Movie Review
A History of Violence

By: Roque Strew

Posted 10/12/2005 - 08:59:23 AM by dubidet:
 I have loved all of Cronenberg's films, and History is near the top w/ Videodrome and Shivers. It's as excellent and provocative as Vollmann's Rising Up & Rising Down. And, Roque, this is a perfectly pitched, and beautifully written review. Nice work.
Posted 10/12/2005 - 02:23:58 PM by jhitting:
 I saw History when it first came out two weekends ago and I have to say that this review is accurate. It is a must-see film. What I take issue with is why (and how) Roque ever got a message about Bush out of this. If anything, I left the film thinking that people must often commit sins--like murder--in order to do good in this world. In order to escape his violent past, Tom has to do violence on those people that won't let him leave. Perhaps History is in fact reinforcing the Bush doctrine. But that's all a stretch on my part. Although I know Roque won't agree with me, I don't think it's possible to watch this film and somehow relate it to Bush. That, to me, seems like an irresponsible and extremely biased comparison included solely for the purpose of grounding this film somehow in today's politics. For a film like this, one that refuses to be grounded by anything other than shock value, I just don't see the point.
Posted 10/12/2005 - 03:20:34 PM by dubidet:
 How's that Kool-Aid taste, jhitting?
Posted 10/12/2005 - 10:11:54 PM by roadrunner:
 Yes, everyone's pretty much right on the ball. History is a very well-made and shockingly revealing film, but a little awkward to watch with anyone else around, mainly because of the violent softcore porn scenes. I think it is a very strong point that Roque Stew makes, saying that the passion between Tom and his wife is in direct correlation with Cronenberg's message; or perhaps it's only our good ol' friend Shock Value. After all, the first sex scene takes place before any violence even occurs between Tom and anyone else; it's only there to constitute an initial connection between the two lovers.
Posted 10/13/2005 - 12:08:42 AM by RoqueStrew:
 jhitting, I'm usually skeptical about squeezing the political out of the artistic, but I drew that information from Andrew O'Hehir's great interview with Cronenberg in Salon, which I suggest you Google. A quote: "Not that we were making an overtly political film, but I think the political undertones are very obvious for those of a certain sensibility."
Posted 10/13/2005 - 01:34:50 AM by DeSandro:
 After talking with a friend about this one, she replied how typical it was for us Americans to find the two sex scenes much more disturbing than the four/five scenes of ultra-graphic violence. Seems like she was right.
Posted 10/13/2005 - 04:31:54 AM by moreonions:
 Allow me to be (so far) the lone dissenter. The review was well written and explained, my lone problem was that I happened to disagree with just about all of it. I felt this was a decent film, anchored by a pair of great performances from Mortensen and Bello, but is much closer to being a very bad film than it is to being a very good one. It asks no questions and reveals no more depth about its subject than countless other films. To compare it to Peckinpah's work is ludicrous; the gunplay scenes here are closer to the Jon Woo school (why is Tom the only mob enforcer in history to have CIA level training?). The "questions" have the subtlety of a sledgehammer and no more wisdom than tired cliches. Violence is everywhere, you can't escape your past, William Hurt still hasn't learned his "craft" and so on. My problem is that Cronenberg goes too far in the set-up. In making the stuck up Aryan bully so gleefully hateable, he removes the frightening reality in actual school violence, instead choosing to wave his finger at the audience, who will no doubt be shrieking in glee as the bully is then beaten to a bloody pulp even as they know "violence = bad." His Capra-esque Indiana town is so deliberately hokey that by the time Bonnie and Clyde wander into the diner to do some murderin', there is little doubt that this is nothing resembling reality. The alleged "shock" of splattered brains on the walls is rendered mute when you realize how cheesy the surroundings are. Compare it to a similiar scene in "Boogie Nights" where Don Cheadle's character witnesses a fouled-up robbery; there, the sudden force of the violence is much more effective. Even still, this could have been a very good movie if it pursued some of the questions it asks in the first act, which you brought up in your review. Instead, the insertion of the film-noir plot detracts it into the standard revenge-porn fantasy that you'd expect from a graphic novel.
