Splendor in the Grass: Kazan’s Tale of Love and Madness

ASU Film Society celebrates the centennial of motion pictures with an exciting international film series, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Love and Madness.

One of the most powerful small-town films ever made is Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass, based on William Inge’s original script (which won an Oscar). The movie bears the scope, intensity, and ambition of an epic, examining such important issues as growing up, adult hypocrisy, repressed sexuality, moral and mental breakdown, love and marriage.

Splendor in the Grass shows the detrimental effects of sexual frustration on two romantically naive youngsters, Bud (Warren Beatty, in a stunning film debut) and Deanie (Natalie Wood), high-school sweethearts from very different social backgrounds. Bud epitomizes the conflict between sexual gratification and repression, the tension between obedience to parental authority and the need to rebel against it. The effects of sexual abstention are tragic: Deanie suffers a mental breakdown; Bud a moral breakdown. And while her suffering is more overt (she’s institutionalized), Bud’s pain is no less devastating, for his entire value system collapses.

The film is excellent in portraying Bud and Deanie’s dilemmas. Their wish to fulfill their romantic, passionate love not only runs against social conventions, but also against their own beliefs of what is “proper” behavior. They are victims of conformity, submitting themselves to overly rigid norms. Indeed, they are victims, not so much of fate or circumstances, but of a socialization process that stresses the “wrong” ideals. Ultimately, their initial decency and idealism inevitably result in their own tragedy.