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A Straw Dogs for Our Time

Back in 1971, it was a time when America was considered by some, particularly on American campuses, as a quasi-fascist country, and given the moniker of “Amerika.” Forty years later, we have a better appreciation of the nature and source of fascism in the world, and after 9/11 we know we have no geographic exemption from horrific historic violence.

The town in the movie is a microcosm of a world morally adrift. The police enforce hunting regulations but are powerless to act against human violence; the pastor uses his sermons to invoke blessings for the weekend football game; the bartender (figuratively presiding over the center of social activity) cannot control his customers. In Peckinpah’s film, Amy responds to her rapist after initially resisting; in the remake, she is closer to the moral center of the movie. At a critical juncture, David and she have a tense exchange (the video is here):

Amy: [Quietly]: You’re a coward.

David: [Shakes his head]:  No I’m not.

Amy:  Yeah.  So am I.  Plain and simple.

David:  No I’m not.

Amy:  Yeah.  Yeah.  If you had done something.

David: Amy.

Amy:  If you had said something.  If you had done something --

David:  Amy, I was trying to get them to talk.

Amy:  Anything.

David: [Throws something against the wall]:  QUIET!

David quiets his wife, but he does not get the peace and quiet for which he came to the town. He is the prototypical stupid smart person, the reasonable man with a hand outstretched to unreasonable men, hoping that if he leaves the world alone, the world will leave him alone too, so he can work on his book. But he will need more than his superior education and intellect to survive.

The violence that ends the movie is not gratuitous, and it is not nearly as shocking as things we have experienced in real life: throwing an old man in a wheelchair off a ship. Or the cold blooded murder of Olympic athletes. Or the massacre of 21 kids dancing in a discotheque. Or slaughtering elderly people at a seder in a hotel. Or destroying people riding buses to work or school. Or bombing a father and daughter having pizza the night before her wedding. Or destroying entire families while they sleep at home, or ride home in a car. Or beheading Daniel Pearl because he was a Jew. Or beheading Nick Berg because he was an American. Or flying jets into office buildings where tens of thousands of people are at work. Or the even worse atrocities currently being planned by those who repeatedly pronounce their intent.

What seemed shocking in 1971 no longer shocks us. We have lived through violence much worse than Peckinpah filmed 40 years ago. We do not need another movie -- much less a remake -- to remind us that man is a violent creature, or that entire societies can become drunk on violence and death. We know that; we have seen it; we see it now.

What we need is a film that dramatizes the awful consequences of men who think they are better than the world, who are oblivious of the gathering storm, who defend themselves only when they have no other choice -- and whose defense, coming so late, after things have gotten out of hand, helps bring catastrophe to everyone involved. In my view, Rod Lurie has made that film.