Deliverance (1972) is British director John Boorman’s gripping action-adventure about four suburban businessmen on a disastrous weekend’s river-canoeing trip. It ranks as one of my favourite films. I can never tire of seeing it. The horror starts in this clip below.
As one of the first films with the theme of city-dwellers against the powerful forces of nature, the exciting box-office hit is most remembered for its inspired banjo duel and the brutal, violent action (and sodomy scene). Based on James Dickey’s adaptation of his 1970 best-selling début novel of the same name. He contributed the screenplay and acted in a minor role as the town sheriff.
The stark, uncompromising film was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing), but went away Oscar-less. The beautifully photographed film, shot entirely on location (in northern Georgia’s Rabun County bisected by the Chattooga River), was the least-nominated film among the other Best Picture nominees. Ex-stuntman Burt Reynolds took the role of bow-and-arrow expert Lewis after it was turned down by James Stewart, Marlon Brando, and Henry Fonda on account of its on-location hazards.
The increasingly claustrophobic, downbeat film, shot in linear sequence along forty miles of a treacherous river, is seen as a philosophical or mythical allegory of man’s psychological and grueling physical journey against adversity. It came during the 70s when many other conspiracy or corruption-related films were made with misgivings, paranoia, or questioning societal institutions, like the media;
Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Network (1976), politics; The Parallax View (1974), All The President’s Men (1976), science; Coma (1978), Capricorn One (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), and various parts of the US itself; Race With The Devil (1975), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and later Southern Comfort(1981).
A group of urban dwellers test their manhood and courage. Totally vulnerable in the alien wild, they pit themselves against the hostile violence of nature. At times, however, they are attracted to nature, and exhilarated and joyful about their experiences in the wild. Director Boorman pursued the same complex eco-message of Man vs. Nature in other films, including Zardoz (1973) and The Emerald Forest (1985). As they progress further and further down rapids and along uncharted territory, the men ‘rape’ an untouched, virginal wilderness, just as they are themselves violated by the pristine wilderness and its degenerate, backward, inbred inhabitants. Basic survivalist skills come to the forefront when civilized standards of decency and logic fail.
The river is the potent personification of the complex, natural forces that propel men further and further along their paths. It tests their personal values, exhibiting the conflict between country and city, and accentuates what has been hidden or unrealised in civilised society. The adventurers vainly seek to be ‘delivered’ from the evil in their own hearts, and as in typical horror film mode, face other-worldly forces in the deep forest. Flooding of the region after the completion of a dam construction project alludes to the purification and cleansing of the sins of the world by the Great Flood.
The film was also interpreted as an allegory of US involvement in the Vietnam War. These men (the US military) intruded into a foreign world (South-East Asia), and found it raped or were confronted by wild forces they could not understand or control.
I was having a conversation recently with a well-connected Nigeria who provides extremely well for his wife and three children. Yet he and his wife had separate bedrooms and individual private lives.
With all the martial woes in modern life and rising divorce rates amongst celebrities, the rich and famous and ordinary mortals alike, this was for him the solution to a successful twenty-year marriage. And if one or the other felt like a little amorous ‘get-together’ one night, either he slipped into her boudoir or she came to him, before saying goodnight and returning to their respective bedrooms.
When others around us scoffed at the way he lives his life, he told them point-blankly that “the idea of romantic love is a myth that exist only in Western cultures, and only amongst the lower classes at that.” In fact, he and his wife were rather like the English aristocracy, he said. They married for companionship and for the production of well-adjusted heirs, and as he provides very well for her and the children, to whom he is a loving/caring father, the rest of his life is for him to do with what he wants.
This was no secret between them. His wife fully accepted the deal and they got on with their separate lives perfectly well—likewise the children—all of whom were over-achievers at expensive private schools and universities.
I could not find much at fault with this man’s argument. Of course, I had not met his wife, but from his own descriptions she sounded perfectly at ease with their arrangement.
His upfront point-of-view actually made me understand for once, the nature of the conflict between my own parents, who had been coming from completely different perspectives all of their married life. Even in my own relationships, I had been inclined to repeat similar patterns and mistakes. Or perhaps I’m more at ease with his POV because I am male.
What say you? Is the idea of romantic love and monogamy a myth of Western cultures and a set-up for certain failure from the start?
Friends told me, ‘DC’ meant ‘Dark City,’ so I packed my bags and headed for a year in “The Nation’s Capital” – Washington, District of Columbia, U-S of A. The day is a Saturday, 12th October, and The Million-Man March is scheduled for Monday.