Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A History of Violence

Review for Film Ireland - original post - Friday, April 07, 2006

A History of Violence 

DIR: David Cronenberg • WRI: Josh Olson • PROD: Chris Bender, David Cronenberg, J.C. Spink • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Ronald Sanders • DES: Carol Spier • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Steph McHattie, Greg Bryk, Heidi Hayes

From the off, Cronenberg's cool distancing style lets us know that this isn't quite the real world, although it has many features of the real. The very accretion of realist detail becomes a distancing device by only serving notice that this is a carefully constructed artifice. The history of the title is the buried secrets that lie in Tom Stall's head until they are brought to the surface by a series of violent events.

This all happens in a small town which would be perfectly at home in a Frank Capra movie, where even the deviation is just wholesome naughty fun.Cronenberg works in a similar way to William Burroughs; characters and places are introduced who are not who they seem to be, not even who they think they are. What happens if someone comes along and challenges your identity in such a fundamental way that to answer their challenge you will have to take on a new identity? Can you simply become someone else for a while and then throw Excalibur back into the lake? Violence scars and tears away the flesh; is it the gateway to a deeper truth? Ed Harris's wonderfully macabre Irish gangster Fogerty has lost the sight in one eye and only sees the man who took his eye and upon whom he must take revenge. Viggo Mortensen's small town hero Tom Stall has some scars which act as question marks over his version of history.

The movie acts as a deconstruction of America's image of itself. The wholesome 'civilised' projection is seen as just that, a projection, and the truth of the human DNA will out. As a society, as a species, we have a violent past, present, and future. But at the end of the day even the most violent want to sit at the table and pass the salt and make small talk. The question is do we accept them back to the table? Do we need our violent side in order to protect our 'good' life? And is there such a thing as rehabilitation? This film left me with more questions about the nature and ethics of violence than any other film with the exception of Taxi Driver, and is a major addition to Cronenberg's canon.

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