I’ve argued in this column that owning a house is an unwise move. It’s wasteful and expensive and it encourages materialism that leads you away from the road to happiness.
However, I must admit that having a house with your spouse is very good for one thing: longterm houseguests.
If your wife invites a relative to live in your spacious house, the living situation could end up being tolerable – even fun. Probably not, but it is possible.
If your wife invites her relative to move into your apartment with you, however, the situation is going to get ugly.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” begins with human trainwreck Blanche DuBois (Vivian Leigh) rolling into town. Blanche just left Mississippi under mysterious circumstances and she’s moving into her sister Stella’s studio apartment in New Orleans. Oh, and she is meeting Stella’s husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) for the first time. What could possibly go wrong?
Ultimately, we are supposed to sympathize with Blanche DuBois. But that doesn’t change the fact that she’s a lousy roommate. She’s a motormouth who makes constant meaningless small talk. She’s a habitual liar. She drinks all the booze. She takes long, fragrant baths in the apartment’s only bathroom.
Stanley Kowalski was certain to clash with Blanche DuBois from the very start. Stanley is blue collar, straight-forward, obsessive, and a little dense. He deals with his anger with childish tantrums and domestic violence. Brando never encourages us to like Stanley or sympathize with him. But the performance is so emotional and so human that we never view Stanley as a simple villain even though he always acts like one.
I was surprised and impressed by “Streetcar”’s frank depictions of self-destructive sexuality.
In one memorable scene, Stanley belittles Stella, hits her, and tosses the radio out the window in a drunken rage. Stella goes to a neighbor’s upstairs apartment to get away from her crazed husband. Stanley recognizes that he has gone too far, begins crying, and yells for his wife like a lonely wolf. “Stella!!!!”
Then a darkly funny thing happens. Stella walks down the stairs to her husband. She isn’t angry and she isn’t forgiving; Stella is in lustful ecstasy. Right there we learn that the violent fights aren’t a problem in their relationship; they ARE the relationship.
Director Elia Kazan slowly builds up evidence that Blanche’s self-esteem is so pathetic that she even turns to teenagers for attention. The scene where Blanche keeps calling the newspaper boy back to the apartment for small talk is powerful and uncomfortable. They never mention anything more substantive than the weather, but Vivian Leigh makes it very clear to the boy – and to the audience – that she would eagerly sleep with him if she could get away with it.
There is no apartment big enough to hold crazed, abusive Stanley and delusional, self-destructive Blanche. There was no possible way “A Streetcar Named Desire” could have a happy ending. And yet the finale is even a bit more grim than I was expecting.
I still think apartment life is the best life. However, when your wife asks you whether her sister can crash with you for a while, watch this movie and then tell her ‘no!’