That’s right Ned Beatty, you squeal your heart away!
Screenplay By: James Dickey
Directed By: John Boorman
Over the years Deliverance has become an infamous movie, both for the Ned Beatty squeal like a pig scene and for its supposed take on modern man versus nature and the need to survive. The Beatty rape scene is as disturbing as advertised, however I can’t help but feel that most people missed the point in regards to man and nature. Deliverance isn’t saying that modern man has learned to survive in the wild or that modern man can’t handle the forest. Nor is Deliverance saying that mountain men are the scum of the Earth and got their just desserts. Rather, what Deliverance is saying is that nature doesn’t matter, whether your location is nature or the city it is just a backdrop for what is the real problem, humanity.
Evil is in all of us, those who want to deny that are only lying to themselves. Deliverance shows us evil in the mountain men and it shows us evil in the city men. It sets up a scenario where the audience naturally associates with the city men and one wherein the violence of the attack on Beatty scars us. But what that attack mainly does is give us something to think about in regards to our reaction and what comes after. If the mountain men were truly evil for what they did, then what does that make Ed, Lewis, Bobby and Drew for covering up what happened, killing others and disposing of three different bodies? Not only that, but in the case of Lewis, blatantly lying about what happened to Drew in order to make sure the others do what you want. Evil is on both sides, and Deliverance wants to ask if we are comfortable with that fact, if we were quick to jump to the same intolerant assumptions that the city men did? Nature isn’t the enemy, the mountain men aren’t the enemy, the city men aren’t the enemy, humanities inherent evil is the true enemy.
The tone and visual style of Deliverance goes along with the above interpretation. It is a slow moving film, one that gives you the time to think about what you are seeing. The serene setting counter acts the ugliness of the violence, but most of all it shows that even in a setting of beauty true evil and ugliness can reside. Once again this is Deliverance working against the natural assumptions we make in life, just because something is beautiful it must be benign, correct? The forest is a beautiful setting, clearly no evil can take place in a locale such as that? But evil and ugliness is hidden behind the true beauty of the forest, and it is brought there by humanity. The wild doesn’t make men savage, men bring their own evil nature into the wild and turn it on its ear.
For any of the above to be true you need good acting, and Deliverance, uh, delivers. Burt Reynolds is spot on as the macho leader who will do anything to protect his macho image, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox are pitch perfect as the men way out of their element from the moment the movie starts. Most impressive is Jon Voight, the man who has to straddle the fence. He has to be a man with a bit of machismo in him, but one who is a bit out of his element at the same time. Ed ends up the most dangerous of all the men, because he combines the two extremes of human nature and uses them towards nefarious means that may save his skin and the skin of those left alive in his party, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still what society would deem morally wrong.
For some reason violence has always been a hard subject for critics to understand, any study of violence ends up lambasted by them. Sometimes thinking outside the box, realizing the truth of what you are being shown is needed, and a lot of critics, and people in general, aren’t willing to see anything beyond the compartmentalized views that society accepts. Deliverance doesn’t fit into any compartmentalized view of the world and it is a movie that certainly throws society under the bus. Deliverance is a movie that requires you to think, or if you choose not to there’s always the oddity of Ned Beatty squealing like a pig, I think that will haunt me for years to come!