Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
It's probably a mixture of spite and irreverence that persuaded me to spend a little less than two hours of this year's Valentine's Day to watch John Boorman's Deliverance, an unsympathetic account of four suburbanites tragic canoing trip in hillbilly country. It's the proper film to suck any notion of what Valentines invokes --- the proper panacea for those feeling antagonistically unromantic while the rest of the world is sizzling with love.
The four men arrive in a make-shift gas station and while waiting for their station wagons to refill with fuel, Drew (Ronny Cox) starts playing his guitar, attracting a deformed youngster to challenge his strumming with his very own banjo renditions. It's an arresting scene; both absurd and lovely --- a defining image of an uncomfortable marriage between the city slickers and the country bumpkins (the 'Dueling Banjoes' song naturally urged the natives to break into a dancing fit, as the tourists get amused out of the weirdness of it all). The scene, and the succeeding sequences of peaceful canoing are illusionary portrayals of an uneasy calm before the traumatic turn-around: two horny mountain men successfully sodomize insurance salesman Bobby (Ned Beatty) and attempt to similarly encroach on the masculinity of Ed (Jon Voight) before being foiled by the group's bow and arrow-wielding alpha-male Lewis (Burt Reynolds).
Deliverance is a film that is totally devoid of any depiction of romantic love. In fact, love isn't merely absent but the exact opposite of it pervades the air. Deliverance's central imagery concerns the act of rape; not only in its more obvious (when one of the mountainmen asks Bobby to squeal like a pig, while raping him) but also in its symbolic form. It's interesting how it's not only the city folks that were invaded, but also the serenity of a river and its denizens. From the start, an unamicable relationship between the Atlanta-based group and the backwoods is felt. Lewis lording it over as the leader of the pack; the rest of the gang try to regain or push forward their machismo. It is when an act of violation of that struggle for natural dominance occurs (the rape scene and the river's angry act of revenge with the terrible rapids that kills one of them) that the cycle of violence surfaces. Nature gets back at the agents of human expansion and shows them who's boss.
Rape is the most incongruent of acts --- it uses a method reserved for love-making but is fuelled by the basest of human emotions (hate, lust, vengeance, selfishness). The four urbanites' weekend in the river can be perceived as a rape in itself; an unwelcome entrance, and their respective reactions from the excitement of being victorious in conquering the initial rapids of the river, orgasmic in the sense that they achieve the goal of rape, which is dominating over the victim. It is also interesting that the method of the hunt is through a bow and arrow --- the image of an arrow piercing a mountain man, an appropriate vengeful response to the similarly graphic invasion that was done to them.
Even the reactions by the urbanites to the depraved act is comparable to those victimized by rape, a mixture of the need for retribution and a total whitewash of the act. The convenience of the river being drowned by the construction of a dam almost settles the score, forever burying the remnants of the hellish weekend. Yet the psychological effects persist; the knowledge, the guilt, the shock remain indelible portions of their lives (as shown by the concluding dream image of a corpse hand surfacing out of the lake). It seems that the struggle for dominance between urban development and the depicted backward country life and nature should end with the cycle by that final act of invasion (and rape) of flooding the entire river, yet it doesn't.
I thought Deliverance is probably one of the most truthful, painful and scathing cinematic depictions of rape, within a setting void of any tired notions of classical romanticism. Both its symbolic and its more visceral portrayal of the act are appropriated with real destructive repercussions against masculine dignity and that fairy tale-notion of urban dominance.
This post is my contribution to 100 films: The Lovesick Blog-A-Thon.