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David Cronenbergs A History Of Assault Film Studies Essay

In my display about Cronenberg's A History of Violence I mentioned the human associations, the value of recurring scenes and the question of genetics, parental example and conscious choice. Cronenberg's movie is incredibly complex and there are still plenty of subject areas which is often further analysed, so this time I'd like to examine topics like the question of personality or the nature of assault. Furthermore, as A History of Violence is reported to be no typical Cronenbergian movie, I'd like to compare it with one of his earlier, more characteristic films, eXistenZ, and show with it the aforementioned statement.

When we first meet the Stall family, we have no idea that violence will have something to do with one of the customers. Cronenberg uses very professionally a kind of diverting action by producing first both mob folks whose appearance will have such vital effects. The Stall family appears to be a model family with a happy life in a little town. Tom Stall is running a successful, little diner, has two model children and a lovely, clever partner, with whom their romantic relationship is merely as content and personal as it was twenty years ago in the beginning of their marriage. His wife is obviously satisfied with their life alongside one another and feels that her spouse is the better man on the planet. Their life changes significantly as the story develops. One evening both mob figures, which may be seen in the first field arrive in Millbrook and get into Tom's diner. When they attack the staff, Tom Stall transforms in no time into a local hero and killing both assaulters will save you the lives of those present. Certainly, these occasions put Tom immediately in to the limelight; his picture shows up in the paper and reporters get to Millbrook to make an interview with him. The family hope that this attention will soon wane, however it rather leads to the turning point in their life. In a few days time even more mob guys come in the diner under the management of a certain Carl Fogarty, professing that they know Tom, who's indeed not Tom but Joey and is also from Philadelphia. Although Tom denies everything they are not willing to cherish it and get off the family even after the warning of the local sheriff. There is a turning point in Tom's frame of mind when Fogarty and his man catch Jack after having a quarrel between him and his dad. They provide to let Jack go if Tom is happy to go with these to Philadelphia for a "trip down Storage Lane".

Although with Jack's help Tom manages to wipe out all the three mob fellas, this is actually the point in the movie when it becomes clear both for Tom's family and for the audiences that he will need to have been Joey once. Later we learn that a lot of probably he was created into a gangster family and effortlessly he also became a violent number, but when he grew older he made a decision to give up the way he resided before and put in three years becoming Tom. He made a decision to take on the name Stall, due to the fact it was available. It had been his meeting with his future partner Edie that helped him to take leave from Joey and adopt a standard lifestyle. Tom appears to be able to bring a distinct collection between the two times of his life when he says that it was Joey who performed those violent activities rather than Tom. When we watch the occurrences Tom has already spent almost as many years being Tom to be Joey. But is it possible to leave behind everything and become a completely new person in one day to some other? Watching the film, it is, yet, in Tom's circumstance it possessed an influence not only on his life but also on his family's. It really is especially interesting to examine this question from Edie's and the childrens perspective: "What now ? when you discover that your husband or father has concealed everything about his early life? Was he resting for you, or guarding you? Did you like someone who didn't really are present?" (Roger Ebert, 2005). Considering these question the misunderstanding and surprise of the family is easily understandable, but on the other hand, we must discuss that on the evening when the two criminals arrived in the diner it was Joey who kept Tom. If Tom hadn't been Joey before, most probably he would have been killed in that incident.

It is also interesting to observe how Tom changes back again to Joey when he results to Philadelphia. Both heroes are absolutely different: Tom is a classical, stoic North american patriarch while Joey can be an energetic, strong, effective anti-hero (Beaty, 2008. ). Heading back to Philadelphia and transform once again into Joey is necessary und unavoidable for Tom as he wishes to safeguard his family from the fatal implications of his brother's visit into Millbrook. In this manner, he does not have any other choice than to visit but it is also important to say that his only motif is to reunite carefully and repair his life along with his shattered family.

It is well-known a History of violence is not a typical Cronenbergian film, it is difficult to determine even its genre. It can easily be considered a thriller, action-movie, or a family group drama containing horror elements. Relating to Beaty (2008), the movie is approximately disguises and a network of lies. Its core account is about a man masking his true id. "Tom Stall isn't what he first appears to be and the film isn't what it first is apparently. "(p. 12). This leads us to ask two main question after and during the film: 1. Who is Tom Stall? 2. What is really this film? For the second question David Cronenberg provided the following answer: "A BRIEF HISTORY of Violence is a kind of inside-out version of what I normally do" (Beaty, 2008, p. 15).

Last however, not least, it is also important to say that participating in such a dual character is no easy task. Viggo Mortensen made a very good job and it was not unintentionally that Cronenberg set his choice on him: "I need a kind of eccentricity that is more typical of a character actor when compared to a leading man yet still has a leading man occurrence and charisma. " (Beaty, 2008, p. 21). David Cronenberg needed to find an professional who could play with identical skill both a small-town man and a violent criminal so that as Beaty mentions it was Mortensen who "combined both traits of the leading man and the character professional" (p. 21).


