Skip to comments.Men, Women, and the Invisible
Posted on 06/08/2005 5:28:55 AM PDT by bmweezer
There are few movies that more melodically ring the chimes of discovery than Sam Peckinpahs 1971 classic, Straw Dogs. I made the point of seeing it the other day after coming across a review that condemned its unsavory and animalistic view of human nature. At that point it became a must see for me. A few moments past the credits, one comprehends why it so traumatizes our polystyrene (over)sensibilities. There is nothing friendly, forgiving, or welcoming about it. The movie is uncompromising and forces the audience to examine urges which they would deny having. In our age of therapism, such affronts have little appeal, but, for this reason alone, it a film that should be enshrined in our cultural memory.
Straw Dogs was crafted by a man who, when moderately sober, was one of the most talented directors of his time. Sam Peckinpah never saw entertainment as being an end in itself. Here, his embellishments create a tale of tremendous anthropological significance. It illuminates our inner drives more thoroughly than any of the books youll find on display in the self-help section of your local bookstore.
Although, that is not to say that the film only has value due to its theoretical implications as it is strong on the surface. It possesses a clever plot and features characters that easily capture our interest. With the force of a Hummer, it propels us into the personal world of an intellectual, David (Dustin Hoffman), who is isolated in a foreign country and surrounded by hostile forces that modernity has no way to explain or dismiss. His wife, Amy (Susan George), should have been a towline to safety, but, instead, her loyalties are nebulous and her actions seem to willingly exacerbate every problem that arises.
The year 1971 is not remembered as a glorious time, but, back then, a story like this one could still be told. Nowadays it would be self-censored by Hollywood. Life from the vantage point of our ancestral African Savannah is no longer welcome or acceptable to the social engineers of our day. They do not wish us to see it, and, if we do, it is only allowable through the microscopic analysis of bones and rubble. Our culture does not regard human behavior as existing on a continuum. There are the one to ten percent who are sickos, and then there are the rest of us. These lines are tightly drawn and demarcated by psychiatric diagnosis and/or the opinions of talk show audiences. Contemporary best practice in dealing with the existence of characters like the ones Peckinpah displays is to simply ignore them.
Straw Dogs transcends our diagnostic categorizations and instead reveals the psychology of the tribe. Dustin Hoffman is trapped in a situation where playing a gentleman means that one will be eaten alive. In todays environment, the gelled and feminized metrosexual would be garroted and have their head put on a pole, while those women wishing to have it all would quickly find themselves inseminated or dead. The main characters determination to defend himself results in his repressed instincts being released, and this forever changes him. The astrophysicist can never return to his old life. His tasteful, prefabricated self is no more. Indeed, he announces this in the final scene when he informs a guilty man, who was the catalyst for the movies climax, that he doesnt know the way home either.
The film predates the two landmark works of evolutionary psychology, Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene and Edmund O. Wilsons Sociobiology, but its plot and interrelationships seem to come right out of an evolutionary case book. The most revealing, and dare I say revolutionary, character in the film is the wife. Susan George plays a woman whose agenda could not differ more radically from that of her husbands. George craves Hoffmans attention and does not understand why he would rather work rather than interact with her. To secure his regard, she even goes so far as to sabotage his efforts by changing around the mathematical signs he has written upon a blackboard. She also behaves seductively towards the workmen, and refuses to wear a bra in their presence. When she opens up the car door, she hikes up her skirt so that they can more fully gaze at her legs. Hoffman warns her that her teasing demeanor is partly to blame for their malattentions. By his making such a statement alone, the film would be judged to be beyond the pale by radical feminists. Indeed, in the 1990s when Camille Paglia made a similar statement about female dress, it resulted in a firestorm of feminista ire.
As one commentator stated:
"But it's not a film that will appeal to many women: the movie contains just two women in major roles and both women are abused by men. In both cases, the movie argues that the women were largely to blame for the violence against them. That's not an attitude that will endear this movie to many feminists in the audience."
Why should it? Personal responsibility debunks their entire political religion as without it women are free to be childish waifs in need of endless aid within an oppressive world of men of whom they are supposedly superior. Yet, a warning about provocative dress is nowhere near as bad as it will get as we then are given a glimpse of female longing to which no radical feminist alive would ever condone.
Georges response to being raped is filled with nuance. It is far from the heroics found in Tae Bo videos or in the flatulating hallucinations of the now expired Andrea Dworkin. The wife is captured and dominated by the local alpha male. He is a man with whom she had a childhood history and the yob appears to be everything her husband is not. She even tells Hoffman, if you knew how to hammer nails then the workman wouldnt be around to haunt their home. From the opening scene, we become aware that a certain chemistry exists between the villager and the wife.
