Entry #2 – Deliverance (1972 – John Boorman)
Running Time: 110 minutes
Main Cast: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox
Last week we began our cinematic journey as I started the countdown of the 1,000 films you really owe it to yourself to see. In the beginning of this journey, we ventured oceanside as I rolled out my #1 entry in this ongoing series – Jaws. This time around, we continue our “summer fun” theme, as we brace ourselves for the raging rapids of the white waters, the sound of mosquitoes chomping at your shoulder blades and the leer of inbreds breathing down your neck!
Here, our main cast is four strong, as a group of thirty-something businessmen head into the wilderness to enjoy the raging rapids of a mighty river, before the river valley is flooded by the construction of a dam. The mastermind behind the canoe trip is Lewis (Reynolds), who opts to spend the weekend connecting with nature and being primitive. Joining Lewis is Ed (Voight), Drew (Cox) and Bobby (Beatty), as the quartet head into the wilderness. The plan is for the four to head downstream and end up in the town of Aintry, where they plan to find their cars, courtesy of a couple of local hillbillies that Lewis paid off. The first day goes off without a hitch and when the quartet awaken the next morning, they head back to their canoes and back down the river. This time, it’s Bobby & Ed pairing up in one vessel and Lewis & Drew in another. When Bobby & Ed fall behind their friends and stop to rest their arms and wash their faces in a stream, they get taken hostage by two hunters. When Ed is tethered to a tree with his belt, one of the hunters forces Bobby to strip down and what follows is a very uncomfortable rape scene. Lewis & Drew eventually find their two mates, but the damage has been done and it’s just the beginning of the quartet’s weekend nightmare.
What you have in Deliverance is really three films all crammed into one. You have a story of man vs. nature, a story of man vs. man and a story of man vs. self. The man vs. nature aspect of it is pretty self-explanatory and when the film starts that’s really all this film is. You take four men and you pit them against the wilds of the river rapids and leave them to survive in the wilderness and you have basis for many movies that have been made on that plot alone. Then you throw in the two hunters and it turns into man vs. man, again self explanatory and again a plot that can stand on it’s own two feet. Then you throw in the moral dilemma of a man who questions covering up a murder, even if the murder was justified. You force these four men to wrestle with themselves and while maybe never verbally saying it, you get something in their eyes that makes you think they feel guilty, especially Ed. You take all of those elements and you weave them together and you have the makings for a fantastic piece of cinema and a sensational picture and that’s what Deliverance is. The acting is top notch too, with even someone like Burt Reynolds, whom you wouldn’t think could ACTUALLY act, turning in a really great performance. I think Voight and Beatty steal the show though, they were both marvelous.
I just want to talk for a minute about the rape scene itself. It was an extremely uncomfortable scene, but they did do something that kind of took the edge off a little bit. They have the hunters tethering Ed to a tree and basically forcing him to watch as his friend gets sodomized by a Georgian hillbilly. In doing that, the audience, no matter how uncomfortable we get, have someone that we can really relate to at that moment. In a way it really works to transport the audience to THAT moment. In a way, we’re the ones tethered to the tree and we’re the ones being forced to watch as this helpless man is victimized. It’s a very well done scene, despite the discomfort to the audience. Speaking of Ed, I also loved the scene, near the end of the film, where he sits down to eat something, after just getting out of the river. Once his plate is loaded up and before he eats, he breaks down for just a second. Bobby changes the conversation and soon we’re hearing the head of the table, an old woman, talk about an extra large cucumber that she grew. Ed laughs, realizing in that moment that life goes on, that despite the seriousness that the four were forced to face that weekend, things have a chance at normalcy again…someday.
Next time we’ll brave the heatwave and delve just a little deeper into the “dog days” of summer, as I continue to countdown the 1,000 Films You Need to See!