Combustible Celluloid

Interview: David Cronenberg

Building a 'History'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

September 27, 2005—At its core, David Cronenberg's latest masterpiece, A History of Violence, isn't necessarily violent. In fact, it's one of the most beautifully, precisely photographed films of the year. Ordinary films, in the hands of lesser directors, tend to use fidgety, hand-held footage to portray violence.

"I get motion sickness. I've never been a fan of that," Cronenberg says during a recent phone conversation. "That's sort of a desperation movement when people are not secure. They're afraid of being boring, so they shake the camera around."

For the film's climactic shootout, the Canadian-born filmmaker chose a classical approach, placing his characters on opposites sides of doors, playing cat and mouse with one another.

"That's one of the delights of filmmaking, that sort of three-dimensionality you get. I love the elegant precision in classic movies like The Third Man. A lot of people throw it away in exchange for frenetic energy. They throw away that depth and sense of space. But the thing is you have nothing to hide behind. You're very vulnerable. You're right out there like an actor, and you've got no fancy stuff."

Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, A History of Violence tells the story of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a family man who runs the local diner with his pretty wife Edie (Maria Bello). When two merciless killers come to town, Tom stops them, revealing a long-buried and ever-expanding personal history of bloodshed.

Cronenberg says he never saw the graphic novel and made his movie based solely on Josh Olson's script. He even added a few items of his own, specifically the twin love scenes between Tom and Edie, one tender and the other quite a bit darker.

"I don't see how you could examine a marriage without looking at the sexual part of it," he says. "The scenes are designed to show you the shift in their relationship at the most primordial level. Both scenes are about role-playing, and about the past. It's not a clash -- it's more a before and after."

Strangely, Cronenberg has heard positive response from many women viewers -- a first for him. "Women love this movie -- even women who are normally queasy about violence. They find this movie quite easy to deal with."

Apparently, the mood on the set was jovial as well. "Viggo's very funny," Cronenberg says. But the biggest laughs came from the normally withdrawn William Hurt. "He normally doesn't fool around on the set. People can sometimes feel that he's standoffish and grumpy. But everybody was so focused. I'm working with my same crew that I've had for years. He could feel that family intensity. So he was doing Monty Python impressions while laying on the floor with a bullet hole in his head!"

Partial David Cronenberg Filmography:
Stereo (1969)
Crimes of the Future (1970)
Shivers (1975)
Rabid (1977)
Fast Company (1979)
The Brood (1979)
Scanners (1980)
Videodrome (1983)
The Dead Zone (1983)
The Fly (1986)
Dead Ringers (1988)
Naked Lunch (1991)
M. Butterfly (1993)
Crash (1996)
eXistenZ (1999)
Spider (2002)
A History of Violence (2005)
Eastern Promises (2007)
A Dangerous Method (2011)
Cosmopolis (2012)

Movies Unlimtied