At this year’s Cannes Film Festival director David Cronenberg revealed his latest offering, A History of Violence. Like other films this year, such as Sin City, many people will find this undesirable and simply reject it as senseless violence.
This inability to approach the topic of violence is exactly what the film is attempting to address. Specifically, how American society has fooled itself by masking our daily lives with white picket fences and station wagons, easily ignoring the problems around us.
To place this idea into our consciousness, Cronenberg presents one man’s tale of violence and the after effects on his family, town, and ultimately John Stall, the film’s main protagonist, who is played by Viggo Mortensen.
The film opens not with our main protagonist but instead with two killers, continuing a bloody killing spree that feels something like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.
The film is unabashed about their lack of morality and begins with one of the men discovering a young girl hiding in the motel where her parents where just slaughtered. She is shot on sight without hesitation, leaving the audience gasping at the idea of such senseless violence.
Very soon after, the killers find themselves in a small, quaint town that could easily be anywhere in America. By establishing the look and feel of a very rustic, yet friendly town, Cronenberg presents his characters as being honest, hard working, and friendly people. This heavy dose of Americana sets the foundation for the film’s basis that I referred to previously.
Eventually, the killers enter the restaurant owned by John Stall with full intensions of slaughtering everyone inside. What they quickly discover is that John Stall, the restaurant’s owner is willing to fight back and is deadly when he does so.
What follows is a hero like worship of Stall for defending his restaurant and the people inside it. Reluctant to take credit but hounded by news media, Stall and his family are then stalked by mobsters who believe they recognize his face from television.
The ever-vigilant goons are convinced Stall is pretending to be someone he’s not, a vicious, psychopathic mobster who disappeared without 20 years before, leaving behind unfinished business in the process.
One of the reasons why this film works so well is that Mortensen does a brilliant job at being such a humble, honest, hardworking man that we want to believe that’s who he actually is. The more violent Stall’s persona progresses, he is still the person we are initially introduced to. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
Mortensen’s power comes directly from his eyes. They speak much more than any line he delivers in the film and offer an astounding glimpse into the psyche of his character.
While this film doesn’t set forth a plot that is extremely deceiving or daring, it is most certainly using the characters, the story, and the setting to raise consciousness of the larger issue. How we as Americans turn away from and well as embrace violence. In doing so, the film also purposes perplexing questions. How exactly should we deal with the violence that surrounds us and what is acceptable?
The scenes of graphic violence themselves are quite intense and sometimes over the top, but serve a larger purpose of reflecting what many choose to ignore. Cronenberg presented similar notions in his earlier film, Videodrome.
In a time period where I feel many of the last moments of the films are steered towards mediocrity, A History of Violence isn’t afraid to leave the viewers in mid thought, leaving the stinging notion of violence and how we as Americans deal with it firmly in your mind. The film’s final image has stuck with me more than most final moments that I’ve witnessed in years. It left me with a haunting image I am still digesting weeks later.
While the film was not the director’s usual sci-fi, gory, effects driven fare, it still provokes a great deal of thought. This is most certainly “a Cronenberg film” in that he is unabashedly presents a topic that most people overlook in their daily lives. With A History of Violence, Cronenberg has once again made an incredibly entertaining film that puts forth an uncomfortable topic that isn’t discussed frequently enough.