Bonnie and Clyde: Violence, Impact

Bonnie and Clyde was dangerous because “art imitates action by reflecting contemporary attitudes and thus, through the power of reflection, confirms them.” (Charles Thomas Samuels, Williams College)

A lot has been written about Arthur Penn’s stylized violence in Bonnie and Clyde, particularly at the end, when Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed and shot, just when they are at their most relaxed and romantic.

It’s one of the most shocking and powerful scenes in modern film. Having just avoided another encounter with the sheriff, Bonnie and Clyde couple is enjoying a sunny day outdoors. They are not aware, but we viewers know that the local police is just about to ambush them.

The setup is wonderfully depicted. A flock of birds take flight and the couple exchange a final loving look. Then, in a spectacular montage, Penn shows how the cops literally riddle the couple with bullets from head to toe.

Though considered excessive by standards of violence at the time, it’s noteworthy that some historians claim that the onscreen violence actually underplayed the real violence.

Reel Vs. Real

In the movie, the number of bullets fired at Bonnie and Clyde at their death is 87, whereas in actuality, it’s estimated that over 180 bullets riddled the duo.