Saturday, April 19, 2008
DELIVERANCE - The Archetypal Journey
Four Atlanta businessmen, answering the ancient call of men testing themselves against the elements, set out on a treacherous journey down a wild river in the backwoods America where they are catapulted into a life-and-death struggle with the wilderness’s most dangerous inhabitants and forced to dig deeply into their own suppressed primitiveness with the result that each, in his own way, realises that one can never be the same after glimpsing the sharp-clawed survivor in one's soul.
Essentially, this is a fish-out-of-water story in which the fish are undergoing a primal rite of passage.
Four suburbanites from Atlanta go into a wilderness, dependant on one of their party (Lewis Medlock).
This is a character-driven drama, and the characters are really archetypes.
The Four Principle Characters
Ed Gentry (John Voigt) - Joe-Average. Everyman. The Middle-Class. Respectable and Moderate. He craves the normal while flirting with the dangerous. He wants to be safe and indulges in vicarious thrills. Underlying value: to be secure.
Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds) - Physical man. Hunter. Athletic. Materialistic. Underlying value : to survive.
Bobby “Chubby” Tripp (Ned Beatty) - Appetitive. Desirous. A sensuous voluptuary who is preoccupied with his own sexual prowess (or lack of it). He is both feminine and lustful. Underlying value: to prove his manliness.
Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox) - Artistic. Imaginative and creative. Aesthetic sensibility. A sense of proportion, balance and justice. “The Law”. The group’s conscience. Underlying value : to do the right thing.
The Dramatic Question:
Are these guys going to make it down the river safely, “in time to see the football game on Sunday”?
Knowing what the dramatic question of the story is, we are going to be alert to what stands in their way. And what does? Nature (the antagonist), as well as their own natures.
Interestingly, the source of each one’s strength is also the source of their vulnerability. Where each is strongest, he is also weakest.
Rape of nature is introduced right at the beginning. The reason for the canoe trip is BECAUSE Lewis is anxious to see the river before “they” – the powers-that-be (i.e.: progress) – build their dam and flood the river. They are, as Lewis says, going to rape the country. But the city boys are, themselves, expressions of the very progress that Lewis abhors. And in the film the Rapists become the raped; the defilers, the defiled.
What is the essence of the rape? Lack of respect for nature wedded to a sense of invulnerability.
The hillbillies are part of nature. They are presented as something to be feared – the dying child – inbred, grotesque, laughable. They are NOT respected by the city boys.
Every major turning point in the film is accompanied by a PLAN, starting with the plan at the beginning : “We’re gonna leave Friday and I’ll get you back in time to see the pom-pom girls at halftime cos I know that’s what you care about.” (Lewis Medlock).
The story presents a journey into the heart of darkness and joins other stories that comprise this enduring tradition of storytelling, from Huckleberry Finn to Moby Dick, from The Odyssey to Ovid’s tale of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece. It is a journey into the unknown, into the unconscious, where each finds what he fears most and struggles to over come that fear or die. Water is highly symbolical in the journey, associated as it is with the unconscious, with memory (Neptune) – there is also the idea of initiation (baptism), and transformation.
Dreams are associated with the unconscious too – at the end of the film there is Ed’s dream of water and the resurrection of his most hidden fear.
The idiot savant (Lonny) = Spontaneity… as does the dancing hillbilly. There is no learned behaviour here, merely the natural expression of being inside the moment, inside nature, inside one’s own nature. It is what the city boys “sold” as Lewis points out. The banjo and guitar music at the beginning is improvised, free – the conscious mind goes on a holiday… at this point there is real COMMUNICATION between the locals and the interlopers. It is interesting to note that as soon as Drew wants to formalise or acknowledge the connection (with a handshake) he breaks the connection. Lonnie (nature) turns away from him.
The musical motif is repeated throughout at significant moments, sometimes in the form of reverie – as in a musical memory of what has been lost - or sometimes as a dirge or a slow ominous march towards the dark of the not-yet born.
Lonny is also the gatekeeper – their last connection with so-called civilisation. As they pass under the footbridge, they pass the threshold of the known world and enter into “the belly of the whale”.
The structure is unusual.
What is the inciting incident? Where does it occur? It all depends on HOW you “read” the story.
In the novel, it’s the men deciding to go on a canoe trip. In the original script it’s the men arriving in Oree. In the film, arguably, it’s the men’s encounter with the Griner brother and his agreement to drive their cars down to Aintry.
The story proceeds by virtue of the contrasts it presents and the tensions that result from these contrasts:
The primitive vs the modern
The backwoods vs the city
The old vs the new
The known vs the unknown
DELIVERANCE - A SCENE-BY-SCENE EXAMINATION
The quest to make it down the river- to literally survive -
can be examined from the perspective of the dramatic
action that occurs in each scene, and the emotional
energy that is generated by the characters' actions.
