A History of Violence

StinkyLulu just yesterday caught the latest David Cronenberg pic -- A History of Violence -- at the local googaplex & -- wowiekazowie.

Apparently the Lu's not alone in this reaction, as a brief glance at the reaction of the critics suggests. Indeed, the critic's blurbs touch on most of the film's more interesting formal elements: the use of gruesome violence, the questions of genre & plotting, the collection of crackerjack performances, etc. [If for nothing else, you -- lovely reader -- should check out the film for the acting by the boys (Maria Bello is shockingly good but nevertheless somehow miscast). Look for: William Hurt in an electrifying cameo (possibly the actor's first non-annoying role in more than a decade); Ashton Holmes in a breakout performance as the kid, & Viggo Mortenson (watch the final shot of the film closely to see just how good his work in this film is).] Yet, the "hidden" or "secret" identity storyline, the mystery narrative at the center, itself strangely absent from most of all this critical praise/commentary.

To StinkyLulu's eyes at least, the "hidden identity" piece of the puzzle actually works so well because -- at its core -- A History of Violence is a story about "passing": a tale about shedding an ethnically/racially marked identity of family, history & dna to craft a new identity cloaked in the banality of idealized American whiteness. And it's Viggo Mortenson's exceptionally nuanced performance that makes this legible. As his affect (& his accent) slips almost undetectably between that of a normal "regular guy" whiteness and that of a corrupted, violent white ethnicity tainted by city high/low-life (& a melange of Irish and Jewish cadences), Mortenson's deceptively simple performance makes this movie. (And really, isn't Viggo the most/only interesting MovieStar/LeadingMan of his generation working today? See this movie & just imagine the horror of Matt Damon, Tom Cruise or even Russell Crowe in the part & you'll feel what StinkyLu's saying.)

O'course this is not to say that A History of Violence is in any way a "racial drama" -- far from it. But it works like one. Just like Cronenberg's The Fly worked like a "queer contagion drama" -- but wasn't. This what StinkyLu so appreciates about the Crone: for a straight white guy director with typical straight white guy obsessions Cronenberg sure can tap into fears of fundamental, intrinsic or "ontological" difference & how those fears actually work WITHOUT laying the blame at the feet of queers or people of color. Always a great lesson for the Lu in the power of a cinematic allegory...which is one way of thinking about this thrilling & effective film: it's a "passing" allegory (that literalizes the spritual violence of "passing"). And, rilly, StinkyLulu had little idea A History of Violence would be this worthwhile, but hey: that's the magic of the googaplex.

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