Lauren: OK - A History of Violence? What did you think?
Emma: Well, I had only read quite positive reviews, and I was intrigued by the concept, so my expectations were high. But I am going to echo what you said when we came out of the movie theatre: I admired it more than I enjoyed it.
Lauren: Yes, I felt like such a man when I realized that I respected the film for its intelligence but derived no pleasure from our encounter.
Emma: Ha ha!
Lauren: Sad but true.
Emma: Now we know how that feels. Maureen Dowd, are you listening?
Lauren: Totally. I am blowing up her psychic blackberry with our gendered cinematic revelations. Cineclub doesn't make passes at films who wear glasses.
Emma: That should be our banner! I suppose one of the things I felt was that it was very conceptually contrived, and stylized. Which was impressive in a non-visceral way - ironic given the highly visceral nature of the violence depicted...
Lauren: It reminded me of something I can only ever understand in the abstract -- that extreme violence is tolerated in American culture, but never extreme sex. The violence was numbing. Although, on the flipside of that, the hate-fucking was nicely done.
Emma: Yes! But what also struck me strongly were the violent moments that slid into comedy. That's a very contemporary, and very weird aspect of the American tolerance of extreme violence - we not only tolerate it, we are amused by it!
Lauren: Absolutely. What do you think of the idea that the film was adapted from a graphic novel? I felt that, in that sense, it seemed like the visual character of the film was highly on point. At times, the tightly controlled shots did seem to unfold like frames in a comic strip.
Emma: I hadn't thought about that but it does make sense: It was stylized in a certain way that is like a comic.
Lauren: Absolutely. Also, what did you think of the interplay between Good and Evil? I was on the edge of my seat every time someone said, I love you, expecting brains to be splattered on the wall in the next frame.
Emma: That's exactly it: There was much more emphasis on plot than verisimilitude. Although we were supposed to be grappling with the moral gray zone of the man stuck between good and evil, in fact there was little moral complexity. It was simply, you can be good, or you can be bad!
Lauren: Absolutely. Much ado was made about the "bad men" -- and they are always men in this worldview.
Emma: Indeed -- and even the way Viggo Mortensen’s character divided himself into two people was like a magical transformation. He couldn't be both, just either/or.
Lauren: And the only woman in the film was too busy being the ultimate Madonna Whore, and the world's most supportive partner! Who dresses up like a cheerleader in the bedroom! Also: I was waiting for her to ruin it all, Claire Forlani-style.
Emma: As you say, the woman who does that is the perfect wife. And that's one of the aspects that intrigued me about the opening scenes of the film. The depiction of the perfect family, perfect town, etc, was so over the top, that I assumed we were supposed to see it as such. D'you know what I mean?
Lauren: Absolutely. The stage was set when the little daughter who seemed to have a bad dye job, p.s., had a dream about "monsters" and the entire family -- Mom Dad and sweet Johnny Average Older Brother -- all rushed to comfort her. I was like, "Darling; now when does the killing spree start?"
Emma: Right! And the perfect little coffee shop on Main Street, Normalville, that our man owned, it was exaggeration to emphasize what was to come. I suppose my question is, why was that excessive contrast necessary? Or am I misconstruing?
Lauren: It was the kind of story that can be expertly and, more importantly, plausibly told in a two-color graphic novel that relies on striking visual images and plots for narrative power. More intriguingly: I faithfully believed in falsehoods espoused before the "reveal", whereas you didn't at all...
Emma: OK: this is the point where readers who don't want the plot spoiled should look away!
Lauren: ***Spoiler Alert*** Avert your eyes!
Emma: I knew that Viggo as “Tom Stall” was the violent gangster the bad men had "mistaken" him for. I don't know why, but it was clear to me. I wasn't sure if he himself knew, or had perhaps suffered amnesia or something, but I knew it was him.
Lauren: I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Emma: Perhaps it was simply movie-watcher cynicism on my part. It wouldn't have been a story if it wasn't him. Also, his apparent goodness, and humility - it had to be repressing something!
Lauren: I don't know -- I felt like there were a number of possibilities. Maybe I thought it was too straightforward to have that be the case. But it was really a yin-yang story.
Emma: I know what you mean. Yes, absolutely yin yang.
Lauren: Maria Bello -- the right actress for the role? She's got a gravelly, somewhat brassy charm that I kind of admire in this film.
Emma: Yes, she was good. I liked her, although I was slightly bothered by the fact her unwashed hair did a lot of the acting for her.
Lauren: And that black roots and blonde tips does not a fair-haired maiden make.
Emma: Exactly -- it's like, we get it -- you're an unglamorous mom -- you're still allowed shampoo and decent highlights.
Lauren: Making out with Viggo had to have been the juiciest aspect of that gig.
Emma: And there was hot chemistry between them. As you said, the hate fucking was excellently done.
Lauren: Oh yeah. She was great with what she had to work with.
Emma: Definitely. So, getting back to the premise, that Viggo's character relinquished a life of extreme violence to assume a new identity, only to have it torn away - plausible? Or is that even a meaningful question given the terms of the story?
Lauren: Yeah, I think he totally could have gotten away with splitting for Indiana and living a quiet life until he turned up on television. It's the ultimate American fantasy/nightmare.
Emma: It is, isn't it? But: The moment we refer to, when he and his wife are fighting on the stairs and he grabs her neck (before they're overcome with lust); that really emphasizes that he's violent in his nature, and has been repressing it. That's the part I'm not sure if I buy, that someone could completely bury a part of themselves.
Lauren: Yeah, I mean it's hard to see the movie as anything but a study in extremes. For instance, his convenient action hero skills that he can just pop and lock at a moment's notice...While he lectures his son about not fighting at school.
Emma: And his son, apparently, inherited those skills without even knowing it! Just whips them out and puts a bully in hospital when needed, despite his former nerd/wimp status.
Lauren: Right, which if you think about it, is the starting premise for every action hero movie franchise. Peter Parker! Bruce Wayne!
Emma: It's so true. I have to say, though, I wasn't bored at any point. I wasn't always emotionally engaged, but the actors were all great. The actor who played Viggo's brother was a hoot.
Lauren: Willliam Hurt is a national treasure.
I was riveted but mostly in anticipation of carnage.
Emma: Yes! And seeing as we've given away the main plot points I won't spoil the ending, but I didn't predict it.
The ending was a little unexpected given how cut and dried the movie
seemed up until that point. Good! Evil! Good! Evil! Life is Complicated.
Emma: Not so much in the vision of David Cronenberg.
Lauren: Well, the ending....What do you think happens next?
Emma: Wow. It's almost impossible to imagine.
Lauren: We can however pick some peonies. Whaddya say?
Emma: I say: Three. Because it was an intriguing, intelligent film.
Lauren: But not pretty enough to take to the prom...yeah, and it's like One! Five! Let's make life easy for once and split the difference.
Emma: So A History of Violence earns three out of five?
Lauren: That's the verdict.
Le Cineclub Rating:
(three out of a possible five peonies)