Thursday, January 27, 2011

Deliverance (John Boorman) - 1972

I recently watched the 2010 remake of the 1978 film I Spit on Your Grave. The original film, and the remake, have often been reviewed as examples of over the top and sick torture porn. I have never seen the original, but am not sure I agree with these statements for the remake. I Spit on Your Grave is meant as a feminist horror film. A woman is raped by four men when she goes to a country cabin to work on her novel. As the cliche 'revenge is a dish best served cold' proves, the woman waits a month before she returns to inflict all kinds of pain and madness on the men who attacked her. I was never disgusted by her actions. I believe we live in a society where rape isn't viewed as the vile act of control that it really is. We all are shocked and upset by it, but little is ever talked about in the way of solution. Alright, all that is a little beside the point... As I watched I Spit on Your Grave, I thought to myself, "why do we never see male on male rape in films?" It only proved my point that we culturally accept rape as a part of life for women. Then, I viewed Deliverance and was surprised by what I saw.

The famous 'squeal like a piggie' scene of Deliverance is often joked about. I knew the reference, but not the entirety of the scene. I thought Ned Beatty was stripped and forced to make a full of himself. I was wrong. Beatty is raped by a man. We aren't shown much of this rape. We hear the sounds and we see a little bit of movement. This may be one of the tiniest rape scenes in film history, but it goes a long way in disturbing the audience. Not only are we not made aware of these situations in films, but we aren't made aware of these situations in real life. We're supposed to be watching a beautiful woman in revealing clothes being raped in a playful, almost overly sexualized way, (although, see Irreversible for an example of the most pained rape scene to make its way to film... I have never sat through the entire scene).

Deliverance plays out like classic literature. There is man vs nature (the men and their canoe trip), there is man vs machine (the men talk about the city, work, etc), and there is man vs man (the men battle their true natures and the true nature of other men). What does it mean to be male? Or, for that matter, what does it mean to be savage? To be an animal? I say 'what does it mean to be male' because this film is focused on the roles of these men (all four play a very stereotyped role: the adventurer, the artist, the lazy man, the education man). One could very easily watch a film like I Spit on Your Grave and ask 'what does it mean to be a female?' The point is, what is inside us... how far can we be pushed... and how do we deal with our responses?

A very revealing scene in the film shows all four men on their hands and knees. They are grunting and growling and clawing at the earth. They are digging a hole for a body. I have never seen humans portrayed as animals so perfectly as in this scene. And, to me, it is so obvious the purpose of this scene. But, not in a too obvious or cliched way.

At times, I was scared. Then, confused. Was I watching a horror film? An adventure film? There are many labels one could give this film. I was surprised by the depth and delivery of the film. All these years I've turned my nose up at it because it stars Burt Reynolds and is so often joked about. But, this is no laughing matter.

The film was made in the early '70s. There are certain effects that are out of date. Out of place. I even thought, at one point, 'this was acceptable back then?' But, this happens few and far between. These moments in no way disrupt the film. In fact, whenever going into an older movie, one must understand there will be differences in what we've come to expect from our movies and what was expected.


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