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Film / Deliverance

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"Kin ye squeal like a piggy?"

A 1972 American adventure thriller film adapted by James Dickey from his own 1970 novel of the same name, directed by John Boorman and starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox. It's #15 on AFI's "100 Years...100 Thrills" list.

The film involves four middle-class suburbanites from Atlanta who decide to spend a weekend canoeing in the untamed backwoods of Georgia, hoping to have fun and witness the area's unspoiled beauty before the Cahulawassee River valley is flooded by construction of a dam. Two of the guys in question, Lewis Medlock (Reynolds) and Ed Gentry (Voight), are experienced in the ways of the outdoors, while the other two, Bobby Trippe (Beatty) and Drew Ballinger (Cox), are entirely new to this.

After getting separated from the other two, Bobby and Ed encounter a pair of local mountain men, who force them into the woods with a shotgun. In the film's most infamous scene, Bobby is commanded to undress and "squeal like a pig" before being violently sodomized by one of the men. As the duo prepares to do the same thing to Ed, Lewis shows up and kills the rapist with a recurve bow. Following a brief but heated discussion about what to do with his body, the four elect to bury him and carry on like nothing happened. Unfortunately, the dead man's accomplice got away, and is now hunting them down like animals, throwing them all into a struggle to survive.

The film is best known for the page quote about squealing like a pig and the "Dueling Banjos" scene. If you ever see the film you will never be able to enjoy banjos again. Or go canoeing. Or visit rural Georgia. Or, you know, sleep.

