Interpersonal Relationship Analysis: Characters of the Film Public Enemies

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Communications 100
Interpersonal Analysis

Effective interpersonal communication is crucial to development of all denominations of relationships between two or more individuals; from roll relationships shared between a doctor and patient, to platonic relationships shared between friends. Chiefly, interpersonal communication is arguably the most essential aspect contributing to the success or failure of a romantic relationship between a dyad. Communication directly influences the type of relationship participants share, how the relationship unfolds, and how satisfying that relationship is to the individuals sharing it. A lack of communication between individuals in an intimate relationship, such as one shared between a boyfriends and a girlfriend, typically results in mutual dissatisfaction which can lead to a decline in health of the individuals, both physically and emotionally, and ultimately, the disintegration of the relationship altogether. Romantic relationships develop and change over time as people communicate with one another. The evolution of the relationship can be depicted through four specific models; Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor’s Social Penetration Theory, Mark Knapp and Anita Vangelisti’s Knapp’s Stage Model, Leslie Baxter and Connie Bullis’s Turning Point Model and, Leslie Baxter’s Dialectical Theory. The progression of romantic relationships can easily be analyzed in films because they are vividly depicted and often over exaggerated. Michael Mann’s 2009 film, Public Enemies, an adaptation of the non-fiction book by Bryan Burrough, Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, chronicles the progression of the romantic relationship between the notorious bank robber John Dillinger and Billie Frechette while he is pursued by FBI agent Melvin Purvis in the midst of the Great Depression. The relationship Frechette and Dillinger carry out in the film perfectly displays the natural progression of an intimate relationship through the first five steps of the staircase in Knapp’s Stage Model. Knapp’s Stage Model is a communication model that conceptualizes relational development as a staircase consisting of five steps, with each step representing a respective stage of the relationship, that lead up toward commitment followed by five steps that descend from commitment towards the end of a relationship. The five steps that lead upwards towards commitment in chronological order are: initiating, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, and bonding. John Dillinger and Billie Frechette met one night at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago where the initiating stage occurred. Initiating is when the individuals try to establish as positive an impression of oneself as possible to appear likeable and pleasant. This stage is where the first impressions are made from a greetings and physical appearance. However, in order for the initiating stage to occur, the individuals need to signal interest in initiating contact at all. In our society, especially historically in time periods like the Great Depression, men typically initiate heterosexual romantic relationships, but only after the woman sends cues that they are single and interested primarily through kinesics nonverbal communication like eye contact and smiles. The excerpt from the movie script below shows the pre-initiation stage where Dillinger first sees Frechette and she sends nonverbal cues from across the crowded ballroom that she is both available and interested:

ARAGON BALLROOM-NIGHT
JOHN DILLINGER is watching a sexy young woman on the dance floor. He loses sight of her...He's expecting someone. Then, Dillinger sees her again: jet black hair in a bob, brown eyes, high and a great smile. She lights up a room. She is BILLIE FRECHETTE. She feels the stare and looks over. She studies him, then, looks away. Dillinger adjusts his chair to watch for the girl. Dellinger can't see Billie anymore. Billie reappears, dancing with a young...
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