By Cody Corrall
On Wednesday night, Chicago-born director and screenwriter Lana Wachowski came to the historic Music Box Theater for a conversation on the evolution of her career following a screening of her feature directorial debut: Bound.
The event was part of Cinepocalypse, one of Chicago’s newest film festivals showcasing the greatest in genre film: from world premiers to screenings of cult classics like the Chiodo Brothers’ Killer Klowns from Outer Space and The Wachowski Sisters’ Bound.
Bound, released in 1996, follows Corky (Gina Gershon), an ex con and Violet (Jennifer Tilly), the girlfriend of a gangster named Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) as they fall in love and make an elaborate plan to get Violet out of the Mob and take $2 million with them.
Bound is a sapphic noir film that plays with traditional notions of genre and character. Corky, for example, is a butchy handyman doing renovations in the apartment next to Violet. She is visibly queer: she wears baggy cargo pants and combat boots, drinks beer, and always has dirt or grease on her hands.
Violet, conversely, is much more femme. She speaks with a high, nasally voice, wears form-fitting dresses and high heels, and is seen as a sex object by Caesar and the rest of the men in the Mob. Because of her non-traditional queer appearance, Corky questions the legitimacy of her identity and their relationship.
While Violet is soft spoken and subservient, she has the advantage of being underestimated. Like a classic femme fatale of the 1940s and 1950s, she is able to use her seduction as a weapon to manipulate her enemies into getting what she wants. This is especially true with her relationship with Caesar, who is so caught up in the peacocking masculine hierarchy of the Mob that he doesn’t question Violet’s loyalty.
Even when it is revealed that Violet and Corky are attempting to get away with the money, Caesar does not take their threats seriously, especially Violet’s. He even taunts Violet as she pulls a gun on him, never for a second believing that she would pull the trigger – until she does.
The Wachowski Sisters play with archetypes and perceptions of femininity in Bound. Violet is not the traditional, feminine damsel in distress: she is the one with all of the power. While Corky comes up with the plan, she spends the majority of the film waiting and listening next door. Violet is pulling the strings as the plot develops, and makes sure no one suspects her to be anything but subordinate.
In many ways, Bound flips the perception of masculinity and femininity in genre film as well as relationships and social hierarchy within queer spaces. Genre, by nature, is formulaic. It is built on repetition of tropes and storylines, and their acceptance by the audience. Audiences see popular tropes associated with genres like horror or romantic comedies – like a woman’s scream or a first kiss in the rain – and find a sense of comfort when they see it play out in a theater. Wachowski describes genre as a “democratically agreed upon expectation,” similar to the predictable but enjoyable chords of pop music.
“I wanted to introduce the love story and the connection and then make you start to feel all of the things you think when you see a character like Violet,” Wachowski said, “Which would be another way of exploring the idea of being out or judging a book by its cover and judgements of identity.”
Not only does Bound play with the audience's’ perception of its characters, it also disrupts classical notions of genre through its form. Corky and Violet’s sex scene happens early on in the film, which establishes the intensity of their relationship while still giving them chances to question their loyalty to one another as the plan gets more dangerous.
This scene also challenges norms of genre because it is done in one take. Genre films, especially in noir, rely on fast montages to cut through the plot and get to the action. In Bound, the pivotal moment in the film is drawn out to let the audience into the heat of the moment.
That scene in particular is an example of The Wachowski’s directing style and how it’s evolved over time. Bound is highly calculated – every frame has been written and rewritten and workshopped so that by the time it’s projected on the screen, it feels effortless.
This highly specific directing style translated into The Matrix Trilogy and even V for Vendetta. As time moved on, they let themselves experiment more and more – from Speed Racer to Cloud Atlas – until they came to the recently finished Sense8 which Wachowski calls “absolute, organic chaos.”
22 years after its release, Bound serves as a disruption of genre and perceptions of queerness that are still relevant today. In the end, Corky and Violet win. They get the money and each other – all while refuting violent and harmful depictions of LGBTQ characters in media. What started with a frustration of not seeing people like herself accurately portrayed in media, turned into the ultimate dismissal of those conventions.
“I was trying to think of a film set in a genre world where an LGBTQ character won and got a happily ever after,” Wachowski said.
“So, I said ‘I’m gonna make it!’”