A History of Violence

David Cronenberg’s 2005 film A History of Violence was very loosely (I use the term very to it’s full extent)  based on a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke and was met with near universal critical acclaim. The exceptionally violent crime/thriller, combines both family life fairly uncomfortably with lies and brutality. Tom Stall is thrust into the local media limelight when he kills two burglars and defends patrons of his diner. This widespread attention brings out gangster Carl Fogarty, who begins a campaign of harassment against Tom and his family, stating that Tom is better known as gangster Joey Cusack. Alongside this, Tom’s son is dealing with bullying at school and ends up beating up the bully, putting him in hospital.

The mixture of domestic and violence

The mixture of domestic and violence

I guess the first place to start in A History of Violence is the violence. In traditional Cronenberg style, the violence is fairly gruesome. This is not a film to watch if you are squeamish. The violence swarms the family like a plague and infects them, forcing them to confront who they are, their relationships and importantly who they think one another is. The idea of playing a role is emphasised heavily in A History of Violence, the role playing between husband and wife in the bedroom, the son playing baseball even though he doesn’t want to, and Tom Spall creating an identity to escape his violent past. Identity, violence and passion are all entwined in this film, all tangled up in the family unit. Confusing things further when Tom goes to see his brother in Philadelphia who orders for Tom to be murdered. Violence is offered as the only solution for resolving problems, which is fairly problematic in ethical and moral terms, but the ferocity of the film distances the ‘moral’ judgements that are made, making audiences in turn safe.

The plot of A History of Violence is fairly straightforward, not particularly exciting if I’m being harsh, but it’s not necessarily about the story, the driving force and motivation is identity. The real story lies within the characters, you don’t anticipate what’s going to happen, you wonder how the characters will deal with the situation which they are thrust into. You do care about the characters, and the revelation of Tom’s history is hard to stomach, he’s a good guy who seems fairly timid and devoted to his family. You have no reason to believe there is any tension between him and his children or his wife. And the ending enables you to acknowledge your own view point of Tom. You either embrace him back into the family (like his children) or you cautiously distance yourself from him (like his wife).

Can Tom condone his son's actions?

Can Tom condone his son’s actions?

A History of Violence wont be everyone’s idea of a good film, like I said, if you’re fairly squeamish, you wont cope very well, but A History of Violence is an exceptionally subtle film, which interests and explores the culture of families, through lies and integrity. The very title of the film itself suggests something genetic and inherent in violence. We see Tom’s son beat up a bully, normally we’d root for him, but the viciousness of his attack leaves the bully in hospital. This idea is alleviated further when his son shoots Carl to protect his father. The suggestion is that Tom can never really escape his violent past, the violence within him, in his blood and DNA will always be present in his son.

A History of Violence is a must see for all Cronenberg fans, you will not be disappointed, similarly if you’ve never even heard of Cronenberg, this will introduce you to serious cinema at it’s best. Not violence for violence’s sake, no voyeurism of human destruction. It acts to propel the wider issues of humanity, and those issues are displayed and waded through perfectly in A History of Violence.

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