A History Of Violence – David Cronenberg – 2005

Tom Stalls, the hero of Cronenberg’s film is a façade. He is a carefully nurtured and constructed image designed to soften the truth of his past. This performance is at least as old as his son Jack, who appears to be around 16. This kid is doomed to fall prey to the sins of his father. A son who has never know anything but a lie.

When two criminals try to bully Jack in his family restaurant, Tom kills the men and saves his employees and patrons. This event garners national media attention and Tom’s face is on the news. Soon, thugs from Philadelphia arrive accusing Tom of being a former acquaintance/mobster.

Why Philadelphia? The evils of Tom’s past are rooted in Philadelphia just as the violent history of the United States was. It is considered, “The Birthplace Of America”. This is the place the declaration of Independence was signed. We are meant to parallel Joey Cusacks’ transition from the eastern cities to the heartland of America with the general population shift from those cities to the central USA. You can leave the city, but some roots are too deep to cut.

It is frightening to think that in any small town, someone who behaves as gently and as personably as Tom Stall could be associated with these men, these east coast ties. Cronenberg objectively handles the story as it plays out, never offering a morality beyond Toms’. When Jack kills Ed Harris to save Tom, we know that he is now drawn in to this world of death. Even though Tom goes and destroys his brother, I feel it is understood that Ritchie is connected enough that more men will be coming. There is no leaving.

This is not even the most disquieting thing about the film, the fact that some ex-mafia Jack-off in your little town is bringing gangster shit to your back porch. The most troubling element is that you might be married to one. Maria Bello plays the wife perfectly never giving an ounce when she finds out the truth. Even in the end she is acting out of inevitability, not because she has forgiven Tom.

This deception is a devastating revelation for anyone, that the person they have chosen to love and create a life with has by association alone endangered them and their family. To have it further revealed that the man you are fucking is a cold-hearted killer must be doubly troubling.

Or worse, that man is your father. After Tom’s initial act of heroism, Jack beats a bully down at school. Would Jack have acted out that way without he celebration of his fathers’ violent action?  Are future generations of bullies, physical and financial, Wall Street gangsters and white trash, Neanderthals, are we then to repeat the tactics of our fathers? Is it that simple to pass down? If the tree is rotten is there no hope fore the apple?

Through television broadcasts the thugs identified the lying sack of shit, Joey Cusack. So, literally the media is the avenue through which the truth about Tom Stalls is actually revealed.  This truth proves to be quite dangerous, and yet the film begs the question, is it better to be unknowingly in danger or knowingly?

Tom is a son of a bitch no doubt. Once he is compromised, so is his family. As his young daughter sets him a plate, smiling in naiveté, the rest of his family know their fate is sealed. Cronenberg asks the viewer to be that child, looking up at the sins of her father with objectivity. He asks us as we set the plate there, empty will we learn from the mistakes of the past, consider their ramifications and act selflessly? Or will we steal away what we can and lie to ourselves about what we are and what we have been, only to have those lies poison our family and our heart.

This film is a punch in the gut and an eye opener. Hopefully those who see it consider this work more than a slight gangster tale. It is micro-thesis on the dangers of duplicity.

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4 Responses to “A History Of Violence – David Cronenberg – 2005”

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I would however suggest that you have forgotten to mention an important theme in the movie which is the duplicity of the phallus. In a matter of seconds, the phallus goes from a benign pendulous fleshy extension to a cyclops of terror – like Tom Stalls. In one scene, the couple engage in angry sex on a set of stairs. The stairs represent the stages of phallic firmness and the subjugation of woman as she is “carried” up those metaphorical stairs by her partner.

    • And the cunnilingus and cheerleader uniform harken back to Tom’s absent youth. It is a reminder how a sexy woman in a cheer outfit can subjugate even the most hardened, (!) of criminals, or perhaps it is an extension of Tom’s willingness to give himself over completely to the lie he has told himself, burying the truth that might spill from his lips deep between her legs.

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