Deliverance (1972 United States)

Nature, in the wild, can be violent. How appropriate that the setting should be the American South. Very few places in the U.S. are, or have been, as violent as redneck country. In a story about Darwinian survival of the fittest, the film conveys the idea that humans are part of nature, not separate from it. The magnificent scenery, the sounds of birds, frogs, crickets, and the roar of the river rapids, combined with the absence of civilization, all convey an environmental message–even if the original audience and critics did not focus on it.

The four men on this trip into the horrors of confronting dangers both in Mother Nature’s and deranged human assailant form find out what real fear is all about. Life in the city didn’t prepare most of them for the moment when they’d have to fight for their very lives. Jon Voight as Ed  is the nervous family man with a lot more on his plate than Angelina Jolie’s schooling to worry about. Burt Reynolds as Lewis is a tough and untamed son of nature.

Ronny Cox is the lanky four-eyed Drew, a banjo playing man of morals. Rounding off the quartet is the unfortunate Ned Beatty as Bobby, a chunky city guy out of his depth.

Here was a film where action spoke louder than words. Not much dialogue, the actors seem to be ad-libbing. Director John Boorman wisely chose to opt for realism in telling this savage tale. It has a kind of documentary like timelessness to it. You can imagine a re-make of the same story happening today except the vehicles would be modern. Its not a horror, thriller, mystery, drama or adventure. Its a combination of all of these genres.

Ned Beatty is probably the most visible rape survivor in film history, at least in North America. Certainly as a man attacked by another man, he tapped into an energy most males didn’t want to acknowledge. But rape survivors watching him struggle know what that distress is all about. Domination and a perverse display of power corrupting the human soul, are the key components of sexual assaults. For years Beatty stood almost alone in representing a violated victim who found the courage to go on despite the trauma.

How many major stars would play this part, then or now, without wanting to compromise at least a little bit in the extent of the scene? (I can imagine Tom Cruise demanding re-writes!) Burt Reynolds also said that during its filming, the action went on to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore and stopped the scene before demanding of the director, “Why the hell did you let that go on so long?” To which Boorman replied, “Because I knew when you reached your breaking point, that’s when the audience would reach theirs!”

The movie places the characters in unfair circumstances they must survive in, and then further unfair circumstances as they must hide what happened to survive. The unspoken message “stay in your own backyard or you’ll be killed” is very depressing. But then there are residents in big cities the world over, that cannot even go into a different neighbourhood without gangs targeting and killing them for no reason. Deliverance is more than just a guy getting raped by a hillbilly. It’s about man versus nature. It’s about survival. It’s about self-preservation. Its about risky adventure. It’s about how we deal with traumatic events. But, yeah, it’s also about a man getting bum-raped by a grinning redneck with a pig fetish…

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