Saturday, March 25, 2006

A History of Violence

Karyn and I watched "A History of Violence" last night, and we both didn't like it. The story was contrived and formulaic. It played like an old B Western, with the dastardly bad guys and the pure good guys. Director David Cronenberg's attempts to show us a loving family were hackneyed and hamfisted. In the beginning of the film, when the little girl wakes up from a nightmare, the entire family, including the teenage son, gather around to console her. Ugh. The next scene? The family gathered around the breakfast table, while the dad pours orange juice from a glass pitcher. Ugh. Soon after, the main character strolls down the main drag of Anytown, USA, greeting all the locals by name. Ugh. The son gets picked on in school by a bully that makes Biff from "Back to the Future" look like Hamlet. The movie was filled with these one-dimensional tropes straight out of screenwriting 101. Where is the complexity and subtlety? The film does move well, though, in its middle third. The central conceit of the film is strong. But anytime Cronenberg attempts to show an emotion, he dips into the cliche bag for a closeup, a trite line of dialog, and some flute music to underscore that "HERE IS AN EMOTION--DON'T MISS IT." The only way he could have been less subtle is if he had subtitled it. Here is a review that says it much better than I do.


Karyn said...

I am not as studied as Eric in the art of film making but I too didn't love History of Violence. My gauge of a movie is my internal cringefactor and I cringed in this movie a lot. Not necessarily at the violent sex on the stairs scene but at the awkward dialog and the obvious music. It just wasn't very artistic. I know this was written from a comic book story and by a comic book storywriter and you could definitely tell!

MC said...

I was interested in reading your comments about this film, so I watched A History of Violence again; I picked up a copy in Shanghai. I still think it’s one of the best movies of last year, much better than the cowboy movie that everyone thought got robbed. Does it represent small town life; I don’t know I grew up in a town of 250,000. Maybe I should ask my brother-in-law, who grew up in Unionville, where he knew every person in town by name. Prior to the nightmare scene and juice-pouring scene, there was a scene where a little girl was murdered as a witness to a murder, so I see that, as reaction of extreme violence with extreme normalcy-it didn’t bother me. In fact, it was a short transition sequence to set a standard. The bully scene was obvious, but not overstated and important in relation to what happens later in the film. “A gun in the first act always goes off in the third.”

I see Cronenberg playing with conventions that people are familiar with. I think the complexity lies in themes: identity and defensive violence. I think Cronenberg is always asking who are we: are we defined by our actions, can we truly re-invent ourselves, does it change who we really are? Nature vs. nurture. It is recessive; his son is repulsed by his own proclivity to violence,

Films are ever true to life if that’s what you’re looking for don’t go to movies. I see this as a sort of metaphor for a post 9/11 world where violence or the threat of violence to the loved ones often produces a result that is less than admirable. I wonder that the4se sorts of concerns were never levied against David Lynch who charts familiar territory. Think Blue Velvet, white picket fences and birds singing as a human ear is found on the ground (I wonder if this is borrowed from Yojimbo where the dog is carrying a severed hand at the beginning of the film).

I also have to say that the cinematography was amazing. This is the best Cronenberg film to date. It was one of the most positively reviewed films of the year, and the review you refer to still gives it 3 out of 5 stars, which I assume is positive. You could do worse.

Karyn said...

I wanted to clarify that my internal cringefactor does not necessarily refer to violence, sex or violent sex and particularly not in this movie. As I said above I cringed a lot in the scenes with the son, the bully and the supposedly normal family life scenes. (I agree with the guy who wrote the review, I don't think this director knows what normal life is, he just knows what movies portray normal life as).
Also, I agree with you Pat that complex themes about identity, who are we really?, can we reinvent ourselves?, etc. were introduced in this film but in my opinion were superficial and glossed-over. He did not explore them at all. Instead it became an fairly typical good vs. evil action-movie. And I enjoyed it for that.