Sunday, April 12, 2009
I watched Deliverance last night for the first time in years. It is still a good film, pretty gripping. I guess the environmental side of it - which I didn't really take much account of when I first saw it - was ahead of its time, and the way it engages with the river and the landscape almost as characters in themselves I'm coming to realise is typically Southern.
I have to be honest, though, I cringed at the writerliness of it with its carefully set up scenes. There is the section where Ed goes into the mountain to try to shoot an animal for breakfast and, despite having a perfect shot, fails to kill a deer. "I never understood how you could kill an animal," he said.
So from that moment on it's absolutely inevitable that the climax of the film is going to revolve around Ed having to shoot a man in the same circumstances. And yes, that's exactly what happens. We're even usefully given a scene just before that when, for some bizarre reason while he is teetering at the top of a cliff edge, he takes out his wallet with picture of wife and kid and other symbols of civilisation, only to drop it into the water - literally, civilisation disappearing into the rapids.
This is close to Coetzee territory - author as jigsaw puzzler, quietly sliding all the elements into place so that in the end they form a nice, clear picture. This approach feels increasingly false to me: life isn't structured so conveniently. The result, for me, is that I'm taken out of the story and made aware of the author.
I do wonder if, in twenty or thirty years time, we will look back on this type of writing and find it unacceptably arch and contrived. I believe we will.