Saturday, September 1, 2018

DELIVERANCE (John Boorman, 1972, USA)


Mankind’s primal instincts lurk just below the dark mirrored surface of the mind, the animal only temporarily suppressed by Reason and the trappings of civilization. Four men confront Nature and must face the tumultuous rapids and violent confrontation with their bastard brothers; their modern tools only a crutch because they must rely on their Will to Live (and each other) to survive. As modernity clashes with anachronism, like Neanderthal witnessing the extinction of Cro-Magnon, DELIVERANCE is an allegory concerning the contempt that these disparate primates feel for one another and the violent outcome when intelligence is consumed by aggression, when Law and Order breaks down and the only rule is survival. Director John Boorman deftly adapts James Dickey’s novel about three city men and their guide who wish to spend a weekend canoeing on the Cahulawassee River before it is dammed, men who wish to connect with Nature peacefully on their terms, but end up battling the wild deep water, violent natives, and their own insecurities.

Vilmos Zsigmond's lush cinematography projects the illusion of a journey into the wild where civilization is but a dream and anarchy reigns. Boorman creates iconic imagery such as the dueling banjos between Floyd and the craven-eyed boy, and the squealing sexual assault as Bobby wallows in the mud, dominated and unmanned. The anxious feeling of prey being stalked with raptor-like precision is ambiguous; we only experience it from the protagonist’s perspective, and Floyd’s death is never fully explained though it’s interesting that he is the lone dissenter in the democratic vote to bury the dead rapist. Another allusion to this battle between the present and past could be seen in the tools themselves: the wooden canoe breaks apart while the man-made aluminum canoe holds together and takes them safely home. It's also depicted in the weapon that saves their lives: the modern firearm has been replaced by the Stone Age bow and arrow. 

This precarious balance is maintained on the rocky slope, as the bluish sunset casts it ominous shadow over Ed, and he murders the man who is stalking them. In a nerve-wracking moment, Ed’s hands shake and he cannot bring himself to kill, flashback to another scene when he lost the nerve to kill a doe, lacking the essential component to play Lewis' game. But does he kill an innocent man? This is a film concerning decisions and their life-long consequences. The survivors never find the answer and are left to face their nightmares, fearing that the past will resurface like a bloated hand breaking the tepid surface of a lake, making one final accusation.

Final Grade: (A)

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