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|Written by Emily Goodacre|
|Thursday, 10 November 2011 17:07|
Sigh. I really hated this movie, you guys. To the point where I'm slightly hesitant to write about it. I didn't like the book much either, and for the same reason: both of them hate women. They just hate them so, so much. Both equate masculinity with violence and the ability to use your physical strength to either protect loved ones or hurt enemies. Now, there is perhaps a thought-provoking exploration of the place for this sort of primal masculinity in a modern society, which hardly ever calls for problems to be solved violently. This story is not it.
Be warned: Tons o' spoilers ahead.
2011's Straw Dogs was based on Sam Peckinpah's 1971 film of the same name, which was in turn based on the book The Siege of Trencher's Farm. I've never seen the 1971 film, but from my (brief) research it seems that the 2011 version is a pretty straight remake, apart from changing the location from England to Mississippi (even the violent climax seems to play out in a step-by-step rehash). I can't imagine James Marsden acquits himself as well as Dustin Hoffman, though.
Straw Dogs sees newlyweds David (Marsden) and Amy (Kate Bosworth) going to live in Amy's tiny hometown in rural Mississippi to give David a chance to write a screenplay (about the siege of Stalingrad - get it?) and to fix up some property damage from the hurricane that killed Amy's father. David has never visited the town, and Amy hasn't been back since she left immediately after high school to become an actress. There they meet various locals hostile to David's big-city ways and deal with the creepy affections of Amy's ex Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard).
In The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams (1969), a longtime married couple George and Louise, along with their young daughter Karen, move to a small town in Cornwall, England, so that George can write a novel. Although Louise is British (George is American and the family live in Boston), she is not from the area and there are none of the complications of personal relationships with the locals that appear in the movie. The book sells the notion of the isolated community more than the film, with the town's history of inbreeding and vigilante justice spelled out explicitly.
In the movie, a local developmentally-disabled man, Jeremy (Dominic Purcell), accidentally kills a local teenage girl (who wouldn't stop sexually harassing him for no reason other than to be walking murder-bait) and then gets hit by David and Amy's car. They take him home to patch him up but then have to protect him and themselves from the dead girl's angry drunk father Tom (James Woods), Charlie, and various other yokels determined to enact some frontier justice.
The Siege of Trencher's Farm has a very similar plot, but George and Lousie run after a convicted child murderer, Henry (again developmentally-disabled), who has escaped from his institution. A local angry drunk father is convinced that Henry murdered his daughter (she actually just wandered off and got lost) , along with the expected yokels out to enact whatever the British version of frontier justice is (moor justice?). Both stories have the attackers murder a reasonable local man in order to prove that the situation is life-or-death, and to prove to the couple that just handing over the intended target is not an option, since they are now witnesses in need of elimination.
David and George quickly become "men" through violence, and the first thing they each do is take charge of their women. David covers his hysterical wife's mouth to explain to her how it is (please sir, do tell me what violence is, I don't understand) and George immediately starts threatening to slap his hysterical (see a pattern here?) wife, and then does.
Each of the men fights off the attackers one by one, although David kills them all (Charlie with a bear trap to his throat) and George merely injures them until the police arrive. They each triumphantly proclaim "I got 'em all!" at the end.
Throughout Straw Dogs we are meant to laugh at David. He throws his money around without thinking in a poor town, he wears horrible pleated khakis (and once, a bathrobe and slippers), he jumps rope to work out, and he has to be told why it is rude to walk out of a church in the middle of the sermon. But then things turn ugly and we suddenly are supposed to root for him. Although George is less silly than David, it is clear in each story that their wives were initially attracted to them because they were so different from the men they knew growing up, but that when transplanted to a new environment, they quickly appear ridiculous. Unlike David and Amy, who seem happy at first, George and Louise basically hate each other. In fact, George mostly protects Henry just to stick it to his wife, who wants to give him to the siegers.
The major difference between the book and the movie is that Charlie rapes Amy in the movie, and Louise is not attacked in the book. This was a huge controversy in the 1971 version, because it seems briefly like Amy might enjoy being raped, and it looks like this in the 2011 version as well. Don't worry though, they quickly have Charlie allowing his friend to rape Amy as well, so we know for sure that this is "real". Just for the record, rape by someone you're attracted to is still rape. Glad we're all clear, thanks for nothing, Straw Dogs. This attack functions as yet another attack on David's manhood (since she is his property and all) and Amy basically tells him that if he had been more of a tough guy it wouldn't have happened. Again, this isn't how rape works, and it is a really gross attitude.
In the book, as I said, there is no rape, and no Charlie figure. This de-personalizes the siege attack, so that rather than being a one-on-one pissing contest over a woman, it is more about a group of losers who are upset with their lot in life taking it out on strangers. The book also has the character Karen, the daughter, which means more of a masculine role as husband/father, rather than the movie's more sexual definition.
Book or Film: Book, I guess. Listen, they are both kind of awful. But at least the book acknowledges George's ridiculousness by giving us his internal narrative. It implicitly accepts the ridiculousness of such antiquated gender roles, even while they play out. The movie just plays like fighting a bunch of hicks off with boiling oil and nail guns is a triumph of the human spirit.
Sidenote: the movie fails even further for being a complete waste of Walton Goggins. I know Goggins is contractually obligated to appear in any movie taking place in the south (Cowboys & Aliens, really?) but he is useless here as Jeremy's brother who follows him around to basically repeat "don't accidentally murder any teenagers now, y'hear?" in a couple of scenes. Listen Hollywood: Walton Goggins is incredible at two things: quiet menace and deadpan hilariousness. Please use him accordingly.
Tags: alexander skarsgard shirtless, arts, average, book vs film, cinema, england, james marsden, kate bosworth, mississippi, straw dogs, the siege of the trenchers, violence=manly, walton goggins, wasted talent, women haters