“Machines are gonna fail, and the system is gonna fail, and then … survival. Who has the ability to survive? That’s the game.”
On a weekend getaway, canoeing down the Cahulawassee River which is scheduled to be flooded due to the construction of a dam, four friends get more than they bargained for when they cross paths with the wrong group of mountain men.
Starring Burt Reynolds as the macho, bow wielding Lewis, Jon Voight as Ed, Ned Beatty as Bobby and Ronny Cox as Drew, Deliverance is director John Boorman‘s adaptation of novel by the same name written by James Dickey.
It seems almost impossible to talk about Deliverance without discussing its depiction of male rape (inflicted upon Bobby, played by Beatty). Certainly disturbing, in doing so, Deliverance inspires a new level of homosexual fear for male audiences. The scene, in my opinion, is nowhere near as graphic and violent as any other film in which sexual assault is depicted. But I knowingly present a bias here.
What makes this scene terrible, for everyone not just men, as you are watching this horrible assault being carried out, is the image of Bobby laying face down in the dirt afterward. Confused, injured, violated, Beatty’s portrayal of Bobby, what’s just happened to him, is powerful. He is able to capture, in that moment, an intense vulnerability and powerlessness.
The thing to admire here, is that Boorman and Beatty are able to depict the assault in a universally terrifying manner – it is little more than a play for power, control, and a show of dominance. Bobby’s being a man has very little to do with it.
Clearly, this scene, alone, would be enough to land Deliverance on many-a horror fan’s “best of” list. But, the trials have only just begun for the group of friends. And that’s what gets me about this film – many people, who have not seen Deliverance, refuse to simply because of this scene. That’s a shame, because Deliverance is one hell of a ride.
Beatty was a relative newcomer to film, and it is his general likability leading up to the scene that adds to its intensity. But, that’s really horror 101, isn’t it? If you don’t like the characters, who cares?
Ronny Cox, who had never been in front of the camera prior to Deliverance also shines in the film as Drew, the group’s moral compass who adds a certain depth to every scene he’s in. As the men try to decide how to deal with Lewis (Reynolds) having killed the mountain man responsible for raping Bobby, it is Drew who ratchets up the tension. Drew begs the men to consider the lasting consequences of their actions. I love that scene for its undeniably genuine horror.
People also often wonder about the kid in the beginning of Deliverance who plays banjo with Drew. His name is Billy Redden and he was cast in Tim Burton’s Big Fish in 2003, his first appearance on film since Deliverance. Check out his scene in Deliverance below.
What I love about Deliverance is the time the filmmakers (and author/screenwriter Dickey, by extension) allow for the development of the story. You see this group of men, all somewhat domesticated and urbanized, trying to get back to nature, to recapture a sense of their masculinity, manhood. As sh*t begins to hit the fan for the group, not only are their relationships tested, but so too their sense of who they really are, as men.
One part action, one part horror, one part psychological thriller, Deliverance is an all-around amazingly good film. A film that, 40 years on, continues to capture the imagination and cultivate fear in its viewers.
1.) Yes, don’t piss off the locals. Wherever you go, respect your environment and those that inhabit it.
2.) Yes. I have one phrase for you, “squeal like a pig.”
3.) Yes. As the men struggle to navigate the rapids of the river, as the men fight to survive, as they scale rock walls and suffer injury after injury, you will find yourself startled, anxious, and grossed out.
Wiki facts: Deliverance
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Read the book that started it all: James Dickey’s Deliverance
Related: Cinelogue reviews Deliverance