Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A history of violence

Yesterday, in celebration of the 2G carnage mark (that is, the 2,000 American enlisted boys death toll--the real figures of human waste being exponentially higher), I went to see Cronenberg's latest, History of Violence, with a couple of friends. (And probably some of the below constitutes spoilers so don't read on if you're touchy about that kind of thing.)

Because I am a geek, I often read reviews of movies after I go see them, particularly if I like them. And I did like HoV--though my movie companions were not so impressed I think. Anyway, I just read about 1/2 dozen reviews and I suppose it's not too surprising that mostly it's the British reviews that talk about the movie as an investigation of American history, an implication that seemed obvious on a "no duh" level to me, but hey, I spent a decade of my life writing papers no one will ever read about things like this so there you have it.

What was surprising to me though was how few reviewers talked about gender. Really none of them did. Some reviews talk about the marriage in the movie--the ways that the violence inflects the intimacy between Tom Stall and his wife, but nobody really talked about the "this is a man's world" aspect of the film. Maybe it's my own bleak outlook in the whole man/woman debacle these days, but I left the movie feeling depressed about the whole message that, on some level, men can only really be deeply intimate with other men and that intimacy is built on a foundation of violence. Please don't get me wrong. I really am not trying to man bash here. You guys (Yella, Ep, Gordon, Fixer, Conor, and so on) you know I love you. I don't think you're a bunch of brutal naked apes or anything. But zooming out some away from the personal relationships and looking more at the Fight Club aspects of America (past and present), it's just a bit sad that's all. There's this moment when father and son embrace--blood spattered father and rifle clutching son--and it's so intimate; that's what I'm talking about here.

Somewhat brilliantly, in my opinion, IMDB staffer Keith Simanton calls attention to the parallels between HoV's closing scene and the scene in It's a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart comes home and yells at the family (a scene that, I will confess, has never failed to make me cry even though I have seen the movie countless times). Of course, talking about Cronenberg next to Capra is like comparing Francis Bacon and Maxfield Parrish or something, but that's the beauty of it. I think the movie is saying not just that underneath the idyllic pastoral is a lot of bloodshed, but that neither of these visions are the truth in and of themselves. The movie makes much of the Tom vs. Joey conflict--who is this person really--is he Tom? Is he Joey? And the reviews that do talk about the marriage in the movie talk about the paired sex scenes as playing out this conflict in his relationship with Edie. But really isn't the movie saying you can't bifurcate Tom/Joey?

I guess in that way I found it pretty impressive. I think it's easy in this present political landscape (and maybe it's always been easy) to think of "reality" as the violence that underpins our day to day life here. What I mean is, reality is the war we are fighting in Iraq not the cars I share the road with in the morning that are dropping kids off at school. (And of course, there are those who see the kids/commute as the reality and the war as something to be erased or denied.) But I think what HoV says is it's not an either/or situation. As someone who has always had a real love/hate relationship with America (shit, I am an "Americanist" according to the academy--or was) this resonates with me and I guess that's why I liked the movie so much.

So did any of y'all see it? What did you think?

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