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October 05, 2005

A History of Violence

David Cronenberg - 2005
New Line 35mm film

Fellow blogger, Girish, (see link to the right), wrote about Violence twice. I was planning to see it theatrically anyways because Cronenberg usually is one of the more interesting English language filmmakers around. While I have not read any of his links to other writings on this film, I am also not certain if I have a lot to say about it.

What throws me off about Violence is that it doesn't have the usual framework of a David Cronenberg film. Not that Cronenberg is obligated to make only science fiction horror type films. Maybe it's something specific to me, but when I see a film Cronenberg directed, but did not write or even adapt such as Naked Lunch, I feel that something is missing. I have seen almost all of Cronenberg's features except for M. Butterfly. With Violence, I have same same feeling of distance that I had with Spider and The Dead Zone.

I have no idea if I am missing something being unfamiliar with the source material. I usually do not read graphic novels. The film raises valid questions about the nature of violence, and the choices required to break the cycle or avoid it altogether. Where Cronenberg succeeds in deglamorizing violence is when the character of Tom Stall facially disfigures two gangsters by shooting them. When Tom's son Jack gets in a fight with a taunting bully, there is a sense of catharsis. Any idea of being critical about violence gets set aside because you want Jack to punch out his nemesis. When Jack shoots a gangster, the questions are raised as to whether violence is learned or inherited behavior.

Even the characters sometimes seem ambivalent, that is to say both attracted to and repulsed by the behavior of themselves or others. When Tom virtually rapes his wife, she seems to indicate both physical pleasure and intellectual rejection of the situation. Even the textbook style of of title raises questions as to whether the topic is about a specific family or a treatise on the nature of violence. On the most personal level, what I have to question is how the narrative is resolved, essentially concluding that violence is sometimes needed to end violence.

How seriously am I suppose to take this movie? I've seen enough films to know that usually depicting a non-violent response to violence makes for film that is usully less interesting and more of a civics lesson. On the other hand, if you're going to make a film in which a normally pacifistic person is forced to answer violence with violence, I liked this film better when it was called Straw Dogs.

Posted by peter at October 5, 2005 05:44 PM