A History of Violence

09/14/2005 12:00 AM |


Guns function as a uniquely American currency. No one would be more aware of that than an outsider like Canadian David Cronenberg. From the tradition of gunboat diplomacy to the fetishization of personal firearms, the imposition of one’s will at the end of a gun barrel is a violence unto itself — an assault on reason. The History in the title refers to regular guy-in-disguise protagonist Tom Stalls’ dark past but also alludes to a deeper cultural legacy.

The traditional thriller genre is unfamiliar territory for Cronenberg and it shows. All the classical story devices he employs feel like they have big invisible quotation marks around them. Disneyesque music swells in the background amid emotion laden plot rev ersals. The broad strokes of the story almost completely mask the finely drawn satirical threads which weave their way through the plot — but not quite. Cronenberg is too savvy to make these types of heavy-handed choices mistakenly. It’s nakedly manipulative yet chillingly effective.
Tom Stalls owns a small diner, has a blonde wife and two kids. Tom’s beautiful wife, aw-shucks kids and picturesque Norman Rockwell diner are a front of course — for Tom’s benefit and ours. Its façade quality will ring true for all of us who suspect (and fear) the “Perfect American Family” — dangerous in its ignorance and hypocritical in its bliss. We’ve all seen enough Lynch or Bergman to know the relationship between sunny middle-class repression and buried explosive anger.

The metaphorical implications may be abundant and somewhat obvious, but they are nonetheless compelling. Though the implausible action-adventure conceits demean the film, it’s still an interesting approach to an endlessly fascinating cultural phenomenon. Violence in Cronenberg’s world is the recoil from the American Dream.
Opens September 23