The rape scene is not graphic, yet it is, counter-intuitively, both forceful and tender. Georges objections seem contrived as her expressions reveal a mixture of trepidation, discomfort, excitement, lust, and joy. Their bond seems more natural and secure than what she experiences with her husband. The power of this union becomes evident in the climax where we see how ready she is to betray Hoffman at her violators simple request. Then, after he is finished and lying atop her, another villain forces him off at gunpoint. He then takes the alpha males place. The wifes screaming and hysteria showcase clearly the difference in her attitude towards her attackers. Gradations of female desire such as these cannot be discussed nowadays outside of pornographic chat rooms. The scene is a disturbing masterpiece as Peckinpah offers us a glimpse of the simultaneous and discordant emotions which jockey for dominance within us on a daily basis.
Yet, is this complicated and tortured depiction of female sexuality so aberrant that it must be considered beyond the bounds of civilized discussion? Do we not see evidence of such disavowed yearning around us everyday? No man who has ever worked directly with criminals has failed to notice the immense appeal they hold for many members of the opposite sex.
The recent trial of Scott Peterson, a murderer with the soul of an asp, elucidates much that progressive minds would wish to keep hidden as, the first day following his sentence, his new warden received 36 phonecalls from female groupies inquiring as to how they could contact this promising young man. One even went so far as to propose marriage. This was no isolated incident as long lines formed outside the prison that held Richard Ramirez, the Los Angeles Nightstalker, who has over 13 murders to his credit.
What do our mainstream social scientists have to say about such proclivities? Absolutely nothing, it is a matter that cannot, and will not, be discussed. However, simple realities like these make a mockery of the advice of many relationship experts. If they are afraid of unseen cravings then they are of little use to the general population. This is why
politically correct psychology is not psychology at all. It is a nondescript muddle that tells us no more about human beings than do the mating habits of jellyfish. When psychologists impose a filter over their analysis to better enable political advocacy then they are no better than the corrupted specialists of Nazi Germany who made profiles of skulls in order to determine a citizens racial value.
A hallmark of political correctness is to question the psychology behind critics who question the dogma. It is the lets call you Sakharhov approach to argumentation. Contradictory positions are never responded to but psychologized instead. Admiration of Straw Dogs would be interpreted as an individuals personal affirmation of violence and barbarity, but, of course, it is no such thing and actually the polar opposite. To treasure the film is to value the fragile balance that is our society. The audience embraces Hoffman for his resourcefulness and we are elated when the village louts receive exactly what they deserve. An isolated intellectual in the beginning becomes a symbol for every domesticated man by the end. The film forces us to be grateful for the civilization to which we were born. It is a civilization that protects our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters from predators
and defends us from ourselves. Straw Dogs reminds us just how fragile our hold is over the invisible forces within.
Probably the most violent and disturbing movie I have ever seen, moreso I think, because of the time period.
I always said the heart of conservatism is to see and deal with ourselves (and the world) as we really are and not as we would wish.
It is the utopians who think they can perfect humanity and create heaven on earth who end up causing far more slavery and slaughter than any barbarian.
Nevertheless, my favorite kind of movie. An ordinary man finds himself in extraordinary circumstances and rises to meet them and prevail.
One must acknowledge the dark side to be able to control it.
If one has a dark side.
Saw this movie years ago. Wasn't impressed, but I do remember the scene above. As I recall, the blackboard is enormous, and covered with complicated equations. His wife sneaks in and changes a plus into a minus. Later on, Dustin Hoffman walks in and starts working at his desk -- but is uncomfortable. Then he turns, faces the blackboard, and slashes down with chalk and turns the minus back into a plus.
It's hard to demonstate genius in a movie. I think this scene shows that Hoffman's character is smarter than the average bear. Nicely done.
Quite a lot of English villagers can have been none too amused at the way they were depicted. Of course in the seventies that was only the tip of the iceberg. Don't forget all those movies and novels of the period where they turn out to be secret demon worshippers who want the out-of-towners for their annual human sacrifice.
Southerners, of course, were equally ticked at the way they were portrayed in such movies as "Easy Rider" and "Deliverance".
Or maybe they just decide that they are urges that don't have to be obeyed.
If one has a dark side.
We all do.
That's lesson number two.
There were a lot of ticked-off people then. Odd for the 'love' generation....but they are the ones in charge now!!
That's easy to say, but impossible to prove.
Or maybe, they just haven't ever experienced those kinds of urges!!
Are even professional writers ignorant of the basics of word usage and grammar?
"an oppressive world of men of whom they are supposedly superior."
...to whom they are superior. Things are superior *to* other things, not "of" other things.
"female longing to which no radical feminist alive would ever condone."
No, we condone things, we don't condone "to" things. Try, "...female longing *that* no radical feminist alive would ever condone."
We're not all pedophile priests, they are a very small minority. Look at the millions and millions that have lived, that haven't done that sort of thing.