Crossing the Line – Straw Dogs

This week we look at the American Film about British people harassing an American man, “Straw Dogs” (1971). Sam Peckinpah directed, so you know all the old standbys are back: sex, rape, nudity, and some good ol’ ultraviolence!

Tagline: In the eyes of every coward burns a straw dog.

Interesting Fact: In order to express a sick enjoyment in the scene where Dustin Hoffman beats the man on the floor to death, he requested that there would be coconuts there for him to smash. In one shot you can actually see a bit of coconut flying off, which Sam Peckinpah passed off as brain matter.

Objectionable material: British people, Maths, nudity, gang rape, huntin fer sport, murder, cat murder, drinking in copious amounts, marital strife, a very effective bear trap, pedophilia, A NERD!

Disturbing Quote: “No. I care. This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house.”

MBRFT: “Straw Dogs” is kind of like “Home Alone” if you replaced the adorable little blond child with an adorable little Jewish guy. And the paint cans on strings with a rusty bear trap. And the delightfully hilarious slapstick with graphic and explicit violence. Ok, it’s nothing like “Home Alone.” Dustin Hoffman plays a timid and meek mathematician (is there any other kind?) who inexplicably convinced the gorgeous Susan George to marry him. They return to live in her hometown of Cornwall, England where the local hooligans harass him and ogle his wife (more specifically: rape her multiple times) until he’s so mentally castrated that he flips his shit and provokes an incredibly satisfying home invasion scene like only Peckinpah could provide.

I can honestly say there’s not one likeable character in this whole film, except a stern Constable and possibly the cat (both of which are killed in memorable scenes). It’s controversial enough to make the audience hate your protagonist, but the film keeps pushing the envelope by featuring a gratuitous rape scene where the victim seems to enjoy herself and then follow it up with another rape scene in which she has a more traditional response. It becomes a little harder to stomach when it becomes apparent that this act of sexual assault is never referenced again and appears to have little or no impact on the plot. Accusations of misogynistic sadism aside, it’s hard to claim that any of the rape or violence in the film is glorified. We are left with an ambiguous and anarchic conclusion and, much like the end of “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman traveling aimlessly in a moving vehicle with a shallow victory and an unsure future. Feminists film critics tore into this film, but to me it plays out as an unflattering critique of the culture of men. I think graphic violence is the best kind of social commentary.

Screaming Girl: I don’t know how I feel about Straw Dogs. It is basically a movie about what may happen to Kevin McAllister if no one intervenes and addresses his abandonment issues. It was cute when Macaulay Culkin made his house into an amusement park of booby traps it’s just plain disturbing when Dustin Hoffman does it. Bodily harm just isn’t fun when it’s not followed by a girlish scream or a comical slip. However, I will give him credit. If my house was being stormed by psychotic drunken Englishmen I don’t think I would have done anything more than hide in my closet with my hands over my ears.

I guess the point of the movie is to show how far people can be pushed before they go bat shit crazy. Personally I doubt I would have had the mental capacity to hold it together after I found my cat hanging execution style by the light fixture in my closet. But I’m not Dustin Hoffman who can apparently hold it together long after the psychotic (not drunken at the time) Englishmen raped his wife.

That brings me to another point. I’ve seen a lot of rape in movies (I’m not proud to say that). Hollywood usually makes it look a lot tamer than it really is or they make it somewhat sexy. But never have I seen them make it so awkward. The entire scene looked as if she had sat the guys down beforehand and went over the choreography of a rape fantasy. This movie only supports the “her eyes said yes” argument. I agree with critics when they say that scene was unnecessary and gratuitous. It was.

Truthfully no character in the movie had any real redeeming qualities. Dustin Hoffman was a pain in the ass who deserved to be kicked in the shins. The wife was a childish brat who (I hate to say this) asked for it. And even secondary characters were extremely flawed. I did like the guy with one arm (I think he was the constable). He seemed the most redeemable seeing as how he didn’t really do anything wrong. Oh and I liked the cat. Maybe I’ll watch the movie again when I’m bored but it won’t be my first choice. That title still goes to Home Alone, where defending your home is comical and not unsettling.

PsychoLarry: When I was in High School I posed the following moral dilemma to my friends: “Is it rape if she enjoys herself after protesting?” I expected a resounding ‘Yes’ from all corners. What I got instead was an almost universal ‘NO!’, even from my strongly feminist girlfriend at the time and a certain Mr. Smith Michaels. If you have not seen “Straw Dogs” this anecdote might seem odd, but the fact that I felt the need to bring it up here should tell you a little bit about what to expect from the film.

If you’ve seen or heard about a Peckinpah film before, you pretty much know what you’re getting out of this film: sex, violence, and moral ambiguity. What makes “Straw Dogs” interesting is how well he draws out this ambiguity and compelling storyline when he essentially deals in nothing but stereotypes. The half of the British town that aren’t total boring prudes are obnoxious drunks, either Lord Harumphington of Yardslydaleborough or Hobs Eye Crowley from the South End of a Cockney dictionary. You’ve got the sex-pot immature blonde trapped in a trophy marriage with the condescending nebbish who cares more about formulas than about his wife’s happiness. You’ve got the dim-wit and young girl story that’s straight out of Of Mice and Men. Out of these fairly run of the mill archetypes comes a story where you’re never really sure who should be considered the hero, who you should sympathize with, and who is actually getting what they deserve.

“Straw Dogs”, for all its reveling in violence and sexuality, is a morality play with no definitive answer for the immorality and pettiness and pain that the conflicts cause. Think of it along the same lines of “Do the Right Thing”, just with way more white people. Or don’t think about it at all and just enjoy watching a wimpy nerd suffer a psychotic break and kill all the jocks around him.

Due to technical difficulties, we’re using on one of our back up films. Next week Flannel Pixies steps in for Screaming Girl as we take a look at “Naked Lunch”.


2 Comments on “Crossing the Line – Straw Dogs”

  1. Screaming Girl says:

    Just so you know, even if she enjoys the sex (meaning she orgasms) it’s still considered rape. An orgasm is an involuntary muscle contraction. Therefore, if she’s being raped and is horrified it can still happen without her approval. It’s the same when a man gets raped.

  2. Liza says:

    After reading this article, I feel that I need more info. Can you suggest some resources please?

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