Friday, October 07, 2005


The History of Violence

Oct 8, Metro Theatre (private screening room)

David Cronenberg

Score: 9

I'm always surprised when I look up Cronenberg; I have a higher opinion of him as a filmmaker than I do of his actual films (and I'm one of six people who actually stayed to the very end of Crash, and I didn't even hate it!). I find Dead Ringers overrated, and while Existenz and Naked Lunch are enjoyable, they're not anything terribly special. I found the Fly boring. Yet, I've always considered myself a Cronenberg fan, for the reason anyone does; his signature creepiness works for me on some level, even when it's being executed in otherwise unnoteworthy contexts.

So this film, the best Cronenberg film I've seen by a wide margin, is a bit of surprise. There's a great deal of tension in the film, and a host of scenes in which both the behavior and motives of the characters are in question, to great effect, but the tradition forms of Cronenberg creepiness are largely absent (one marvelous exception is the glorious, Lynchian opening sequence). But it's not a "standard thriller" as it's been described, either. It's a beautifully executed, meticulously composed mediation on the ever-present simmering threat of violence in even the most placid lives.

Among the numerous virtues of this film is it's vision of small town America; the details of the life Tom Stall leads almost seem to hokey to not be a joke, an exaggerated stereotype of the stultifying dullness and lameness of small town America. Gangsters and gangster life are also presented in cliches. Both of the sex scenes are cliches. Indeed, while most of the movie is composed of cliches of various sorts, it works because they're arranged with such precision and purpose. A number of scenes of normal family life are repeated; once with violence in it's 'proper' place, and again later when violence is beginning to emerge and seep into the daily lives of the Stalls. The details of the staid family life of the Stalls are pretty much objectively dull and banal. But in this film, dull and banal are infinitely preferable to exciting and dangerous. The violent presence within the family is both terrifying and exhilerating for Tom/Joey's wife and son, but more the former than the latter. This is ambiguity done exceedingly well.

I have a few trivial complaints; some things that were clear enough without actually stated them were written into Richie Cusack's dialogue, for example. Viggo was excellent as Tom Stall, but his Joey moments probably should have been a bit more restrained. I expect some will find Cronenberg's precision and meticulous focus off-putting, but for those anywhere near his wave-length, he's made a hell of a film. I haven't yet seen the Ozon of the Jarmusch, but I'd say this is my favorite 2005 release so far.

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