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Film / Bronson

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"My name's Charles Bronson. And all my life, I've wanted to be famous."

Bronson is the story of Britain's most violent and most expensive prisoner: Charles Bronson (No, not the actor), played by Tom Hardy and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.

Michael Gordon Peterson is a seemingly average man living in England in the 1970s. He describes his upbringing as typical, his parents as principled. After marrying a sweetheart and having a child, he saws off a double-barreled shotgun and robs a post-office. He's caught and arrested soon after, and sentenced to seven years in prison. He soon finds that prison isn't that bad of a place to be. In fact, it's rather like a hotel, where you can eat and sleep for free for as long as society dictates. Soon enough, Michael doesn't just like prison; he loves it. And what's more, he's determined to be a star.

The film is violent, uncompromising, and very, very darkly humorous. It's presented not as the real-life story of Bronson, but as Bronson's story of Bronson. In taking on this viewpoint, the film aims to explore just why Bronson does the things he does, as well as bring attention to the bizarre hypocrisies that his actions expose.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abominable Auditorium: The film takes place inside the eponymous character's mind, here envisioned as a theatre where Britain's Most Violent Prisoner can detail his life's story in a one-man show before a captive audience. Most of the audience spend the production completely silent except when Bronson wants them to laugh, and he isn't above threatening audience members who try to heckle him.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film focuses in on Bronson's more violent episodes.
  • Artistic License – History: The warden snarks about the appropriateness of a British man naming himself after a Mongolian-American actor. The real Charles Bronson's family was from Lithuania and had Lipka Tatar ancestry.
    • The supposed footage from Broadmoor asylum is actually footage from the Strangeways prison protests from 1990 and while Charles Bronson did actually stage a protest on Broadmoor's roof there are no known recorded pieces of footage of the incident (there are pictures however).
    • Additionally the real life Charles Bronson still had a full head of hair by the time he was incarcerated in Broadmoor asylum.
  • Attention Whore: The only consistent theme through Bronson's various contradictory and unprovoked attacks seems to be that he wants to make sure people know who he is.
  • Ax-Crazy: Bronson is more than willing to punch out, strangle, or take hostage anyone who he feels has wronged him.
  • Bedlam House: The two mental hospitals Bronson gets sent to had horrible reputations for this.
  • Blood Knight: Bronson just really loves to fight. When he's briefly released from prison, he joins an underground fight club, and he's clearly having a ball.
  • Calming Tea: The usually violent Bronson will become a little more cordial to the prison guard when he's serving tea.
  • Crossdresser: After leaving prison he meets a few that are friends of his agent.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Something of a trademark for Bronson. His various crimes and outbursts rarely have any provocation or reasoning behind them, often resulting in moments where he's genuinely unsure what to do once he's committed to them. The best example of this is when he takes the prison librarian hostage, without any demands prepared, and casually asks his own hostage what's supposed to happen next.
    Bronson: What do I want? [beat] What have you got?
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Whether or not Bronson is evil is up for debate, but he's certainly not okay with a fellow inmate suggesting he partake in raping a young girl with him.
  • Fan Disservice: Tom Hardy naked? Nice. Tom Hardy naked and covered in blood, taking part in a prison cagefight? Less nice.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Any attempts by a member the prison authorities to be nice to Bronson seem to be met with this; both the prison librarian and the art teacher end up being terrorized victims in his hostage-taking escapades despite never personally wronging him. While the art teacher may have angered Bronson by getting too chummy, it seems that Bronson was just taking out his anger at the warden/system/world on him just because he was there. There is no sign at all that the librarian did anything whatsoever to upset Bronson at all.
  • Fight Clubbing: During his brief odyssey outside of prison, Bronson tries to make a go of it as a bareknuckle boxer, fighting dogs and local gypsies.
  • Fight Magnet: Bronson, definitely due to his Hair-Trigger Temper and Ax-Crazy behavior.
  • Framing Device: Bronson on a stage, as if performing a one man show in front of a high society crowd.
