Deliverance - The Thin Line Between Civilization And Savagery

                              In the early 1970s, Conspiracy and paranoia had become a common matter in American culture, accelerated no doubt by Watergate, and Vietnam war. This paranoia was evident in diverse films of that period. Where ten years earlier movie protagonists routinely triumphed over adversity, the heroes of these 1970s films were increasingly to find themselves trapped and destroyed by relentless logic of events. This is the claustrophobic plight of Deliverance, an adventure story that transports us into a tough struggle for survival in the mountains.

                           The movie is based on the 1970 novel by James Dickey that tends to the ecological concerns of the author, who fears modern man has lost contact with nature and is erroneously relying completely on machines for his survival. "Deliverance" is not just about surviving the dangers of wilderness, it's about surviving and confronting one's own heart of darkness. 

        Four businessmen (played by Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox) from Atlanta decide to go canoeing in the rapids of the Cahulawassee River, a wild deep river. Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the leader of the four, a macho sports enthusiast sees the trip as a challenge to his survival abilities. He remonstrates the others for their physical softness and philosophizes that modern man must exercise his artistry against nature if he is to conquer the future: "I think the machines are going to fail, the political systems are going to fail and a few men are going to take to the hills and start over."

                 Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox) is a  family man who's a sales supervisor for a soft drink company and a guitarist, and is the most decent of the four; Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty) is an objectionable chubby bachelor insurance salesman; and Ed Gentry (Jon Voight) is meditative, sensitive, married with a son, and runs an art service. Ed and Bobby have pulled their canoe to the shore when they are waylaid by two mountaineers. While one holds a gun on them, the other ties Ed to a tree. Then the mountain man sodomizes Bobby. The scene is one of absolute terror — an ungodly confrontation between modern guys and primitive rednecks.

                The sound of an arrow pulled  pulled from the body of his attacker; the frenzied group as they dig a grave with their bare hands; Drew's body trapped against a boulder, his arm twisted behind his head. Such scenes are the constant remainders of the brute materiality of the wilderness. Then comes the deliverance part, the survivors seeking their animal instincts for survival.

                  Deliverance is a pessimistic and a absorbing piece of storytelling. Director Boorman makes you believe he's involving you in a nature-oriented male bonding tale, and then he hits you with disturbing and thought-provoking twists and takes you someplace else. It's true that he throws in perhaps a bit too much anticlimactic falling action, but it, too, works to introduce properly the film's memorable closing shots. Boorman suggests that it's too late for mankind to be concerned after all the years of indifference to nature; man has forgotten how to survive without tools in the "virgin wilderness" and will some day pay the ultimate price for this loss. 

                 Boorman and his writer were criticized at the time for showing mostly the tough, deplorable sordidness of the mountain people, and some claimed that the film was exploitative rather than exploratory in terms of its violence and de-emphasized issues of ecology. The film's downbeat mood is sustained in its cinematography. photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond, the film was shot in threatening grey-greens. Although the big panavision images of river, cliffs, and forest are impressive enough, the desaturated color always ensues that they do not become merely picturesque. 

              "Deliverance" made the then TV actor Burt Reynolds a major movie star, a position he would hold for another decade or so. The first half of the movie is dominated Burt Reynolds, who swaggers and about how we haven't lost that impulse deep within ourselves for connecting with nature. Jon Voight impresses as the moral center of the story, struggling between plain survival and being a law abiding citizen. Ronny Cox has the most memorable scene, when he plays guitar with a child's banjo. the two disparate individuals engage some sort of contest, that builds momentum until both go at a frenzied pace while bringing out an mountain song. Ned Beatty goes through some really messed up situations, and does a good job.

              Deliverance insinuates its way into your mind, nut it is not without flaws. The treatment of the mountain folk in the early sequences seems patronizing and stereotypical. Despite these faults, the film is a chillingly brutal and a poignant tale. 

           When the survivors emerge from the last rapids onto the lake, it is not a comforting expanse of calm water that greets them and us. It is the rusting bulk of a wrecked automobile, water lapping around its fender. The survivors cry, "We have made it,"  grateful for this ambiguous symbol of civilized society.


Deliverance - IMDb


Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

I remember watching this movie long time back and boy what a film it was. I loved it! Excellent review Arun :)

Arun Kumar said...

Thanks for the comment, Haricharan.

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Another commendable effort... I am say that I am bowled over by your indefatigable spirit for cinema. Your review has spurred me up to watch the movie... I will get back to you once I do that :-)

Unknown said...

I remember watching this long time ago. A very brutal confrontation between man and the man gone wild... i have always admired voight for his screen presence. He does a great job here as well.

Arun Kumar said...

@Murtaza Ali, Thank you for the kind words. Eager to hear your views on this movie.

@Vikram, Thanks for the comment. Keep visiting.

Akshy said...

Saw it a long time back:). Good movie:).