Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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A History of Violence - Mocking us with a message: Review

Those who are familiar with Canadian film director David Cronenberg’s work will know what to expect from him. Violence, of course, Once known as the “Baron of Blood”, he began his debut in 1975 with a shocking feature, “Shivers”, which literally got his audiences trembling. Eleven years later, he ended this brutal visualization of man’s sadistic tendency with “The Fly”. But Cronenberg continued to show us the perverse and the distasteful side of life; the ugly sex in “Crash” and “M Butterfly” and “alternate reality” in “Spider” and “Naked Lunch” are examples of Cronenberg’s method of cerebral taunt.

His latest movie, “A History of Violence”(which opened in Madras/Chennai in July 2006), appears to have started him on the third phase. Here, we see him play with violence, even blood and gore, but with a degree of restraint: we begin to feel that violence is necessary to end violence. A Hitckcockian sense can be felt. Though, while we were fairly aware of the kind of crime in the master’s work, we are kept in the dark in a Cronenberg film. We find ourselves continuously challenged and teased. We struggle to find out where he is about to take us.

Viggo Mortensen in 
A History of Violence.
Viggo Mortensen .
“A History of Violence” begins with a foreboding scene of two evil characters outside a motel discussing their latest adventure. One of them walks back into the building to get some water, and we come across two blood-soaked bodies on the floor. This shocking picture is cut into the tranquil home of the Stalls in Indiana, where we see Tom (Viggo Mortensen), his lawyer wife Eddie (Maria Bello) and their two children having breakfast. heir day passes with a kind of serenity that we know is a pre-runner to what is follow. As Tom is about to close the diner he runs, the two thugs we saw earlier walk in and try to rob him. To his own astonishment and that of others in the diner, Tom shoots them, and becomes a national hero. He is on every television channel.

The violence in the diner unfortunately begets more violence, and in a classic sequence, Cronenberg shows us how Tom’s meek son beats up the school bully. When Tom shows his annoyance saying that “nobody in our family resorts to violence to solve problems”, the son retorts exasperatedly, “oh, yes, they shoot them down”.

Eddie, on the other hand, finds Tom’s new power with his fists and other men’s guns both intimidating and alluring, and the script underlines this in a scene where Tom forces his wife into rough sex on the stairway. Their 20 years of married gentleness, and the harmony of their home are further threatened with the entry of another mobster, who walks into the diner convinced that Tom is Joey, an old adversary.

Cronenberg takes ghoulish pleasure in playing with our nerves: there is a lot more killing and, yes, some contrived situations before the director’s message hits us.

The final frames of “A History of Violence” is an admirable exercise in restraint, and as we watch the family reunite and as we follow their little gestures, we want to forgive Cronenberg for the disgusting time he gave us with the camera dwelling on convulsing bodies and scarred faces.

Mortensen does a neat job as a man who desperately seeks the comfort of love and peace, and there is not single out-of-place nuance or expression to get a false note ringing. Bello as one who is pushed into a terrible dilemma is fine, though one may find her glamorous good looks a trifle odd in the small-town setting. These two actors add a liberal dash of elegance to make “A History of Violence” a work worth remembering. And, we forget that Cronenberg had mocked us.

(This review was posted on this website on July 21 2006)