Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Straw Dogs (1971)
Let me start off this review by saying that this is the movie I watch every time a relationship I am in ends. Why? I'm not exactly certain but the overbearing amount of nihilism present somehow leaves my mind at peace once it's finished. It's a Sam Peckinpah joint, what more do I need to say here? Oh I know, fuck YOU 2011 Straw Dogs remake! Boooo, hisssss!
Plot summary: David and Amy Sumner are moving to Amy's hometown in rural Britain to escape anti war protests and everyday violence prevalent in the United States. Almost immediately upon arriving David manages to prove to the entire town that he is a complete pushover and an otherwise passive agressive twat. This later proves to have dire consequences for him in this tale of brutality, rape, and ultimate ignorance that is to unfurl before you. That's pretty much the best I can do without tipping my hat too far.
Sam Peckinpah at his best is visceral, brutal, frustrating and beautiful all at the same time. I believe this to be one of his true high points. As anybody who has seen this film knows, it's a pretty heavy view and not for light hearted watching. But what gets me more than the film we see on the surface is all of the subtext. Peckinpah isn't necessarily as well regarded as he should be for his ability to weave messages into his films, and I think this is one of his more successful attempts at making a cinematic layer cake. Mysteries and enigmas indeed! You get them by the bucketload here.
From the outset you are very frustrated by Dustin Hoffman's character David (or extremely sympathetic if you are a fucking xenophobe) due to his complete and utter spinelessness. The same can be said for his wife, who does what she can to flaunt herself about to the men of her old hometown, almost inviting them to cause trouble she knows her husband will do little if anything to stop. The men of the town are bored drunk rural asswipes with nothing better to do than pick on a weakling. You may have noticed by now that I am pointing out the fact that this film has a complete lack of redeemable characters anywhere in sight. No really, EVERYBODY in this movie is a fucking asshole. To be quite honest some of my most favorite films are this way, I find it rather mirrors real life in a way nobody is quite willing to admit to.
Something else I really like about the movie is at the end of it all, only the viewer actually knows what's really going on. Each character or set of characters certainly THINKS they know what's up and what to do about it. They go left when they should go right. This fly on the wall aspect of the film is often overlooked due to the more sensational elements of the plot. The smug self satisfaction David feels at the end of the film leaves the viewer sitting in a cloud of confusion, anger, and uneasiness. Thankfully only the immediate story is resolved, as the larger issues of the film remain up to our imagination which frankly is for the best. In other words, it's pretty well morally ambivalent when you add it all up.
The actual messages conveyed by the film are many, pretty much all of which are highly unpleasant. You may have noticed that the trailer seems to paint this film as a type of "every man has his breaking point" type film where he transcends his hitherto mundane and wussy existence and "becomes a man" through some trial of blood and violence. I guess you could call it that? I see it as a parable of just how fucked life really is and how people willingly blind themselves to the outside world until it is too late. Film marketing is a confusing and well less than exact science, but how many tickets would my idea of the film really sell? There's likely a pretty good reason I don't work for the film industry...
Do yourself a favor and see this film at least once in your life. I've seen it loads and I don't have any complaints.