THE intoxicating feeling of love can lead people to do crazy things.
But what happens when these harmlessly ‘crazy’ gestures – like overspending on a gift or serenading in public – begin to escalate into perverse actions? Like stealing and killing for a loved one.
American cinema has long had a fascination with outlaw lovers. One would guess it is because outlaw lovers often marry the anti-authority actions of cowboys and gangsters with the fiery passion of a ride-or-die romance. After all, love and blood mix much better than oil and water.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were the modern originators of outlaw love. Immortalised in Arthur Penn’s 1967 hit film, the couple trailed through depression era America in search of destruction and wealth. Their status as a loved-up-and-loaded couple making them even more infamous than fellow prolific criminals of the time John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.
Bonnie and Clyde, the film, was also seen as a controversial act of rebellion, feeding into 60s counter-culture and exposing Hollywood to a new age of violent cinema. The bloodiness of Penn’s film mirrored the horrific, real-life images of the Vietnam War being beamed into homes via television.
In this way, Bonnie and Clyde marked the end of a innocent era on celluloid and made room for the likes of Tarantino, slasher flicks and much more big-screen violence in the coming decades.
Director Oliver Stone updated the Bonnie and Clyde tale in his 1994 film Natural Born Killers. The attractive and well-dressed Bonnie and Clyde were replaced by scruffy psychedelic-fuelled hippies named Mickey and Mallory. This couple – whose rage is directed toward the media – are much bloodier and sloppier than their 1920s predecessors. Unsurprisingly, their tie dye romance only appealed to a cult audience.
There are smaller seeds of the Bonnie and Clyde tale to be found in Harmony Korine’s outrageous 2012 film Spring Breakers. Instead of a couple, this outlaw love takes the form of a threesome (and at one point a foursome). Such polyamorous antics are a mark of the sexually relaxed times as phallic guns and suggestive Britney Spears songs litter the film.
In bright neon colours, the outlaw lovers of Spring Breakers enact their carelessly violent Grand Theft Auto fantasies throughout the film. Clyde and two Bonnies for a millennial generation.
The outlaw lovers in True Romance (1993) and Baby Driver (2017) divert further from the Bonnie and Clyde narrative. Rather than instigators, these couples find themselves caught in the crossfire and rely on their love for one another to carry them through. Both couples share a puppy dog chemistry that makes them all the more affable and, at times, almost bullet-proof.
That same full-heartedness prompts both sets of lovers to look to escape crime – and seek less hazardous – and more loving – surroundings. They do not need the thrill of an outlaw romance to be happy. The same cannot be said for the other, professionally criminal, outlaw couple – Darling (Eiza González) and Buddy (Jon Hamm) – that meet their demise in Baby Driver.
All in all, outlaw love is still going strong.