Violence is Bad

Posted by sepoy on September 30, 2005 · 4 mins read

Perhaps the best reviewed movie of the year, David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, pissed the living hell out of me. It has been proclaimed "Epic", "Incredible", blah and blah. I had been looking forward to this for a while. I thought - here is a good director, an interesting script and a lot of talk about how this was a meditation on "George W. Bush's America" - this should be great.

I call bullshit on all the critics and I especially call bullshit on David Cronenberg. To find out specifically what I call bullshit on, listen to this podcast of Elvis Mitchell's interview with Cronenberg. Go on.

Doug Liman made a movie recently in which he had these perfect-bodied specimens [Brangelina or Pijolie?] play normal, suburban couple who are in reality Assassins! The movie was a good-hearted farce and clearly intended that way until the end when suddenly the rubber bullets that had been raining all along, turned steel-tipped for no apparent reason. The fantasy [beside imagining Brangelina pleasuring itself] was that a thin veneer of normalcy hides the truth - we are all secret killers and tango dancers. The thing about Liman was that he never said that he was making some parable about America or Bush or whatever. He was just trying to wreck Jennifer Aniston's marriage.

Here comes Mr. Cronenberg and he wants us to sit up and take notice about the ways in which violence hides itself in plain light in America. He builds up this Rockwellian simulacra [hi Daisy] of Americana with the howdy y'allz and the baseball diamonds and the offers of pies and the cheerleader uniforms and the man who cleans out the spark-plugs of his trusty pickup truck. The camera moves slowly and deliberately; the colors are bright yet dusted; the dialogue is shrugged; so perfect is this chimerical American dream. Then, he shows us violence happening. Bad people doing bad things to good people. But, guess what, the good people are even better at violence than the bad people.

Violence is easy enough to depict. Trademark Cronenberg shots linger on a face missing the lower half; on holes exploding in skulls, and chests; on noses and eyes ripped. Yeah, whatever. I have seen the best of Miike. It is the moment before and after the violence that is tricky. Cronenberg has variously led us to believe that his movie follows the results of violence - which apparently begets violence - and that this somehow explains Iraq. So, let us see what the movie shows us: That the real result of five bodies piled up on a "normal" family's lawn by the actions of two members is a tortured conversation over meatloaf. That is the end result of all the violence. The man sits down to a plate set up by an innocent child. Oh, you say that there is all that ambiguity? You have been had, dear reader. The "normal" conclusion of homicide and fratricide should be a suicide. There is no normal in that scenario. Life does NOT continue as is. The consequences are not sleeping on the sofa.

Cronenberg has made a Mr. & Mrs. Smith except all the critics have fallen head over heels for this sorry-ass excuse of a "message" movie when they said that Smith was exploitative. Why? Why did every critic fall for it? Is it because there is a complete lack of any engagement with America as it is today? So, anything that is not released by Michael Moore gives the critics instant boners? Well, I don't care that they have to schlep their miserable lives reviewing Transporter 2, they don't have to con me as well.

Oh, and I do realize that those of you who have seen the movie, won't agree with me here. Enjoy.


Dman | September 30, 2005's a huge bummer to read your take, Sepoy. Of course, I would take your word over those of the critics who are apparently on Cronenberg's payroll. Having talked to Mrs. Sepoy about the movie, I am convinced it's not worth watching. Perhaps when it comes out in avi... ;)

Quizman | September 30, 2005

Okay..its off my Netflix list. This on the other hand, I would've paid to see.

Dman | September 30, 2005

BTW, if you want a good movie about violence in America, I suggest "Land of Plenty," which was released last year.

raven | October 01, 2005

sepoy, will you consider enlisting in a little project about an insensitive jerk?

Veena | October 02, 2005

I was so going to see this movie until I saw this!

Bryant | October 04, 2005

Welp, my big point of disagreement is on the end result. I don't think the end result /is/ a tortured conversation over meatloaf. Cronenberg doesn't show us the outcome; the final shot, with Maria Bello about to say something, is not a conclusion. If you think we're supposed to conclude that everything goes back to normal at that point -- after the killings, after the cops have shown that they're unable to protect their own, that there is no safety, after the cops have become complicit in the coverup... then sure, it's a copout ending. But I don't buy that interpretation.

sepoy | October 04, 2005

Bryant: "Cronenberg doesn't show us the outcome" - my point exactly. Why not? Does Cronenberg shy from showing us the violence? Or that dreamscape of America complete with hoodlums from the big city? No. So, why this sudden reticence? What is this, Lost in Violence? Maria Bello has plenty of opportunity to say something when he enters the room - that she waited for him to sit and food to be served tells me that whatever it was, it wasn't "normal".

Paul Taegel | October 07, 2005

It seems as though your objection to A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE lies more in the thematic interpretations of write-ups you've read than in the film itself. Lots of critics seem loathe to savor a rollickiing good yarn without appending some sort of allegorical context to it. Mr. and Mrs. SMITH? Bush's America? You've got to be joking. In A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE we have an non-temporally located film--it could be the 1930's for all the relevance today's political climate bears on the film's story and its central characters. What we do have is a great story that neatly traverses a lot of the genre's cliche's. It's also told with an elegance that allows us entry into the minds of some complex characters who must ultimately live with ambiguity--within themselves and the people they care about. That was my take on it. For more of my ingenious reviews, check out filmradar,com

rob | October 14, 2005

"The "normal" conclusion of homicide and fratricide should be a suicide. There is no normal in that scenario. Life does NOT continue as is." Working within the family-allegory-for-nation framework: Aren't you rather missing the point about post-Afgh/Iraq America that Croney might be trying to get across? Isn't the issue not so much that the disavowed, foundational violence of the USA is doomed to repeat itself but that we are also doomed to incorporate and wilfully forget/incorporate such violence? It is the peverse, Ballardian aspect of the wife who half-revels in being raped by her monstrous husband that is violence to this film, not the self-destructive guilt of Sepoy-Ethics. I also agree with Paul that the film could be timeless, regardless of what Croney says. I mean, cummon, nobody reads Flaubert cos they love his politics, do they?