  • Freudian Excuse: Averted. Bronson was born into a stable, middle-class home.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Twice. In one incident, Bronson strips naked and forces his hostsge to grease him up before fights to make it harder for the guards to grab a hold of him. In another hostage situation, he clashes with the guards while wearing just a layer of black paint.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Bronson was always trouble, but the constant solitary confinement surely didn't help matters any. But his own behavior put him there, creating a vicious cycle.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Charles Bronson sets off very easily and his Ax-Crazy behavior doesn't help with his wrathful decisions. Even as a child he had a violent temper.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: The authorities might have actually had a chance at reforming Bronson during his art phase: he genuinely showed artistic talent and he seemed satisfied with pursuing art as a vocation. However, the warden of the prison basically dismissed his art without even looking at it... which led to Bronson just thinking "fuck this", kidnapping his art teacher and submitting him to the René Magritte treatment.
  • Hellhole Prison: Broadmoor is implied to be such, but never actually shown, except in the real life clips of the large scale riot he orchestrated.
  • His Own Worst Enemy: Put nicely by Roger Ebert: "I was reading a theory the other day that a few people just happen to be pure evil. I'm afraid I believe it. They lack any conscience, any sense of pity or empathy for their victims. But Bronson is his own victim. How do you figure that?" (This, of course, is not meant to gloss over all of the other people Bronson has hurt over the years.)
  • Hypocritical Humor: Bronson strips naked and demands that his hostage grease him up, then angrily calls him a "fucking homo" when some of it accidentally gets in his backside.
  • Hidden Depths: Bronson proves to be quite a decent artist later in the film. Sadly, this doesn’t last as his art instructor becomes a target for his rage.
  • Iconic Outfit: Bronson's handlebar mustache and teashades are so synonymous with him, one of the movie posters actually feature it as an abstract representation of him.
  • Instant Sedation: At the psychiatric hospital, this is how they deal with him after he refuses to take his pills, though it does take a several seconds before he stops struggling.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Alison, Bronson's girlfriend, tells him that she's marrying the other man she's been seeing, Bronson handles it surprisingly well, and congratulates her with forced good humour rather than the sort of explosive reaction one might expect.
  • Manly Facial Hair: Bronson wears a signature handlebar mustache, which is Truth in Television, a probable vestige of his days working as a carnival strongman. Interestingly, Bronson himself says in the introductory audio that it is his moustache on-screen; he claims that he shaved it off and gave it to Hardy on one of his visits to him.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Less chessmaster than usual for this trope, but he still does just as well inside as he does outside.
  • Mind Screw: Why Bronson does anything is a mystery for the ages, and the film's revolving around him makes it inevitable for it to approach this.
  • Mood Whiplash: Invoked within the first two minutes. While talking to the audience, Charlie cackles maniacally, and then suddenly delivers a Death Glare.
  • Morality Pet: Bronson seems genuinely devoted to Alison, acting surprisingly awkward around her and not even seeming to consider showing her his more aggressive side.
  • No Ending: It ends with Bronson, beaten severely, groaning in a cage just barely big enough for him to stand in. Two police officers close a pair of double doors. Roll credits. It makes sense when you consider that the real Bronson is still in jail.
  • Pedo Hunt: The inmate in the psychiatric prison that Bronson tries to strangle to death just so happens to be the suggested pedophile.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Smug Snake: The prison governor, although given that Bronson is constantly assaulting his staff and taking them hostage, his condescending and dismissive attitude towards Bronson and his art is more understandable.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In more ways than one. The film is narrated and presented by Bronson, who says he's tired of being misrepresented. This could imply that the media who devote so much attention to him are unreliable narrators, or Bronson could just be trying to extend his reputation.
  • Urine Trouble: Bronson pisses on a fallen foe during his bareknuckle boxing days; the perfect capper to a grimy brawl in the middle of nowhere.
  • Villain Protagonist: Bronson is the protagonist and his own worst enemy.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: There are several occasions around women when you might expect some of his trademark extreme violence, but not only does he not get violent, he doesn't even seem to consider it.