As I was thinking about Bound recently, I was reminded of a chapter of Shoshana Felman’s book What Does a Woman Want?: Reading and Sexual Difference entitled “Textuality and the Riddle of Bisexuality.” In this chapter, Felman reads the Balzac story “The Girl with the Golden Eyes” as it relates to gender and sexuality. In the story, the main character, Henri, falls in love with a girl. She is, unbeknownst to him, sexually involved with the marquise (female) with whom she lives. Henri, however, assumes that she is the lover of the marquis (husband to the marquise). According to Felman, this assumption is fundamentally problematic because it destabilizes Henri’s position; he does not know the proper “address of his desire.” The love triangle is made uncanny because “Henri has no real knowledge, in fact, of his partners in the triangle. Engaged as he is in the very act of desiring and of struggling, and opposing, Henri does not really know who it is that he truly desires, who it is that he truly opposes, who are the two other poles of the triangle that implicates him and structures his own sexual involvement” (49).
Caesar makes a similar costly mistake in Bound. Never does he suspect that Corky could be his rival, and so assumes that Johnnie is the one who stole the money, an assumption that leads him to kill multiple high-level members of the mafia and ultimately invite his own death. Like Henri, Caesar makes a fundamental “misreading of femininity,” one that actually reflects his own masculinity back to him (in the form of Johnnie). This misreading prevents him from really knowing Violet as he thinks he does. She is left to correct him with “You don’t know shit about me,” and a number of gunshots to the chest.
Felman also reads the Balzac story as a metaphor of epistolarity (correspondence between two people, postal or otherwise). Henri, unable to determine the true address of his desire, is unable to win Paquita (the girl). Unlike Paquita, however, Violet has the power to direct herself, to determine which addressee (Corky or Caesar) she chooses. This choice is represented spatially in the different apartments Violets moves between. In the apartment with Caesar, he is her addressee and she performs heterosexuality; when she is in any other room with Corky, she directs her desire to Corky and performs homosexuality. However, there is always the knowledge that this arrangement is tenous. Much of the suspense and tension of the film arise from the knowledge that, at some point, these worlds will converge and Violet will have to choose one, the other, or none. Someone has to drop out of the triangle.
These addressees are not equal, of course. Violet herself calls one relationship “work” and the other “sex,” stating that her “true” sexuality is homosexual. In addition, the connection she has with Corky is represented differently. While her relationship with Caesar is almost always performed publicly, her connection with Corky is private. The differences in these connections is played out especially in the handling of the telephone. When Caesar uses it, Violet is always there and able to hear his half of the conversation, if not both sides. She even manipulates Caesar’s public actions through the phone, telling him what to do from the bathroom. Though she is not in the room, she has the power of surveillance and knowledge, saying “I know your gun is behind the bar,” etc. In contrast, her calls with Corky are private. Their connection is also mediated by something extra beyond language, whether it be the sense of touch through the wall or their understanding of each other (in their last call, when Violet says, “I want to tell you something,” Corky says that she already knows it). Their ability to pull off the whole thing is dependent upon this unspoken, invisible connection.
Caesar, on the other hand, is constantly surveiled, both by Violet and Corky, who is listening through the wall. It is this violation of privacy and realization of surveillance that so shocks him when he finds Violet on the phone. Frantically, he tries to disrupt their communication, intercepting the phone and pressing redial. Corky picks up the phone but says nothing, making her ultimately inaccessible to Caesar. Once again, Caesar assumes that it is a man who is Violet’s addressee waiting on the other end of the line, asking, “Did you call Mickey?” When he finally finds out that Corky is the conspirator, he is shocked and unbelievably exclaims, “YOU!?” Yet, even when he realizes that Violet and Corky are involved and conspiring against him, he is unable to believe that Violet is not who he thinks she is. He cannot solve the riddle of her sexuality. It seems that there is something in the connection between Corky and Violet that he simply cannot touch, a secret knowledge that gives Violet the power to shoot him.
This ending differs from “The Girl with the Golden Eyes” significantly. In the Balzac story, the triangle also collapses, but it is Paquita who dies. Henri and the marquise (who turns out to be his sister) end up together, exposing the supposed rival as the true address of Henri’s desire. Felman reads this move as the reflection of masculinity back on itself through femininity. Henri ultimately desired a reflection, a woman with the very likeness of himself.
In Bound a very different decision is made. It seems the film is hard-pressed to solve the riddle of Violet’s sexuality. Although Violet clearly performs two sexualities, the film cannot accept that they are actually both valid. There is, in fact, a total diavowal of bisexuality as a real form of sexual expression. Instead, one is labeled “true” and the other “false.” Violet must choose the ultimate addressee of her desire, and the one who is not chosen must die. While disavowing one binary division (male/female), the film reinforces another (homo-/heterosexuality).
However, Violet also makes a decision for a semi-reflection; she chooses a woman like herself. This similarity is introduced early in the film when Violet suggests that she and Corky are not so different; Corky steals for the same reasons Violet is in a heterosexual relationship. Corky resists this logic, but by the end of the film, accepts their symmetry. Corky says, “You know what the difference is between you and me?” When Violet replies, “no,” Corky says, “Me neither.” If Balzac makes the case for masculinity desiring itself, Bound makes the claim for femininity choosing itself.