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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

The Wachowskis: Bound (1996)

Updated: May 5, 2023

I had to do the maths twice for this, I just can't belive it is 19 years today since Bound (1996) was released in the UK. It was one of two films I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on at University - the other being Fatal Attraction (1987), yup 29 years ago!

For fun, here's a little of what I wrote about Bound, I haven't edited hence the references to the Wachowski Brothers as they were known then.

Bound was the film début of two brothers, Larry and Andy Wachowski who both directed and wrote the film. Like, Fatal Attraction, Bound features the eternal triangle of two women and one man, but this time, instead of two women fighting over a man, the women are fighting a man together. Violet, the girlfriend of Caesar, a mid-level member of the mob, devises a plan to steal the mob's money. She draws into her plot Corky, the female ex-con redecorating the apartment next door. The plot spirals out of control, causing Caesar to kill three high level mobsters and for his own murder to take place at the hands of Violet.

It was The Wachowski Brothers' intention to take the conventions of the film noir genre and manipulate them. In the press pack for Bound they talk of the film noir genre being one “based on conventions. For example, Corky is traditionally a male role; the stranger or ex-con that is seduced in the story. The fun is in bending and twisting convention ... No one has ever made a genre film like this with two lesbians as protagonists.” The films two lesbian protagonists are played by Jennifer Tilly (Violet) and Gina Gershon (Corky), with Joe Pantoliano as Caesar, money launderer for the mob and Violet’s meal ticket.

Bound harks back to the 1940s film noir through its black and white décor and familiar characters, but is distinctively 1990s in its use of violence and female sexuality. Thus raising the question as to whether Bound is a knowing post-modern film noir with lesbian sex thrown in for sensational marketing or a film which continues the trend which Fatal Attraction began of portraying female killers and women who are sexually active as deviant.

Bound opened in the US on the 1 November 1996 to great critical acclaim but little interest amongst the cinema going public except in America's Gay capital, San Francisco, where it broke house records. At the end of February 1997 the film opened and disappeared at cinemas in the UK.

The film was widely reviewed, but reviews and features stayed firmly in the arts pages of newspapers and magazines. Although many reviews focused on the lesbian angle "If you need evidence that lesbianism is the hottest cinematic sexual preference around. Bound proves it in spades with two babe dyke leads that will have straight male audiences panting in the back row." (Dee Pilgrim, Maxim Magazine) It is interesting to note that nothing in the film's plot structure requires that the two leads be female. In classic film noir the role of Corky would have been played a male, and Violet would have been (and still is) the classic femme fatale.

With American man's fear of impotence and the dominance of women in the workplace continuing throughout the 1990s, the time was ripe to resurrect the strong powerful women of the film noir. Foster Hirsch in Films of the Forties said: “I think there are real connections between America in the 40s and America in the 90s. There's a reason that noir is a central film making practice in both those eras. The sense of the American male being threatened on all sides by the uncertainty of the economy, by the gender wars, the race wars by multiculturalism and diversity, massive social and cultural realignments that have displaced the American white heterosexual male who has traditionally been the star of movies and the star of culture.”

So, Bound can be seen to be continuing the trend of the sexual woman as deviant, by making her killer and a lesbian, but by allowing her at the end of the film to leave town with the money and the woman, this subverts the earlier femme fatales as well as conforming the stereotype notion of a dumb gangster's moll and ex-con.

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