Straw Dogs
Reviewed by Oct 14th, 2009

I’ve been meaning to review this for ages, and maybe it’s taken me so long because there is a lot to say about it. For one thing, I strongly disagree with most of the reviews I’ve read about this. I think the main thing to emphasize here is that no one in this movie is a hero. That’s most people’s problem with it, I think. David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) starts off as such a meek and mild-seeming character, and everyone wants to view him as the hero. The main character, yes; the hero, no. Everyone in this film has massive character flaws and these destroy them all.

David and his young wife, Amy, come to England to get away from the violence in America. He’s got a grant to work on mathematics and just wants to relax in the study and write a book. Amy’s rather bored out in the country, and runs around half-naked in front of the workers who were hired to put a roof on the garage.

Certainly I can understand why some would, at first glance, think this film is degrading to women. The first shot of the main female character, Amy Sumner (Susan George) is a rather long closeup of her chest, and it’s clear that she is not wearing a bra. There is also a rather drawn-out rape scene, while David is off in the fields hunting. The first man is Amy’s old boyfriend, it seems, and while she starts off violently protesting, she later seems to protesting less, then possibly enjoying herself, until another worker comes in and makes the first hold her down at gunpoint. Certainly she is the one of the only real victims in the film, and I don’t want to make light of the violence against her, but the main characters in this film are the men. Some have accused Peckinpah of glorifying brutality, vigilantism and sexual violence here, but I don’t see anything in film as being glorified. It is a truly dark and depressing tale where there are no winners. The violence is not glamorized because it doesn’t get anyone anywhere, it is clear that everyone is making the wrong decisions all the time.

The film almost makes you want to like David, but only because he’s contrasted with such scum as Venner. When analyzed on his own, however, it’s easy to see that he condescends to the locals, ignores his wife, and can generally be a jerk. There is also Amy’s accusation that he’s a coward, which cannot be denied. He waves around his money and drives aggresively in his white sportscar. He more or less calls his wife stupid several times, as well as generally treating her like a child.

As I see it, the entire movie is about lack of communication and people using violence to solve their problems. Yes, the women in the movie are used as two-dimensional plot devices, but that still just drives home the point that Amy is objectified. There is also a subplot about Henry Niles (David Warner), the village idiot who also seems to be a pedophile, and unwittingly strangles a Lolita-ish girl who seems to spend all her time flirting with older men.

In the end we see David turn violent and homicidal as well, but it’s fairly apparent that he’s wanted to be this way all along. He tries to justify his actions as protecting Niles, who he hit with the car and is hiding in his house, but it would be folly to think of him as an admirable fellow for this. He has to think about it a while before he tells Amy that he does care what happens to Niles, even if she doesn’t. He’s enjoying himself causing all sorts of pain. While the other certainly deserve some of what’s coming to them, David is hardly acting heroically by letting things get out of hand and throwing boiling water at people. He wants revenge for them leaving him in the fields hunting. It’s a childish sort of revenge, and he isn’t even aware of the double-rape that occured while he was out there. He isn’t thinking of Niles or of Amy, he is thinking of himself, the only person he ever appears to think about. He’s certainly not doing a good job of protecting his wife, in fact, he’s slapping her around and yelling at her.

What makes the ugliness of everyone’s motives even more apparent is the way that scenes cut back and forth forming parellels. David with the bird, and the rape scene between Venner and Amy, for example; but also the parellel themes of the locals hunting down Niles when they should actually be out looking for the missing girl. Everyone’s priorities are in the wrong place. This film is, as I think Peckinpah himself once said, exploring themes of violence, not celebrating them. I think it is a brilliant and unnerving film.

2 Responses to “Straw Dogs”

  1. […] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

Leave a Reply

© 2010 | Contact | Twitter | RSS | YouTube | Facebook