A History of Violence

Adapted from a graphic novel but not an imitation of it.

Knowing how director David Cronenberg is turned on by violence, I was interested to see how he could treat its history. But A History of Violence is the story of only one man's history, Tom Stall, played with hunky toughness by Viggo Mortensen. Upon reflection, the film is really a history of all violence if its insanity, pervasiveness, inevitability, and sexuality are common traits.

Tom owns a small town Indiana caf?; his wife Edie (Maria Bello) is an attorney. As if out of a Flannery O'Connor short story or the expressionistic Dogville, strangers come to town and change everything. Though Ed Harris as gangster Fogarty is not half as pretty as Nicole Kidman as a moll in Dogville, the two represent the forces that arrive at will and must be confronted.

In History of Violence, Fogarty accuses Tom of being an ex-mobster. Who is telling the truth forms the core of the film's conflict, which will eventually demand an accounting for the use of violence to stop violence. A subplot about Tom's son also confronting his demons reinforces the Greek tragic notion that children may inherit the sins of the parents. So too the subplot about Tom's brother, played with scenery-eating vigor by William Hurt, confirms the difficulty of avoiding the genetic pull of evil.

This is the director whose Crash (1996) set the standard for auto- accident auto-eroticism. In History his glee in the gorier aspects of violence is apparent in the graphic depiction of each murder. But more astounding is the oral sex sequence, just shy of pornographic, and an after-violence sex act, in which Cronenberg firmly marries violence to sex. Count on that union to outlast all the others.

Hawthorne's devil proudly exclaims that "evil is the nature of mankind." This exciting film, adapted from a graphic novel but not an imitation of it, supports that idea.