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October 23rd, 2005 - Yew Erdri Ming — LiveJournal

About October 23rd, 2005

The Film and the Violence 07:26 pm
I love David Lynch.

Discussing his newfound love for digital video, the man says, "Some would say it looks bad. But it reminds me of early 35mm, that didn't have that tight grain. When you have a poor image, there's lots more room to dream."

That's what I call an exquisite attitude (you can read more here).

But I've been neglecting another of my favourite Davids, namely Cronenberg, as I've not here discussed my feelings about

A History of Violence

Not Cronenberg's best, far from his most ambitious, but probably the best movie in theatres right now (I feel I can safely say that without having seen Capote, partly because I'm a smug bastard).

Viggo Mortensen is well cast as a man who, when we first meet him, seems an ordinary denizen of a small American town, but who is eventually revealed as having a sinister, bloodied past. It's the same qualities that made him ideal for Aragorn, actually--he can be the dangerous, wild-faced Strider, but also the good and noble Aragorn.

His Tom Stall at the beginning of A History of Violence seems basically an affable, decent, if quiet, man, but there is a subtle, buried fierceness you can see in his eyes. I'm sort of reminded of the opening shot of Blue Velvet, where David Lynch showed that even under an idyllic, suburban setting, there're vicious insects scrabbling under the grass. In Cronenberg's new film, even in the ostensibly normal, peaceful atmosphere of the beginning, there are harbingers of a violent reality kept at bay; the strange anecdote from the cook in Tom's diner, the juxtaposition of Tom's daughter screaming about imaginary monsters at night with the film's opening scene, and, well, Mortensen.

The very first scene is two thugs lazily committing horrific crimes. A subtle, somehow perfectly Cronenbergian touch I noticed was that one of these thugs bore a resemblance to Mortensen. Cronenberg relies on people knowing Viggo Mortensen's the star of the movie, so that one or two people in the audience might be saying to themselves, "Looking for Viggo . . . Looking for Viggo . . . Looking . . . Wait, is that him? I know he looks different without the Aragorn makeup so maybe . . . I don't know--no, no I don't think it's him." So already there's a little shadow of Tom's duel life.

Maria Bello's good as well. She has the task of conveying the horrified disorientation at learning her husband of fifteen years may not be who she thought he was, an idea audiences are largely too jaded for. And she's good in the movie's two sex scenes, which are both very different in tone and are both instrumental in conveying the nature of hers and Tom's relationship. The second scene in particular was terrific for conveying her internal conflict.

Daily life, sex, violence . . . The film does a wonderful job of showing that these are all, in fact, part of the same fabric, and that one of the biggest tasks we may face as human beings is holding all three in the same perception of the universe. This is almost the opposite of what most films seem to do these days, which is to perceptibly switch modes between violence, dialogue, sex.

The violence in the movie is sudden and terrible, and lingers as something you're still trying to understand moments after the action has passed. In that way, it was somehow Kurosawaian. And unlike many directors of late, like Chris Nolan in Batman Begins, Cronenberg does not use quick cuts and manipulative editing as a crutch to make up for the actors' inability to perform the stunts. Instead, Cronenberg uses quick cuts and expert editing as an enhancement for the violence. Godard said, "the cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie." So, like everything in the medium that the audience is hip to the artifice of, the presence of these cuts has to be justified by artistic brilliance. Cronenberg succeeds. Baz Luhrmann ought to be taking notes.
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