While some say the essence of a book is lost in a movie, those who have watched the movie A Streetcar Named Desire would argue otherwise.
The movie which released in 1951, directed by Elia Kazanis adapted from a play written by Tennessee Williams by the same name, dramatises the life of Blanche DuBois, a southern belle who, after encountering a series of personal losses, leaves her aristocratic background seeking refuge with her sister and brother-in-law in a dilapidated New Orleans tenement. She reaches their house in a streetcar named “Desire” - a witty play on the name of the very film.
The movie Streetcar seethes with lust, and retains so much of Williams’ florid dialogue and insinuation that it often feels like Kazan and his cast are getting away with something. The first in line for appreciation is the fascinating performances by the actors who internalized the characters along with all its quirks, and it shows in the final result. Leigh, Hunter, and Malden all won Academy Awards for their Streetcar roles, but it was Brando who was the revelation.
That the movie’s French Quarter looked like a set was part of the genius of Kazan who balanced his interest in documentary and cinematic expressionism. That’s how a movie that never ventures beyond women in slips and men in torn T-shirts can seem so explicit, and how it can be at once exaggerated and true. The use of dialogue as well, is in accordance with the mood of the play. The lines sound exactly like what they are - short, impactful doses of words designed to hold the attention of the audience.
Apart from the usual elements a film is supposed to excel in, what this film surprisingly excels at is the subtle use of metaphors and suggestive meanings in the form of lights and shadows, ideas of escape and notions of “proper” and “improper”. The concept of desires, of different kinds in different characters, portrayed in different ways is truly commendable in this movie.
There is a delicate balance that has been maintained throughout, between the external and the internal chaos. While the film reflects some very real emotional and mental states, it does so in a mystical way. “I don’t want realism,” Blanche says at one point. “I want magic.” Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire offers both. It truly is poetry on screen.