Sneak Preview: "A History of Violence"

by robbiefreeling
September 8, 2005 3:53 AM
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Oddly, I left the theater yesterday after seeing the new Cronenberg film A History of Violence on a bit of a giddy high. Strange for a film that's ostensibly, or let's face it, PRETENDS to be, wisely, "about" the "nature" of violence and blah blah. The truth is, Cronenberg is mischeviously disinterested in grandiose themes here...if History of Violence is "about" anything, it seems to be that everything is a form of mechanism, not least of all, its own narrative. It's being released wide on a Friday by New Line, and one can almost, just almost, see what the studio was thinking: Cronenberg's film can function as a conventional thriller, if you care to read it that way; and it seems like part of Cronenberg is asking you, even daring you, to do just that. And thus by buying into its incredibly disconcerting surface pleasures you become caught up in one of cinema's best recent acts of trickery.

It would be simply unfair to give away too much of what occurs on a basic, flat narrative level, because watching it play out, in its troublingly plasticine workmanlike manner, just doesn't feel like anything doesn't feel right. Something's very off here, as if we're watching some form of eXistenZ's "game," yet we are never clued into why we're here or where we are. All we're left with are visual clues: Viggo Mortensen's alternately soulful and dead eyes peering out from behind a face that shifts between baby-innocent and skeleton-hollow; Maria Bello's form-fitting cheerleader outfit, held over from her teenage days for naughty sexcapades; a tastelessly prefab home steak dinner plate adorned with bright carrots and peas. Cronenberg isn't after the same old "dark side of suburbia" here; what he's done is far more delightfully insidious. The tone is precariously balanced; you often find yourself rooting for plot developments (the film is Cronenberg's most involving and fluid storytelling since The Fly) even while being distracted by the sheer artificiality of it all.

A nice complement to Haneke's Cache in its questioning of middle-class complacency, History of Violence deserves more consideration and more viewings to tease out its ambiguities than I can grant at this early stage. I can think of nothing more subversive in American film right now than this "product," which will be challenging the codes of film watching even as its mainstream audiences laugh along with it. Oh, did I mention it's really funny, too?

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  • Joanne | October 1, 2005 8:10 AMReply

    I just saw this film last night. I have to say that I have not been able to stop thinking about it at all. The craft of the film, the shot composition and sequence of images was so much like a a graphic novel... the weird closeups of keyholes, hands on the shotgun, etc... amazing. There was always a sense of pulp, but underlying it all there was a real cynicism and disdain for today's American bourgeois fantasy --white flight, ex-urban families with a lawyer mom and a tough but kind dad with a pickup truck. The way it all crumbles is interesting, never real, but calculated, deliberate satire.
    It has quite a different ending than the original graphic novel... I won't give that away, but it's worth questioning why he chose to adapt it this way.
    I think there's a lot going on in this movie, and it would warrant another viewing on my part.

  • MIKE | September 22, 2005 4:45 AMReply

    Were we watching the same movie last??? Movie was aweful and not so funny.

  • robbiefreeling | September 9, 2005 9:33 AMReply

    I wouldn't go so far as to say "sexy"'s got a couple of really brilliantly directed sex scenes, rather explicit. But they're also sort of disturbing, the first because it's mechanical, the second because it's violent. That said, that doesn't mean you won't find Viggo hugely appealing in the film. He's terrific.

  • Patti H | September 9, 2005 8:51 AMReply

    I just can`t wait for this movie to come out. I also read that it is real sexy too? As a viggophile I can live in hope. regards.