Posted 10/14/2005 - 11:25:38 AM by The_Cause_:
 tisk, tisk, moreonions. Be wary of insulting the graphic novel in this, our day of its ultimate hipsterdom. You could have a crowd of crazed Alan Moorites posting upon you in defense of their beloved, bearded auteur. I think where you missed the point was in History's treatment of violence after the act. This film differed from any John Woo stylo in how the violent ones reacted after the killing was over. Instead of a smirk, or sidekick comment, or classic John Singleton "gotcha bitch," we get an embrace between father and son followed by mass confusion and incommunicato in a family that was the all good just a few (screen) minutes prior. And I'm sure Roque's got enough quotes and quibbles from numberous interviews, e-zines, literary whatevers to "prove" that this film raises the right questions. But, hey, what's more important here... director's intention or audience reception? Ooooh. Yeah I went there. But where Roque the Reverend went astray was in his instistence upon the lack of irony in this picture. What? Roque's seen enough Canadian Cinema to know that they can't not do irony. From the country that birthed Guy Maddin, Cronenberg treats our country's archetypes with plain ridiculousness. The whole bully bit is just hilarious, especially when the little Stall spits forth a Kids in the Hall defense that's multi-meta in its referral to the American bully archetype as well as the status of America as bully to Canada's immasculated teenager who can only spout a subversive joke in protest. Roque's problem is that he's trying to create the illusion of a Hyper-Neo-Romanicism where irony and its frivolity can just be tossed out of this moving car we call General Theory. But the irony HAS to be there. You can't pretend that after Baudrillard and Foucault that we can just surrender to our genius auteurs and let them tell an escapist tale. Cronenberg knows that. That's why certain treatments of American archetypes are just plain funny. The kids are smoking pot in front of the federal post office for chrissake. We need the occasional laugh to make us feel our butts in the seats, to make us see the exit sign readily available, to make us turn around and wonder what the hell the projectionist is doing behind the glass. That's what I took away from this flick. Cronenberg's right on the money but can't help being weird and Canadian just so we can keep ourselves in check. Roque and his school can't have their tears and eat them too.
Posted 10/14/2005 - 11:49:10 AM by jhitting:
 dubidet and Roque Strew, thanks so much for commenting on my commenting. Of course, I must assume that you are referring to Bush Kool-aide with your comment dubidet. I don't drink the Bush Kool-aide. I don't particularly like the guy. However, my comment referred more to the over-abundance of Bush-bashing in reviews that seem very far removed from anything resembling politics. I myself am not a Bush supporter, I am a supporter of well-crafted journalism and/or critical analysis of art that I enjoy. But that's OK, regurgitating a liberal insult like that probably makes you feel pretty superior, so good for you. My 53 yr old Mom does the same thing on the home computer, and in fact uses the same insult rather liberally if you can pardon my pun. Roque Strew: thanks for adding that bit about your source for the article. I now see where your influences came from. I'm sorry if we had a case of misinformation/misunderstanding. Perhaps that's both of our faults. Mine, for not reading your article thoroughly enough, and yours for not disclosing the source of your influence. La De Da. Until next time, this is jhitting signing off.
Posted 10/14/2005 - 01:12:20 PM by moreonions:
 Nice response "The_Cause"; I agree with you that this film is drenched in irony, which plenty of reviewers seem to ignore. Another quick comment on the awful bully story: wanting to beat someone up for catching a pop fly in a varsity gym class has got to be the worst motivation in history. As an aside, my John Woo comment referred only to the bursts of actions themselves, where Tom's "ex-mob enforcer" fighting is closer to Jason Bourne (or Chow Yung Fat) than to, say, Paulie Walnuts.
Posted 10/15/2005 - 01:20:47 PM by nikniknik:
 Listen i have to quote Mr. Ebert here. "I hate, hate, hated this movie." When he said that he was talking about North, a movie that while terrible, is itself a better commentary on modern america and the bush administration than this hack job. This movie could have worked, it did not, but it could have. Had the characters been in any way compelling, if the family not come across as un-tinkered-with archetypes, had the violence been quiet and brutal and not standard hollywood Transporter style fair, and had the sex scenes not been so damn self conscious and awkward. Watching this movie, I couldn't help get feeling that Cronenberg was financing the film by shooting two movies at once. It is far to easy to picture him yelling cut on History, and shooting the same scene again for a lifetime original movie. I hated this movie. You fail as a critic when you try to breate more life into a project than the creator has.
Posted 10/19/2005 - 08:56:55 PM by acid_puppy:
 The criticisms of this movie seem alot more contrived then the film itself. Sad, really.