Cartoonishly Chiseled Normals Violently Questioning Violence


As coolly distanced as its title suggests, David Cronenberg’s critical blockbuster manages to have its cake and eat it—impersonating an action flick in its staccato mayhem while questioning these violent attractions every step of the way. A pair of cartoonishly chiseled normals (Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello) live with their CGI-perfect children in a small town that might have been designed for the game players of Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. In one romantic scene, Mortensen and Bello pretend to be teenagers; in their next tryst, they no longer know who they are. A History of Violence is a hyper-real version of an early-’50s B movie nightmare—albeit one where the narrative delicately blurs dream and reality, the performances merge acting with role-playing, the location feels like a set, and blood always oozes from lovingly contrived prosthetic injuries. Violence is amazingly staged and increasingly cathartic. But whether directed at high school bullies or cold-blooded killers, it never fails to rebound on the spectator. By the time William Hurt appears as a godfather from the City of Brotherly Love, A History of Violence has succeeded in incriminating virtually all of its characters in its particular “history,” not to mention the audience—and maybe the species too.