Deliverance provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: The movie doesn't explain why it's titled Deliverance, but the novel states that what the city boys are trying to find in the backwoods is deliverance from the stress of modern life. All four men seem to be somewhat trapped in careers, marriage, and/or other commitments, Lewis and Ed in particular. By the end of the story, they're looking for deliverance from the very wilderness to which they hoped to escape. Survivalist Lewis seems to have gotten his wish for the collapse of civilization (at least in his life) and has most likely changed his stance on such things.
    • Bobby is the only one of the four leads whose occupation (insurance salesman) is revealed in the film. The novel further reveals that Ed is a graphic designer, Lewis is a landlord, and Drew is a soft drink executive.
  • Ambiguous Situation: When questioning the group after their return to Aintry, the sheriff makes it a point to ask about one of the men who helped drive their cars from the other town, hinting that man may be one of the rapists, the missing brother in-law of his deputy, or both (although if he was the former—whom he did wear a similar hat to—it seems unlikely that he'd have had enough time to double back out to the woods where they ran into him), although the sheriff may have simply been checking an extra detail to corroborate their story.
  • Annoying Arrows: Gruesomely averted. Both the rapists die in one arrow shot — painfully — and Ed is in obvious agony when he accidentally stabs himself with one of his own arrows.
  • Anti-Hero: Ed evolves into this by the end of the novel. Even though he makes sure as many of the canoeists as possible make it out alive, he ends up murdering a man he's not fully certain was the man he wanted to kill, a situation that leaves him more annoyed than anything else; treats Bobby in a cruel fashion, to the point of pointing a rifle at him with the urge to kill him; and ultimately delivers himself from any guilt relating to his actions.
  • Artistic License – Law: After killing the Toothless Man, the characters are reluctant to go to the police because his friends and family may end up on the jury. In real life, defendants are typically allowed to request a change of venue to ensure a fair trial.
    • However, this may be justified as all the characters do say that they don't know anything about the law.
  • Artistic License – Music: The "banjo boy" character is clearly not playing the banjo part of "Dueling Banjos", which in turn is obviously being played on a resonator banjo. Both the banjo AND the guitar have capos, which would not be required for playing in G.
  • Attempted Rape: Ed was about to be sexually molested by one of the two hillbillies before Lewis and Drew showed up.
  • Batman Gambit: The lengthy scene in the book in which Ed is forced to hunt down the second rapist alone with his bow is based on the assumption that the unknown man will behave logically, and do what they would do in his situation, despite the fact that he probably doesn't operate according to conventional logic, otherwise they wouldn't be in that situation in the first place. Luckily for Ed, Bobby and Lewis, it works.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The Mountain Man and The Toothless Man.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The two hicks are killed and the friends escape punishment. However, Drew ends up dying with his death not being confirmed to being murder, accident, or suicide. Lewis' broken leg may have been amputated. Bobby and Ed decide to part ways for a while and the ending shows the latter possibly developing PTSD from the trauma.
  • Bloodless Carnage: When the rednecks tie Ed to the tree, one of them takes a knife and slices his chest, yet he doesn't even bleed.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Ed during the final scene.
  • Chromosome Casting: All of the characters are men.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: Not for Bobby, but for Ed. The hillbillies have already raped Bobby, but Ed is spared from it (although Forced to Watch) because Lewis showed up and shot the rapist in the back with an arrow.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Lewis plays around with this. He adores doing the whole Mountain Man thing, scorns people who he thinks rely on or are products of civilization, and believes that at some point society will break down and we'll all have to rely on our wilderness survival skills — Ed suggests that Lewis actually can't wait for that to happen. At the same time, it's implied that Lewis isn't actually as good a survivalist as he thinks he is, and he takes everyone canoeing down that river without finding out if it was safe first, and even after a local warned him it was extremely dangerous. This comes back to bite him in the ass big time when the canoes hit some major rapids, tossing them all out and breaking his leg.
  • Creator Cameo: James Dickey appears toward the end as The Sheriff, who tells the men one of his deputies has a brother-in-law who's gone missing and advises them to leave and never come back.
  • Creepy Child: The banjo kid is extremely unsettling to watch, with his blank expressions, zombie-like facial features and mechanical banjo playing.
  • Creepy Gas-Station Attendant: The guys stop at a creepy gas station with a creepy gas station attendant... and a kid who plays the banjo. The gas station attendant dances along, creepily.
    • Creepily is more of a matter of opinion as his dancing can also cone across as natural and whimsical, depending on the viewer.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The Mountain Man gets shot with an arrow, which isn't normally too gruesome...except he takes a long time to die, and is obviously in horrible pain the whole time. He deserves it though.
  • Deep South: Probably not the Georgians' favorite portrayal of their state as it turns their home into The Savage South.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The two hicks who raped Bobby.
  • Deus Exit Machina: Lewis suffers a gruesome leg fracture, forcing the more relatable character Ed into the hero role for the climax.
  • Disappeared Dad: After his death, Ed reveals that Drew was a good husband and father of two boys, essentially turning him into this for his family, as his body will likely never be recovered; a revelation that makes his ambiguous suicide even harsher.
  • Dies Wide Open: Both of the rapists.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The Mountain Man and the Toothless Man are nasty and dangerous people, but they cannot compare to the savagery of the wilderness itself.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: One of the most memorable scenes of the film is preceded by an order to go deeper into the woods, and it's where both confrontations take place.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: The very word "deliverance" has become a punchline because of this trope. The rape scene in the film itself is a brutal, chilling aversion.
  • Driven to Suicide: Possibly, with Drew's death. It's deliberately left ambiguous, but considering his bizarre behavior after the murder, his refusal to wear a life jacket, and the fact that he clearly seems to be voluntarily jumping out of the canoe. The director and actor both support this interpretation.
  • Duet Bonding: Subverted — after the famous "Dueling Banjos" scene, Drew goes to shake the boy's hand; he is snubbed.
  • Eyes Always Shut: The Banjo Kid. His actor, Billy Redden, is a case of Truth in Television.
  • Fan Disservice: The rape scene, natch. The hillbilly's repulsive appearance and demeanor, combined with the brutality of the act itself, makes the whole affair anything but sexy.
  • First-Person Perspective: The novel is narrated by Ed.
  • Forced to Watch: Ed is tied up to a tree and is forced to watch a hillbilly rape Bobby.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Ed is Phlegmatic, Lewis is Melancholic, Bobby is Choleric and Drew is Sanguine.
