View Full Version : History Repeating

11-05-2005, 12:36 PM
Written by Josh Olson
Directed by David Cronenberg

To decipher and comprehend the nature of anything in the present, one must have a solid understanding of the past history leading up to the present moment. With ďA History of Violence,Ē Canadian filmmaker, David Cronenberg explores whether one man can escape a violent past to maintain a simple yet meaningful present while ultimately avoiding history repeating itself through future family generations.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, the owner of a local diner in a small town. His life is simple and fulfilling. He starts each day around the dinner table with his beautiful wife, Edie (Maria Bello), infant daughter (Heidi Hayes) and mild-mannered teenage son, Jack (Ashton Holmes). The stall family is functional, happy, balanced. It is both comforting and reassuring to see such a pleasant family where everything isnít perfect but the effort is being made and the commitment is strong. Everyone does their part, from Jack feeding the dog to Tom sitting up with his daughter after a nightmare to Edie dressing up like a cheerleader to roleplay with her husband. This family seems aware of how fortunate they are to have each other and to live in the town of Millbrook, where people stop to say hello on the street as they walk past, where people arenít faceless.

Cronenberg takes his time with this setup, allowing us to become drawn in to this comfortable place. Of course, we have the knowledge that something bad is on its way from before the film started which builds tension as we wait. It also makes the fall so much further as there is much at stake for the Stallís. On one insignificant day, Tom fights back with precision and intensity against two men that hold up his diner and threaten his patrons. Tomís act of extreme bravery garners him national media attention and subsequently leads some gentlemen, of the disturbing and frightening nature, to the town of Millbrook and his diner counter. Led by Carl Fogerty (Ed Harris), these men accuse Tom of being someone he claims not to be which in turn forces him to face who he used to be, who he has become and how to integrate both of these sides of himself.

Tomís use of violence is shown as a means to defend oneís self as well as to intimidate at times. This dichotomy debates whether violence is the only solution to violence. In the case of the diner incident, there is a threat of pain and death, forcing desperation and preservation to become the controlling factor. There is no question that Tom did the right thing by protecting himself and his patrons but the nature and reality of the violence is still difficult to stomach for those who witnessed it. To further show a pattern of history and legacy being passed on, Jack takes from his fatherís example, consequently blurring the lines when he fights back against a bully in school who accuses him of weakness. Violent tendencies in youth are more primal as they supposedly donít know any better or donít have a complete understanding of their emotions forcing them to act out instinctively. To have violence as a natural reaction, as in the case of the unsubstantiated bullying, confirms it as a means to mask a greater fear. To have Jack fight back asserts his power and self-worth but could easily lead to an unhealthy reliance. Like his father, Jack could end up having to walk away from a life where violence is a normal part of that life. But like his father, will he ever truly be able to leave it? Violence can show up anywhere and creep back in at any time.

ďA History of ViolenceĒ is haunting and disturbing. It is a quiet film that moves at the pace one would expect in a town like Millbrook and when the violence unravels itself on screen, it is quick and sudden. It is cold, senseless and gory and it will both shock and jar you. The unsettling carnage lingers in silence and so will you.

11-05-2005, 08:52 PM
Your commentary is good, but it leaves out the actual consequences and conclusions that result from the movie. The most intriguing part of your post is left unfinished. What's the point of your post if nothing more is said? What was the point of the movie than? Left wanting.

11-06-2005, 11:23 AM
Thanks, Tabuno. Appreciate the criticism on the criticism. Got to thinking about what you wrote and when I tried to figure how to incorporate the consequences and conclusions of the actions taken, it felt like I would be simply discussing the end of the film. If I left you wanting, mayhaps that's a good thing as it might get you to see the film. You've probably already seen it but if I can get one other person to see it, then I know I've done good ... kidding. Thanks again and maybe you have an approach to discuss that I have not thought of.

11-06-2005, 05:33 PM
What I enjoyed about this movie was that it didn't end with all the loose ends tied up neatly but it also ended on a hopeful note that suggests that change is possible, the past does not necessarily have to presage the future. However in the meantime it will not be easy road to make adjustments from the past to the future, something that Americans are loathe to even think about. Life is supposed to become easier.