Straw Dogs

This is a difficult film. It is difficult to reconcile with my beliefs and my philosophy towards life. I am a feminist. I am an anarchist. I am a bleeding heart liberal. But when I watch this film, I get pleasure out of it. Not pleasure because I enjoy it, but pleasure because I am seeing a masterpiece on film. A crazy, fucked up masterpiece.

This film deals with a young American mathematician who with his wife go to a small town in England or Ireland where she is from in order to work on a book. What this film becomes is a study in brutal masculinity. The townspeople that the wife used to know start hanging around, getting into the affairs of these two and start harassing them. At first it is subtle “You aren’t from around here, are ya boy” type stuff, but becomes more and more vicious as the film progresses. At every turn the townspeople are questioning this American’s masculinity.

The relationship between the husband and wife is sort of hard to watch, even from the beginning. At first they seem to be playing with each other, but it becomes something else entirely. The American mathematician at every turn insults his wife, telling her to clean the kitchen, that she isn’t so dumb after all, go make him some coffee and that she is acting like a fourteen year old. But he is making her act like a fourteen year old. She is an animal and he is the big male civilizer. He wants her to be content to serve him while he is working on his book. But she fights back. She erases some of his work on the black board. She flirts with the guys (townspeople) who are working on their garage. She is constantly questioning his ability to stand up and fight (referencing something that was going on at his campus back in the States. Possibly anti-war or civil rights demonstrations.) for what he believes in.

This all takes a turning point when the famous brutal rape scene comes up. The American is invited to go shooting by these guys who were working on the garage. They bring him to a secluded place, teach him how to hunt, and abandon him. He sits there patiently waiting for them to come back while two of the men go back to his house. The wife lets the first one in (he is alone) because she wants to know if he had hung her cat up in the closet. He comes on to her and she resists. When I say it is brutal, it is very brutal. Even if you don’t actually see anything happen, just the look on her face, her anguished screams and resistance to actually enjoying it is enough. It was enough for me, at least (I haven’t watched Irreversible yet, although I want to). It was sickening. It was well done. I feel that Peckinpah wanted the viewer to feel absolutely upset and horrified with what was happening.

By the time the last sequence comes into play, the feelings towards the wife is one of deep sympathy. She wants these men out of her life. She wants to be safe. She wants to just be let alone. Just give the mentally deficient person up to the drunks. However this is where the American has had enough. He wants to prove his manliness to his wife and to these townspeople so that no one forgets it. He defends this house (that isn’t even his) with all of his might. He takes each person on one by one, killing or maiming them. By the time he has killed the last person with the wrought iron poker, he is taking a sick sense of joy out of it. The wife is watching all of this in horror. What is she going to do? That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the American gets his revenge. Revenge for what? He doesn’t know that his wife was raped by these men yet. They had nothing to harm him until that night. He doesn’t want revenge, he wants justice. Justice the American way. He wants to prove that Americans do it better.

This film has some really great acting in it by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. They embody these characters more than everything. I liked this film. I liked it despite myself.

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