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.
The young American white couple a few doors away from me are leaving Ghana today. So I’m told. “Too poor,” they say. “One minute, water no lights. Next minute, lights no water.” They’ve had enough. After five years of working to improve education in this country, where their two children were born, they’re packing their bags and hauling their doll-like offsprings back to the good ole US of A; Colorado, I believe.
I’m relaying this story to you, second-hand; from one of their hired help. For in the two years I’ve lived here, I’ve never actually seen the parents, but their children have fascinated me. Here they are in my yard with their Ghanaian nanny. Lovely, well-mannered kids. Never say a word to me. They just stare. Though, I hear, they’ll point out “Rasta house” to anyone in passing. They speak Twi, too, apparently. But I can never see them without thinking of those ‘Children of the Damned.’ Remember that film, ‘Village of the Damned‘ or the sequel with those scary looking blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids? I know it’s wrong, but that’s what these two remind me of…
They share the same milk-white almost luminous, pale skin tone as the children in that movie – even though it was in black and white, if memory serves me well – combined with the brightest of fine, blonde hair, cherub-like features, and these piercing blue eyes; all of which really sets them apart in this sub-Saharan environment. Yet they seem to have no problems at all walking around all day under a scorching sun that never seems to darken their skin but just bleaches their hair even brighter.
Then a few weeks ago, it hit me like a rock when I met their mother in passing. Imagine a tall, powerfully built, Amazonian woman the colour of wet sand, with thick, kinky auburn hair not too unlike my own, and firm, strong, long arms and legs, and you will get the picture. I’d been looking out for two white parents all this time, but this woman was clearly not white. Being biracial (half Ghanaian and half Norwegian) didn’t make it any easier to imagine how this ‘black woman’ could have given birth to these two ‘white children’, until you met her husband.
This slim, pale, blonde American man with a touch of clever around the eyes and a sense of something fragile in him had clearly passed on a visual stamp from his side of the gene pool. But it was their mother’s physical strength and vitality that had infused these kids with an almost alien-like durability in this white façade that made them totally stand-out. It made them “pop” as folks like to say these days.
Picture Beyoncé painted ‘white-face’ but with that same African body and spirit and energy, and you might get close to what I’m trying to convey. It’s what one of my academic friends used to refer to as “that look” in “people of ‘dubious’ ethnicity.” It’s what had kept me fascinated by these kids all along without really knowing why. I could just sense that there was something else. Something else underneath that had made the surface appearance almost like a mutation. The 25 percent African blood visually muted but very much there in every other respect. Fascinating. And yet it often happens the other way around, but where society only ever sees ‘Black.’
Just goes to prove the myth of racial purity. Am I making sense? I’ll miss them when they’re gone.
What could be so enthralling about an ailing old geezer travelling on a lawnmower some 240+ miles across the heartland of America from Laurens, Iowa, to Mount Zion (and I don’t mean the Rastafarian promised land), but a place in Wisconsin?
Nothing much in the hands of any ordinary director–but David Lynch and screenwriters, John Roach and Mary Sweeney, imbue this simple tale with enough wisdom and colourful stories and characters from the life of the real 73-year old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), a World War II veteran, as to make this film an unmissable tear-jerker.
“You don’t think about getting old when you’re young,” Alvin muses, “but there’s nothing good about being lame and blind at the same time.” He’s making the long road trip at 5-miles an hour to see his estranged 75-year old brother, Lyle, who’s just had a stroke.
Alvin has decided to put their differences aside and make the journey his way. But “the worst part about being old is remembering when you were young,” and along the way he meets some fascinating people and passes on his words of wisdom.
The Straight Story is gentle, touching film about old age and forgiveness–a wonderful little road movie that reminds us all of the kindness of strangers.