Already the name of Cronenberg's movie provides the keywords of its report. The title 'A Background of Violence' let us the viewers to suspect lots of things about the film. This name often means at least three things. It can make reference to the historical custom of settling disputes by using violence (e. g. battle, duals), but additionally, it may refer to a person having a history of violence, that is, a earlier full of violent actions. In addition, it can make reference to the actual fact that throughout the evolution violence was carried on from dad to son, from technology to technology (Ebert, 2005). I believe at least two of these topics are available in the movie.

Throughout the annals of humanity, violence was always present. We all have been naturally partial to violence even if in our day committing violence is no more acceptable aside from the right reasons. Such reasons are, for example, when we want to defend ourselves, someone else or our property. In the US, for example, you are permitted to defend your premises with a gun. Another appropriate - however still controversial - reason for committing violence is battle and wartime situations and one third one is when we use violence as a punishment, although this isn't everywhere an acceptable form of abuse (for example, fatality penalty is in practice only in a few countries of the world).

Even if acting violently is not suitable in a number of situations, we cannot break away from it and pretty much most of us have a propensity for this. We watch it in the cinema, in television, there's a whole movie industry built onto it with countless action, thriller and horror movies (at this time I have to mention that A History of Violence is also one of them). Through the entire history - before the introduction of the movie industry - such situations as bloody executions and torturing of convicts offered as public entertainment. Warfare and duals were another instances. As Desson Thomson (2005) writes, A History of Violence causes us to confront this Pavlovian fitness to violence. Regarding to scientist, this connection of ours to violence comes from our animal past, our need to find food and protect ourselves by killing the adversary if we want to make it through. Genetically this propensity for assault is still in us which is taken over from era to era (Baumgarten, 2005).

However, even if violence is in connection with our animal recent and animal instincts we have something different that makes us different from animals and this is the ability to make conscious alternatives and say no to your instincts. This ability as well as a good family example can lead to the right path. As David Cronenberg place it:

Genetically, I have to say yes, it is obvious that individuals have a propensity for violence. It originates from our animal former, our need to survive. But we also have that other thing, that creativeness to abstract and say: well we can see right now a world in which we don't do these things that people find abhorrent - by negotiation, by diplomacy, by compassion, by empathy. (O'Hehir, 2005)

Tom's/Joey's and Jack's example illustrates very well the aforementioned idea. Through the movie it becomes clear that most probably Joey was born into a gangster family where violence was a day to day thing. On the main one hand, this offered as an example for him; while on the other hands, assault was also in his genes. In this manner, it was almost inevitable for him to become likewise as his family. However, as he grew older he became in a position to make a conscious choice and decided to leave behind his previous lifestyle.

As against this, Jack, his kid was created into a standard family and experienced a standard parental example. As a result, he could avoid becoming violent even if it was also in his genes via his dad. But the value of example is perfectly shown by the events in the film if have a closer look on them. Jack continues to be very young and for that reason easy to influence. So when he sees what a hero his father becomes after he kills those two bad guys his attitude towards violence changes radically, although until then he attempted to avoid confrontation and violent situations. This is what Cronenberg said about him and about the question of our propensity for violence in an interview:

You have the account of the child who avenges himself against a bully (. . . ) When we first meet him, the son appears to be a fairly good politician. he is able to talk his way out of an violent confrontation. He uses his wits, he uses his humour and (. . . ) therefore he avoids violence. (. . . ) Then he perceives the superstar his dad attains after his functions of violence and he's intrigued by that. (. . . ) Are we talking about a genetic propensity to violence or could it be a ethnic one? He seems that he wouldn't brain a few of that celebrity on his own level. Therefore, the next opportunity he has, he eventually ends up committing assault. He's unrepentant after and does connect it to his daddy (O'Hehir, 2005).

According to Beaty, Cronenberg used the violent displays in a mindful way. It isn't by accident that we see mutilated body and faces but rather because the director sought the audiences to see the brutal effects of violence. This isn't characteristic of each action film. Cronenberg needed us to realize what we see in those films is only fifty percent the reality, that action videos build on our aspire to see violence in an attractive way. Instead of those movies, Cronenberg wanted to show us what real violence looks like and what the true consequences from it are. As Renee Rodrigues put it: he "forces you to definitely consider what it means exactly, to shoot someone in the facial skin and exactly how once that collection is crossed, it becomes much easier to repeat" (Beaty, 2008, p. 7).

As violence is an essential point in the movie, mob results have a very important role in it. The two such information are Carl Fogarty, played out by Ed Harris and Richi Cusack, played by William Hurt, both of these famous and highly acclaimed celebrities. Although they spend only very short time on display screen, both of them have a critical role. According to Beaty, for the role of Richi Cusack Cronenberg did not desire a typical gangster or a cliche mob body but a identity that can be taken seriously. He had to be "compelling, convincing, charismatic, daunting, profound" and ironic at the same time (2008, p. 24). William Harm was a perfect choice.

