When The Warriors was released in 1979, it quickly became a favorite of gangs nationwide; several people believed the film would incite violence though, and it was quickly pulled from theaters. The movie’s brief run didn’t prevent it from becoming a success financially, and today, The Warriors is rightfully regarded by critics and audiences as a quintessential cult classic. The costumes are outstanding, amplifying the sense of camp and spectacle (the two stand-outs are the uniforms of the Baseball Furies, who look like they can’t decide whether to go to a Yankees game or a Kiss concert, and the very non-threatening, rollerskating, overall-wearing Punks) and the brawls are expertly executed, combining brutal violence with overtly stylized choreography.
The plot is simple: The Warriors, having been framed for the murder of the leader of the biggest gang in New York by another gang, find themselves suddenly positioned deep within enemy territory and must make it back to their own turf as every gang in the city searches for them. There are no complexities, no twists or turns, but it hardly seems to matter; there’s enough atmosphere and thrills to keep the audience invested for the entirety of the run time.
Typically, I spend a little more time reviewing the film as a whole, but I was struck by the position of women in the film and want to delve a little bit deeper into the issue. The film is comprised of a predominantly male cast, and, one would think, given the subject matter, that women would be pushed to the margins, but they have the most important roles in the film. First, there’s the DJ. Her true identity is never revealed; she remains, throughout the film, a pair of lips. The camera never strays from the close-up on the DJ’s lips, and it is this focus that gives the character her strength. She becomes a leader to the gangs pursuing the warriors, urging them towards their goal with frequent updates as to the locations and status of the rogue group. Her lips, these sensual parts of the body, are her means of communication, and so become the source of her power.
The Lizzies, a group that exploits their own sexuality in order to achieve their goals. In their only scene in the movie, the primarily female group seduces three Warriors up to an apartment. Hoping for a little more than mild foreplay, the three men seem to forget their goal give into the advances of the women…Then, they pull out their pistols and The Warriors find themselves in a difficult situation. The world of The Warriors is a world where brawn determines the status of your gang. Almost nobody uses guns; the weapons of choice seem to be blunt melee weapons like bats. An entirely female gang, lacking in physical strength, must turn to other means if they expect to hold their own. It’s interesting to note that, once the women do have the gang members in their snare, they resort to that phallic symbol of power, the firearm, to finish the job.
Finally, there’s Mercy, a young woman The Warrior’s pick up during a confrontation between them and the Orphans. She’s promiscuous, but, as her relationship with The Warriors develops, several situations evidence that she’s deeper than she’s given credit for. She will eventually be a catalyst for Swan, the group’s leader, though at first, nobody wants to recognize her as anything other than what she is. Swan in particular maintains his emotional distance and treats her poorly. It’s not until 2/3 of the way through the movie, during a scene in which Swan and Mercy are walking through the subway tunnel, that her character is able to have an impact. Both Swan and Mercy are living in stagnation because it’s safe, familiar. However, Swan has had his familiar world disrupted by the events of the evening. Mercy also finds herself in an unusual situation when Swan initially accepts, then rejects, her advances. Her attempts to get through to, and with, Swan, do have an impact on the laconic leader of The Warriors. “This if the life I got left,” Mercy says to Swan in the subway, referring to her promiscuous ways. Her words reach Swan and he begins to wonder if maybe there’s more to life than idleness and violence. A perfect example of the change in his character can be seen when he picks up a forgotten corsage he finds on the ground and gives it to Mercy. Maybe it’s not too late to change.
Luther: Waaariors….Come out to play-ay!
Ajax: I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle!
Recommended Viewing: Southern Comfort, Assault on Precinct 13