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
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.