rules his household. He commands Violet to fetch him drinks, and, when she wants to leave, he holds a gun to her head and commands her to stay. Additionally, he’s disrespectful almost every time he addresses her. In most of their scenes together he says things like “shut up,” “don’t f------ touch me,” or “how the f--- did you do that?”

Caesar even tries to dominate Corky. After he first meets her, he offers her money, so she won’t steal anything from their apartment. Once she takes the money, he believes he now controls her actions. She’s on his payroll – an employee. But from the first time Corky and Violet meet on the elevator, we know differently. Caesar stands by the doors while the two women stand further back and stare at one another. Because they are behind Caesar, he doesn’t realize they’re doing this. As Violet and Caesar leave the elevator and walk toward their apartment door, Violet lags behind, and the two women once again exchange glances. All of this action takes place literally “behind Caesar’s back” which places it beyond the realm of his control.

After Violet and Corky form a relationship, they plan to steal over two million dollars from Caesar. He never even suspects for a moment that these two women are a threat, and he leaves the money on the desk. His dismissal of them works in their favor, however; they are able to steal the funds and make him believe Johnnie (Christopher Meloni) stole it.
Incidentally, Caesar’s dismissive attitude toward the women, and Corky in particular, is first revealed when he catches Violet and Corky alone in a darkened living room. He flies into a jealous rage, believing Corky to be a man. Once he gets closer and sees she’s a woman, he laughs and forgets the idea that Violet may be having an affair. Silly man, the two are having an affair.

After Caesar realizes the money is gone, he becomes crazed. When Gino (Richard Sarafian) and his son Johnnie come to pick it up, Caesar kills them both. Now he has compounded his problem: he has no money, and he has killed the mob boss, Gino.

Violet, on the other hand, is able to act calmly and think quickly. She tells Caesar several lies. Then when Caesar asks, “Where could the money be?” Violet replies, “I don’t know. It could be anywhere. We don’t even know if [Johnnie] was alone.” All the while, she knows Corky has it.

Returning to their apartment, Violet goes to the bedroom to pack. While in there, she calls Corky, and they confirm their belief in and love for one another. This tender moment underscores their dual transgression: they are stealing money from a patriarchal institution (the mafia), and they are violating the heterosexual norm which forms the foundation of the nuclear family.

When Caesar catches her on the phone, he begins to beat her. Corky, only in the next apartment, comes to Violet’s aid. No muscle bound super hero sweeps in; rather, a woman helps a woman escape her oppressor. Corky punches Caesar and knocks the gun from his hand. She doesn’t win this fight, however. Caesar kicks her in the head and knocks her out.

In the following scene, Violet and Corky are once again bound – literally tied up on the floor. But Violet is no longer submissive: she challenges Caesar, sasses him, talks back.
Then Caesar leaves the room. When he returns, he finds the two women resourcefully attempting to cut each other’s ropes. Caesar stops them and threatens them until Corky tells him where the money is. She cleverly saves her life here as well when she drops the suggestion that she may be lying. Rather than killing her, Caesar gags her and throws her in the closet. Here she is, bound and gaged, the opening moment of the film.

Caesar unties Violet, so she can help him lie his way out of his dilemma with another mob associate, Mickey (John Ryan). But Violet cleverly betrays Caesar, shoots him, and convinces Mickey that he had the money. If she had let Caesar live, she and Violet would have had to hide for the rest of his lives. By killing Caesar, they are free to live their lives where and how they please.

In the closing moments, Mickey stands with Violet and offers to care for her. She declines stating that she “needs to get away.” Before he leaves, however, she gives him a warm, seductive kiss, symbolizing her mastery of him and the situation. Then she climbs into her lover’s truck, a car usually assigned to masculine energy and agency, and they drive away with over two million dollars in cash and nobody chasing them.

Violet and Corky are literally and figuratively bound for three-quarters of this film. As such, they symbolize the usual position of transgressive women on the silver screen. By the end of the film, however, they escape containment strategies. Although they do have weaknesses, they do make mistakes, they are intelligent and resourceful and thus able to thwart the quintessential patriarchal institution: the mafia. In addition, men do not save them when they get in trouble: they save each other, or they save themselves. This teamwork allows them to shed the structures that bind and gag them and start a new kind of life.

The strategies of containment formulated in the fifties as a response to the atomic age have continued to control the transgressive feminine presence in film until the present day. Ironically, the feminist movement, which began to emerge in the 1960s, should have inspired newer and stronger images of women on film, but, with few exceptions, she did not. Instead, she precipitated an anxiety which seemed to necessitate the control of women on the screen since they were becoming so out-of-control in life. Only in the last decade or so have any real strides been made in the deconstruction of these strategies of containment. Indeed, the Wachowski brothers’ script can be read as a public confession to the fact that Hollywood has given us nothing for years but a stream of women bound and gagged on the silver screen.

October 2004

 

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