punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Movie/Musical "Chicago," was it technically a tragedy?

I am calling all my theater major friends!

I am pretty sure either you have seen this musical or movie or never wish to see it and spoilers won't matter. I mean, dude, it's been out as a play since 1926, then a long-standing Broadway musical since 1975, and then a major blockbuster film since 2002. So here's a short plot summary:

  • A woman named Velma kills her acting partner in a fit of jealous rage. Goes to jail.
  • A woman named Roxie kills a guy she's been sleeping with because he has been giving her the pretense that he's going to make her a star, and she finds out he's a fake and just wanted the sex. She goes to jail.
  • Roxie's husband is mousy and terminally confused, which doesn't change through the whole musical. He even has a bit "Mr. Cellophane" where he admits how much of a naive, shy, and useless wallflower he is.
  • Skipping a lot, there is a trial, which exposes just how corrupt the legal system is, how fickle the media-hound press is, and how much Roxie and Velma are willing to lie back-stab one another to get out of jail and be infamous killers in the newspapers to further their career. This is the bulk of the musical, with musical numbers showing how the lawyer, Billy Flynn, just manipulates the court system like a ringmaster.

In the end, Roxie wins the trial and gets off a free woman at the exact moment another "murder-du-jour" (there are several through the musical) happens on the courthouse steps, so her fame is reduced to nothing the moment she's proclaimed innocent. Thus, she's back to where she started before she shot the guy in her bed. Velma got off for reasons I can't recall.

Even though Velma nearly cost Roxie her freedom and clearly is a lying back-stabbing bitch, she visits Roxie auditioning and getting rejected. It's apparent after the trials both of them have fallen on hard times. So they agree to join up, and they become famous after all because while an act with one murderer is passe, TWO of them really brings in the crowds.

Despite them getting fame in the end, I consider this musical a tragedy because:

  • Roxie's husband is yanked around, and then abandoned, after falsely believing he had a kid (one of Roxie's fake stories for the press).
  • The only innocent cell mate they had, the Russian ballet dancer who was framed, is the only one executed (hung).
  • Despite the fact BOTH Roxie and Velma committed murder for personal benefit, both got off by lying through the court system. In fact, they got the fame they wanted in the first place.
  • The theme through the movie is "justice is a scam"

I have been told by some close to me that this film is not a tragedy because it ends with the huge musical number where Roxie and Velma got their "break." I think the fact those two shallow killers got a break, and more importantly, HOW they got it, is a tragedy.

But after studying the often varied definitions of tragedy in a play construct (nicely summarized here), I don't know what to think.

"Contemporary postmodern theater moves the ground for the execution of tragedy from the hamartia (the tragic mistake or error) of the individual tragic hero to the tragic hero's inability to have agency over his own life, without even the free will to make mistakes. The fate decreed from the gods of classical Greek tragedy is replaced by the will of institutions that shape the fate of the individual through policies and practices."

I don't think it's either of these. So what do you think? Was "Chicago" a feel-good romp into naughtiness where crime doesn't matter, or was is a kind of dystopian view of "good things come to those who deserve it?"
Tags: chicago, musical, theater, tragedy
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