  • Genre Motif: Folk.
  • The Grunting Orgasm: In the infamous squeal like a pig scene. Not for the faint of heart.
  • Handshake Refusal: Drew appears to be Duet Bonding with the boy at the gas station, but when he moves to shake the boy's hand afterwards, the boy stonily looks away. It foreshadows just how much worse things are going to get.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: Quite possibly the Trope Codifier for every subsequent movie about getting lost in the woods and hunted by hillbillies.
  • Horrible Camping Trip: Oh, come on, you big girl's blouse. It's only a bit of horrific rape! Don't ruin the trip for the rest of us.
  • Hot Blooded Sideburns: Lewis has a pair of these that are like tusks, seriously. Not surprisingly, he's the tough guy of the group.
  • Idiot Ball: Hey, guys? We know you're trying to dispose of the evidence quickly, but, maybe you should have kept the double-barreled shotgun? It's not like there's going to be any situation later on where that would have come in handy.
  • Idiot Savant: That banjo-playing kid.
  • Instant Death Arrow: Averted. Both rapists take quite a while to die even after being shot in vital areas with Lewis's bow.
  • Irony: The movie opens with the four men hoping to find deliverance from the stress of modern life.
  • Karmic Death: Both the rapists end up getting shot to death. With arrows, meaning that it's not quick and they get to suffer through having something hard being jammed into their bodies against their will before they finally expire.
  • The Protagonist: Ed.
  • Lighter and Softer: The movie is not exactly a light comedy, but the book itself is an intense and disturbing read.
  • The Load: Bobby starts out as this, although he becomes less so as the story progresses. Ironically enough, Lewis sort of ends up becoming one after getting hurt.
  • Manly Men Can Hunt: White-collar worker Ed tries to hunt a deer but finds himself unable to kill it.
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: One of the scariest moments in the film comes when Ed has, apparently, not only missed the Toothless Man, but accidentally stabbed himself with an arrow. The Toothless Man approaches Ed, who is helplessly lying on the rocks in horrible pain, cocks the shotgun...and as he falls to the ground dead, twists sideways and the audience sees Ed's arrow clean through his neck.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Ed briefly freaks out after believing he'd just killed the wrong man when he sees the corpse has its front teeth, but quickly discovers that the hillbilly he shot is the same toothless rapist from before, only now wearing removable bridgework.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: The only thing even worse than the savage mountain men is the brutal and unforgiving nature of the wilderness itself.
  • No Name Given: The rapists are credited as Mountain Man and Toothless Man.
  • Non-Indicative Name: "Dueling Banjos", the other most famous scene in the film, is between one banjo player and a guitarist.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The scenes where the mountain men aren't on screen are arguably even scarier than when they are.
  • One-Word Title
  • Only Sane Man: Drew. The novel lampshades this, when Ed sinks his corpse in the river and says, "You were the best of us, Drew. The only decent one; the only sane one."
  • Rape and Revenge: Bobby is the first to agree to bury the dead rapist mainly for this reason.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: The TV edit, at least, does this to the homosexual rape scene.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The two mountain men truly become irredeemable when one rapes Bobby and the other attempts to molest Ed.
  • Rated M for Manly: Toyed with. It certainly seems to be going this way, with four manly men going a canoeing trip into the wilderness and a sideburn-sporting Burt Reynolds killing people with a bow and arrow. It then becomes rather deconstructed when, well, it happens, and then the supposedly-manly Lewis becomes totally useless the moment he breaks his leg.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff Bullard. It's obvious at the end that he's pieced together most of what happened during the canoe trip, but while he's not happy with Ed or Bobby, he's willing to let it drop because he doesn't have any hard evidence, and because, in his own words, he wants his hometown to die peacefully. He lets them off with a warning not to come back, sternly admonishing Ed, "Don't ever do anything like this again."
  • Revised Ending: The film originally ended with an epilogue that takes place a few weeks, perhaps months, after the main events. It appears in James Dickey's original script as part of the final dream sequence, but not as the story's literal conclusion. Ed, Bobby, and Lewis (the latter walking with a crutch; in Dickey's screenplay, his leg is amputated below the knee) meet with Sheriff Bullard near the dam in Aintry. The sheriff directs them to a recovered body on a stretcher, then uncovers it so they can look at its face. No identifiable details of the body are shown, a deliberate choice to make the audience uncertain whether the dead man is Drew, Don Job, or the Toothless Man. (The body was played by Christopher Dickey, James Dickey's son, who writes about the scene in his memoir Summer of Deliverance, and even he doesn't know just whose body it was supposed to be.) In the screenplay, Ed awakens from the dream, terrified, just before the corpse's face is revealed.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The most common, or second most common question from many in the audience tends to be: was the man whom Ed shot the same one who had intended to violate him earlier? (Yes, he was.) However, the actual persistent mystery, which remains ambiguous and unexplained, is Drew's fate: was he shot, did he fall into the river accidentally, or did he choose to jump in? John Boorman tended to be evasive on the subject (though he said he felt that Drew refused to go on after covering up the murder), author James Dickey felt it was murder, and Drew's actor Ronny Cox believed it was suicide. Nobody really knows and John Boorman says it's up to each viewer to decide.
  • River of Insanity: Probably one of the best-known examples of a trip to the wilderness gone horribly wrong.
  • The Savage South: The film did not do any favors for mountain people in Georgia, or for the South in general, despite there mostly being good (or at least harmless) characters and relatively few antagonists. Ironically, the author actually had a good experience with the mountain men; see below.
  • Scenery Porn: The wilderness, despite its savagery, is simply gorgeous to look at.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Lewis is never seen wearing any. He most likely believes this trope.
  • Tagline: "This is the weekend they didn't play golf."
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: In the novel, and more or less stated in the film, Ed says that Drew was the best of them, and Drew was the only one who insisted on bringing the corpse of the murdered rapist in; his possible suicide seems to imply he couldn't bear to continue after going along with covering up the murder.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Bobby goes from being The Load to being tougher than he looks after that scene and the canoe breaking.
  • Übermensch: Lewis thinks he's this. Possibly a Deconstructed Trope and definitely a case of realism in film, as a fractured femur is crippling and excruciatingly painful no matter how tough you normally are.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Very, very loosely based. Writer James Dickey took a canoe trip in the Georgia woods and got lost, but was actually helped by local mountain men, who were friendly. (Of course, that wouldn't have made for as an interesting a story...)
  • Worst Aid: The "pull the arrow out of the wound" version.