Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Apocalypse Now, Deliverance is about a group of suburban American men who take a river trip into the wild, and into the heart of darkness.
Burt Reynolds is Lewis, the “wild man” who refuses to use maps or buy insurance. ”No risk,” he says. His friends, who have grown more used to their domestication, aren’t as anxious for danger. One brings an air mattress along, and another opts for a canoeing partner who seems a bit less reckless.
But then we meet some real wild men. Burt Reynolds now seems less like an exciting adventurer and more like a desperate man who wants to rebel against modern life but has no where else to go. (see Taxi Driver, Fight Club, et. al.)
Our voyagers are stripped, exposed and violated. They are brutalized by their experiences. Those who cling to civilization die; those who embrace the brutality live.
There are no heroes in this story. The characters in the film bemoan the fact that the river valley will be destroyed by a man-made lake; “progress” as they sarcastically call it. But the shooting process carefully strips the river of any beauty.
The men are forever traumatized by what they learn. Jon Voight now knows he really is capable of what he always reassured himself that he was not. And the fact that his true nature might resurface gives him nightmares.
Deliverance is #376 on the TSPDT 1000 list I’m blogging through. I’ve now seen 401.