A History of Violence versus eXistenZ, an average Cronenberg movie

If we take a closer look on the list of Cronenberg's previous motion pictures, it is clear that A History of Violence is not a typical one. Before 2005 Cronenberg made mainly abstract, strange films, the topics of which dealt with scientific, mental health, medical or electronic issues. Although hook minority of the visitors praised loudly these films, most of them were no box-offices. In ways, this is understandable as these movies were not the normal Hollywood movies. These were difficult to apprehend, acquired multiple tiers and needed the viewer to think hard if he wanted to understand the concept. Needless to say, this is also characteristic of A BRIEF HISTORY of Violence, where we can find lots of subject areas relevant for discussion, for example the nature and the results of violence, hereditary history, the changing aspect of personal romantic relationships, the question of personality or the importance of parental example, just to point out a few.

Cronenberg's 1999 movie eXistenZ is a very good example for his preceding and more quality style. A couple of huge differences between eXistenZ and A BRIEF HISTORY of Assault. eXistenZ is occurring in a dark future where people are no more contented using their true to life, instead they may be obsessed with playing virtual games. These virtual game titles aren't the nowadays popular mechanical computer games, but instead organic virtual reality games. Corresponding to Howe (1999), "In such a population, people get 'bioported', so they can 'plug in' to the greatest game system of ecstatic hyper-reality. They faucet straight into their nervous systems, by attaching their 'bioports' to flesh-textured pods (made up of the game software, as it were) through an umbilical-like 'Umby-Cord'". In this particular forseeable future there are two big video game companies contending with the other person and Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) became a kind of superstar by inventing the latest celebrated game, called eXistenZ. The opening field of the movie occurs in a cathedral where a tiny group of men and women is testing her game, when Allegra is attacked and has to flee by using security officer Ted Pikul (Jude Laws). The movie becomes weirder and weirder when they find out that Allegra was taken with an organic and natural pistol manufactured from bones and teeth and this is excatly why it wasn't found by Ted. A little later Allegra discovers that most probably her pod made up of the only duplicate of her game was destroyed. She wants to check it by participating in the overall game with Ted when he admits that he does not have any bioport saying: "I've this phobia about having my body penetrated surgically. " After Allegra convinces him that getting bioported will change his life they head to a gas train station where a service train station operator performs the bizarre procedure (Howe, 1999). After overcoming some more issues there is nothing to avoid them from participating in. Out of this point it becomes more and more difficult to decide what is simple fact and what's game and in the online world Ted and Allegra discover new characteristics of the personality. By the end of the film it becomes clear that the viewers was intentionally mislead when we find out that people have observed the world of the electronic game right from the beginning.

The world of eXistenZ is altogether not the same as the world of A History of Violence. Not knowing it as an undeniable fact, the unsuspecting audience would never presume that both these films were directed by one individual. While A BRIEF HISTORY of assault mainly specializes in issues like violence, personal information and the family in an instant of crisis, eXistenZ examines the average person in transformation and the question 'What is fact?'. (Beaty, 2008) Instead of eXistenZ, A BRIEF HISTORY of Assault is taking place nowadays, the events follow one another in tight chronological order, it shows real life and we do not have to suspect what is reality and what is not. Compared to eXistenZ, the story is easy to follow and understand. There are major dissimilarities in visual and sound files, too. On the one palm, while in A History of Assault music takes on an important role in many decisive moments (like the final one), it isn't characteristic of eXistenZ. On the other hand, while the first is characterised by colourful, clear images, the next one has mainly dark and dim pictures as a lot of happenings happen during the night.

But how come A BRIEF HISTORY of Violence so different from the characteristic films of Cronenberg? As I have already written above, even if many people praised his prior works, these became hardly ever box-offices. By 2005 already two decades handed since his previous big success and regarding to Beaty (2008, p. 19), "Although critics and film happening audiences were increasingly more fond of his work the commercial theatre audience turned from him. " By this time around Cronenberg was very in short supply of money and he knew that he was frantically looking for a hit to improve funds. Basically, that is why he made a decision to direct A History of Violence. "I needed the money"- he said. (Beaty, 2008, p. 19).

A Background of Assault is a "radical chance from days gone by" (Beaty, 2008, p. 11). In comparison to eXistenZ, it was manufactured in Cronenberg's most realist style and according to Beaty, it is not only Tom Stall/Joey Cusack in the film who is playing a job but also David Cronenberg who's participating in the role of any Hollywood filmmaker:

"In the end we are remaining with a film when a maker of some of the most grotesque films in history suppresses the grotesqueries of the storyline in order to tell the storyline of a guy who is suppressing his true (and alternatively grotesque) nature. It is eye-catching that, in playing to Middle America, Cronenberg hided his true self applied in a film about a man concealing his true self in the center of America. " (Beaty, 2008, p. 12).


In my essay I wanted to demonstrate that Cronenberg's A BRIEF HISTORY of Assault is a very intricate film, having many subject areas fit for talk and debate, of which I wrote now extensively no more than three: the nature of violence, id and the variations between A BRIEF HISTORY of Violence and other films of Cronenberg. I hope that with my display and my article together I possibly could illustrate that although David Cronenberg is not a common film director, he deserves to be called one of the most important Canadian film directors, whose goal isn't just to amuse but also to improve significant matters and make his audience think about them.

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