Posted on 4/24/12 03:15 PM
Released in a year which saw violent films being released and celebrated (or ruthlessly put down) such as 'The French Connection,' 'Dirty Harry,' and 'A Clockwork Orange,' Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" was arguably the more controversial of these with its ambiguous rape scene, blatant misogyny, and violence. But Peckinpah's film is more than just an orgy of violence that degrades women. Rather, it is also a brilliant breakdown of gender roles and gives a hard analysis as to what can happen when a man is pushed to assert his masculinity.
The movie looks at David, an American mathematician played by Dustin Hoffman, and his wife Amy, played by Susan George. They move back to Amy's home in small town, rural England where they run into her old boyfriend, Tom, and other drunks and ruffians in town. They hire Tom and his friends to fix the barn roof and they soon start harrassing David and his wife. The harrassment hits a climax when the mentally handicapped Henry accidentally kills one of the townspeople's children which results in him seeking asylum in David's farm. Sick of the abuse, David takes a last stand.
The movie is unapologetically misogynistic and violent at times. Yet. I believe this stems from the expectations Amy and David have for each other. David expects Amy to be more traditional in her dress and in her role in the house. On the other hand, Amy expects David to be more assertive and manly, rather than just focus on his work. Peckinpah asserted that David is the real villain of the movie, and I am tempted to believe him. The standards and abuse he is subjected to drive him to commit the horrendously violent acts. But his meanness is evident, albeit subtly, throughout the film through the way he treats Amy and how he represses his violent urges.
Another curious scene is the Tom's rape of Amy. Peckinpah, intriguingly, keeps the scene ambiguous as to whether or not the sex act is actually rape. George's acting superbly conveys this ambiguity and makes the viewer unsure as to whether or not she likes it or hates it. One of the many controversies regarding this film stems from the scene.
"Straw Dogs" is not for the faint of heart by any stretch. Violence, rape, and misogyny run rampant throughout this movie. I put off watching it because of its violence. But in a society wherein torture porn movies run rampant, you might be desensitized to it. I still recommend you see Peckinpah's wonderful deconstruction of what happens when gender roles are performed to the extreme.