Director David Cronenberg’s movie “A History of Violence” brings a little-known graphic novel to life. The protagonist, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), seems to be living the ideal life when it suddenly takes a turn for the worse. Two robbers attempt to hold up his diner in a little Indiana town, until Tom stops them by slamming a hot glass coffee pot into the face of one and shooting three gunshots into the chest of the other. The scene’s carnage is heightened as bits of flesh dangle off the shattered bone of one robber while he chokes on the blood from his own body. The corpse of the other robber is shown lying in the mist of shattered glass with blood pouring from each gun wound. Tom’s heroic reactions seem like something he does to save the day, however, we only excuse his extreme reactions because of our overall exposure to violence and desensitized conscience. This type of brutal and unplanned violence becomes the protagonist’s way of making peace throughout the movie.
The title of the film reflects not only the history of violence of the protagonist, but the history of violence in America. This simple movie gracefully indicates how movie violence prevails as a reflection of American culture. “The History of Violence” is not just another gut-spilling movie about a man running from his past. Instead, it serves as a window into understanding the desire for movie violence in America. While critics argue that the movie is over-contextualized, the average American may argue that the movie is not precise enough. However, the beauty of the movie resides in its complex ambiguity.
The protagonist unwillingly becomes a national hero by defending his diner and innocent customers from vicious robbers. Before this, he was blessed with the average, taken for granted, American freedom and prosperity; he had a wife who devotedly loved him, two well- behaved kids, and a successful business. Unfortunately, his traumatic diner incident makes him a national hero and causes people from his past to come after him. Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) along with other mobsters intrude on Tom’s life and tell him and his family that Tom is really Joey Cusack - a Philadelphia mobster who viciously scarred Carl’s face and killed many others. Tom denies his real identity for a long time, but their accusations are proven to be true. With Tom’s family and his life on the line, he is forced to go back and address his past before he can continue his new life. Unfortunately, ‘address’ in this context means confronting the people of his past by murdering his mob boss brother (William Hurt) along with his whole crew of henchmen.
In an interview at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, Cronenberg reveals that he intends for us to enjoy each of the movie’s violent scenes. If the audience’s response does not agree with the violent scenes, then he feels like he has lost his opportunity to communicate with the audience. Cronenberg tells us that “it is this paradox of them enjoying something that is...