Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A History of Violence

I really wish I could be watching and reviewing movies while they were in theaters, and people were more likely to care more. But I just can't see myself getting to any premier showings with my current life, and maybe in a NetFlix age there is a greater call for trailing-edge reviews. . .

Some thoughts on A History of Violence: (warning: spoilers follow)
  • In the DVD interviews director David Cronenberg claimed (with some irony) that the movie was "too commercial for Cannes," and I really have to agree. I enjoyed the film, but on an action-y, plot-driven level, not on a deep, thoughtful character-driven level. And not for a lack of enjoyable characters: really, everyone did a great job in the film. The bad guys who hold up Stall's Diner are really good at being despicable low-lives; Viggo Mortensen gets to be a really good small-town Everyman AND a mob hitman, and moves between the two identities with incredible subtlety. Even Tom Stall's son is interesting and engaging as a geeky, wimpy guy who gets in touch with his (ahem) killer instincts.
  • So why doesn't the movie work at a character level? The whole point of the film is Tom/Joey's quest for redemption. We get a pretty good idea of who he has become, and get a good glimpse of who he was in his previous unsavory life . . . but we never really get to see why he makes that transition. What makes a stone-cold killer become a pillar of the local community? Did he consciously set out to leave his past behind for a morally better life, or was he just laying low and gradually became used to being a humdrum guy? If you stretch your imagination and open your heart, you can believe such a transformation is possible . . . but there's got to be something behind it, and we never really get to see what that something is.
  • The lack of a clear explanation for Joey's transformation into Tom would even be forgivable, except for the mountain of Christ symbolism heaped upon us. He says he was "reborn" when he met his wife-to-be. He holds his arms out in classic crucifixion stance as he is frisked at his brother's. He gets the Judas kiss from his brother Ricky. He goes to the lakeside on Ricky's estate, ostensibly to ditch the gun but really to have a good baptism scene. And then he returns to his family after three days. It's a nice little resurrection arc . . . but God never shows up, nor even a sense of grace.
  • There are also some yawning chasms of credibility for our willing suspension of disbelief to hurdle. Could someone as deadly as Joey not have a rap-sheet that would follow him to his small-town life? Don't you think the feds would show up to talk to someone who killed three well-known mobsters on his front lawn? Surely some lawmen, as well as mobsters, would recognize Joey on TV? I have forgiven greater lapses for the sake of a good story, I suppose, but it still marrs the quality of the film.
  • So what does the film have going for it? Really good suspense, for one. I was never bored. And I liked all the characters . . . as Stephen King says, if the characters are believable the audience will follow them into the most unbelievable situations.



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