Positive energy (+) is evident when the actions work to
make it more likely that their objective or goal will be
attained. Negative energy (-) manifests whenever
character actions and the actions of the antagonists
work against achieving the goal. Sometimes,the actions
may appear to be positive but are really negative (+-)
or vice versa (-+). The following presents one
interpretation, tracking the movement of the emotional
energy of the characters' odyssey.
Sequence 1 – “Into the Wilderness”
Scene 1 ROAD and WILDERNESS (Two cars make their way along roads that become more and more primitive, accompanied by V/O conversation. First plan) +
Sequence 2 – “Oree”
Scene 2 - OREE TOWNSHIP +
Scene 3 - GRINER BROTHERS COMPOUND (Inciting incident?) + / -
Sequence 3 – “Heading Downstream”
Scene 4 - TRACK TO RIVER + / -
Scene 5 - THE RIVER / RAPIDS +
Scene 6 – FIRST CAMP +
Sequence 4 – “The Resting Place”
Scene 7 – THE RESTING PLACE -
Scene 8 - BY THE RIVER (Burial of the dead hillbilly & second plan) + / -
Sequence 5 – “Into the Abyss”
Scene 9 – RIVER/GORGE -
Scene 10 – CLIFFS + / -
Scene 11 – GORGE +
Sequence 6 – “Deliverance”
Scene 12 – RIVER (discovery of Drew) -
Scene 13 - RAPIDS +
Sequence 7 – “Civilisation”
Scene 14 - RIVER (third plan) +
Scene 15 – COUNTRY/CHURCH +
Scene 16 – HOSPITAL +
Sequence 8 – “Investigation”
Scene 17 – GUESTHOUSE -
Scene 18 – RIVER -
Scene 19 – ROAD (Church with ringing bell) -
Scene 20 - HOSPITAL +
Sequence 9 – “Return”
Scene 21 – PARKING LOT (One more question) +
Scene 22 – CEMETERY -
Scene 23 – ED’S HOUSE/ATLANTA + / -
THE HERO’S JOURNEY in DELIVERANCE
• Ordinary World
• Call To Adventure
• Refusal Of The Call
• Meeting With The Mentor
• Crossing The 1st Threshold
• Tests, Allies, Enemies
• Approach To The Inmost Cave
• Supreme Ordeal
• The Road Back
• Return With Elixir
In terms of the film, DELIVERANCE, it might be stated as follows:
• Ed Gentry (John Voight) makes the hero’s journey.
• Ed begins his journey from his hometown in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an innocent man, living the family life and working a good job. (Ordinary World)
• His friend, Lewis Medlock, invites Ed to join him on a camping and canoeing trip. This is his Call to Adventure.
• Ed wants to go from the first minute, but his friends Bobby and Drew refuse for a while. (Refusal of the Call) Eventually Lewis convinces them to go.
• Ed views Lewis as almost like a God. (Meeting with the Mentor) For Ed, Lewis convincing them could have seemed supernatural.
• They make their way to the river by car. (This is where the film starts!!)
• They setup the canoes and begin moving down the river. Here they cross the first threshold, "I edged up more, looking out--or in--through the ragged, ashen window he made." (Dickey, 79) This is where the adventure begins and where there is no going back. They are entering the “belly of the whale”.
• They move on down the river and camp the first night. Lewis hears someone or something in the woods. Ed misses a shot at a deer. (The beginning of tests, etc)
• The next day they move on. Bobby and Ed are in one canoe, and Drew and Lewis in the other.
• Bobby and Ed get ahead of the other canoe and decide to pull over and take a break.
• On shore they run in to some hillbillies. Bobby is sodemized by one of the men while Ed is held at gunpoint. Then they start to move on to Ed, but Lewis, who has finally arrived on the scene, shoots and kills one of the hillbillies. The other gets away. (Climatic test, enemies, helpers).
• They are in a dark terrible place and they have to escape. The initiation happens when the vote is taken to bury the dead hillbilly instead of taking the body and reporting it to the police. (Approach to the Inmost Cave)
• From here they move on to the rapids and the gorge (the Abyss and the Supreme Ordeal). Drew is shot by the hillbilly that got away, and Ed decides to fight “the dragon”, which is the combination of the cliff and shooting the hillbilly.
• They sink the hillbilly’s body in the river. Ed assumes leadership (Reward)
• They find Drew's body and sink it too.
• They go down one more set of rapids and at the bottom Ed meets his goddess. It is a golden tree (in the novel) that he uses to mark that spot. In the film, it’s portrayed by rusting car bodies. (The Road Back)
• As soon they get to land and get help the Apotheosis takes place. A police investigation ensues in which Ed comes face-to-face with a male authority figure “the father”) in the guise of the country sheriff. (Atonement)
• The ultimate boon is when they are getting ready to leave the town and they know everything is going to be all right. (Resurrection)
• They go home. (The Elixir, in this case the knowledge of what has happened)