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Arts & Culture

A History of Violence

Tom: "We're just closing up here."
Man: " Coffee."
Tom: "I'm sorry were closed."
Man: "I know that." [scream]
Tom: " We don't carry much cash here."
Man: "Don't move."

Tom kills the intruders and becomes a media celebrity. The movie's audience applauds him as well. Filmmaker David Cronenberg makes viewers complicit in Tom's actions says the Village Voice's senior film critic Jim Hoberman.

JIM HOBERMAN: " The audience is always being put in this peculiar position of wanting something to happen, of rooting for some kind of necessary violence and then being shaken up or appalled when it does come to pass, its toomuch. So he directs the audience way Hitchcock used to. The mode is Hitchcockian."


A History of Violence also reveals the influence of another old master -- John Ford. Cronenberg looks to the primal imagery of Ford's classic American westerns.

DAVID CRONENBERG: " There is sort of this image of the homesteader protecting his house and his family and his spread with his shotgun against violent men. So there's definitely that tone and I think when I worked with Howard Shore on the music, we talked about those westerns as well, and theres a little bit of East of Eden and you also have a kind of what appears to be an idyllic American family then you start to see the things that are falling apart within it, a different structure but some tones, some of Howards music really reminded me of East of Eden ."

In A History of Violence, the image of the local hero starts to fall apart when his very identity is challenged by an out of town visitor.

Tom: "You think we know each other?"
Carl: "You tell me."
Tom: "No we don't know each other."
Carl: "Com'on Joey cut the crap. Your name is Joey and you're from Philly."

In the film, violence begets violence. Director David Cronenberg forces audiences to consider how much if any of it is really necessary.Screenwriter Josh Olsen says the filmmaker also raises the issue of whether this is a typically American response.


JOSH OLSEN: "I think on one level its true, we are a country with a history of violence but at the same time I'm hard pressed to come up with a country that doesn't have a history of violence. So at the time of working on it and the way I thought about it there was always a distinctly American thing going on. The subject of who we are, who our country is and what our national character is and how did we get here, and how does being American affect who you are as an individual is something that's interesting to me."

The very phrase "a history of violence," as a description of someone's psychological profile or troubled past, has no equivalent in other languages says David Cronenberg, who is Canadian. While he doesn't think this is just an American problem, he says the film's very Americanness was very much a part of what attracted him to the project.

DAVID CRONENBERG: "Obviously there are current resonances in terms of American foreign policy you know which also has a kind of western movie feel to it. When were attacked, if the homesteader is attacked and then he goes out and kills the Indians and anything is justified in self-defense, and the question of whether a peaceful small town can exist without violence in the background that's there to support it and sustain it, these are all pretty interesting questions and without being overt I think the movie is fairly political."

Once again, David Cronenberg has introduced several layers of discomfort in his film, with the final act of subversion being that A History of Violence is being released as a mainstream movie in multiplexes across the U.S.

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