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Film / Straw Dogs (1971)

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"All right. You've had your fun. And if you don't clear out now... there'll be real trouble. I mean it."
David Sumner

Straw Dogs is a controversial 1971 British-American thriller film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman, adapted from a 1969 Scottish Psychological Horror novel, The Siege of Trencher's Farm.

The film centers around American math professor David Sumner (Hoffman), who moves to the small English village where his wife Amy (Susan George) grew up. Working on a book, David withdraws into his study for hours at a time while his bored and idle wife begs for his attention. Meanwhile, a group of blue-collar locals, one of them his wife's old flame, provide a constant threat to his manliness as they leer at his wife and mock him behind his back. As the workers become more invasive and threatening, Amy criticizes David for not confronting them and flaunts herself hoping to provoke her husband to action. When he is finally pushed too far, David stands up for himself in a shockingly violent finale.

In 2011, a remake starring James Marsden and Kate Bosworth was released. Please put tropes regarding that film here.

Straw Tropes:

  • Adapted Out: The Sumners had a daughter in the novel. She was removed from the film.
  • Anti-Hero: Taken as a whole, the film is a chronicle of David's transformation from a Classical Anti-Hero into either an Unscrupulous Hero or a Nominal Hero. This change is not presented as a good thing, since he comes out as being cold, ruthless, and domineering.
  • Badass Bookworm: David is a mathematics professor whom everyone sees as a harmless pushover, but in the end of the film, he absolutely terrorizes everyone.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: David is acquiescent and does not protest his poor treatment at the hands of the locals, but then flips to gruesome killer when they try to invade his home and kill everyone inside.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality:
    • The thugs are composed of violent drunks, murderers, and rapists. The man they're after really is a killer and had accidentally killed his daughter, but he's also clearly mentally handicapped and unable to entirely grasp the consequences of his actions.
    • David himself seems to be a distant husband, but his wife also seems to be quite needy. He takes a passive-aggressive approach to confrontations with his wife and the local toughs. In the end, he takes a stand to defend someone who, from his perspective is possibly guilty of manslaughter, but also because, in his own words, the thugs had gone way too far, and at this point would almost certainly kill them too.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cornish game hen trap.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: David, who manages to outfight a group of burly locals who had spent the entire movie browbeating and emasculating him.
  • Death by Adaptation: Bill Knapman (Scott's counterpart) is the only one who dies in the book. The beseigers are all wiped out in the film.
  • Deconstruction:
    • The film deconstructs the ideal nerd fantasy, i.e. a really bright guy marries a very beautiful young woman who loves him and can't stop having sex with him. The film brings out the incompatibility of the relationship, with the couple being non-functional, the man because he's a smart guy, underestimates his wife, and writes her off as dumb and so condescends to her, which only hampers her ability to really open up and trust him since he's not going to take her seriously. She on the other hand tries her best to fit in and adjust but this means becoming an Extreme Doormat without any needs for her. This makes it especially hard when she gets raped and their relationship weak enough as it is, doesn't get further because she doesn't trust him enough to open up to her.
    • The finale also attacks the idea of Fire-Forged Friends or that a man violently protecting and defending his home will automatically win his wife's respect and attention. She is reluctant and wants to avoid violence and abhors David's Serial Escalation, and she refuses his commands and orders and when David commands her to use a gun to shoot and kill the last of besiegers, she hesitates for a long time before pulling the gun, and the ending is quite ambiguous and open-ended, but it would be a huge stretch to believe that their marriage will survive this traumatic ordeal.
  • Evil Brit: Most of the British characters who terrorized the Sumners, right down to Charlie and his accomplice Scutt raping Amy.
  • Gainax Ending: The finale of the film after the violence leaves the outcome ambiguous about the Sumners' marriage, and David's state of mind:
    Henry: I don't know how to get home.
    David: That's okay. Neither do I.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Tom Hedden
  • He Who Fights Monsters: David at the climax, when he Took a Level in Badass, but also Took a Level in Jerkass.
  • Hidden Depths: David briefly notes this about Amy when she mentions Binary Numbers and he explains it and she logically picks up on how the system works in sets of two, which catches him off guard, and which irritates her because she feels he doesn't take her seriously.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Peckinpah has said the story is an exploration of the philosophy that at their core, everyone is violent. The siegers are simple and violent. David as an intelligent and civilized man has developed an aversion to violence, but once he is finally pushed past that, he is much worse than the siegers, because he is intelligent about his application of violence. The reverend earlier in the story drawing a connection between David's scientific work and the development of nuclear weapons also reinforces the idea of civilization actually making violence worse.
  • The Hyena: Cawsey the rat catcher. It's easier to count the number of times he doesn't giggle.
  • Jerkass: One way of interpreting the film is that masculinity is essentially a form of being a Jerk Ass: asserting your dominance over your territory and woman through violence.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: David is irresistible to his wife Amy (at least at first) and even attracts the eye of Janie Hedden, who tries to steal him from his wife at the church gathering, only for David to look away (since for all his flaws, the guy is faithful to Amy).
  • The One Who Made It Out: Amy Sumner originally came from the village she and David visit and it's quite clear that she never wanted to return there. It's filled with a bunch of old-fashioned Lower-Class Lout who have zero job prospects and a small-minded community still centered on church and tradition. A good deal that makes the dynamic worse is that she and David are now middle-class and she can employ as workmen a bunch of young men, one of whom was a boy, Charlie Venner, she dated when she was younger and who later rapes her to prove how she's not much better than him after all.
  • Protect This House: The finale.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Cawsey. He finds just about everything funny, and spends much of The Siege being equally clownish and menacing. He also takes great pleasure in his job as an exterminator and briefly has a rather morbid conversation with David about killing rats.
  • Rape as Drama: Amy's reaction and trauma to being raped twice in the film. She hides it and refuses to talk about it to her husband (reflecting the fact that many women in real-life don't report this crime and try and hide it if they can) and then she keeps getting triggers later, and especially humiliating for her, is the church gathering where she has to put on a Happy Marriage Charade while being in the presence of her rapists.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Tom Hedden is the red to Charlie Venner's blue.
  • Sacred Hospitality: David fights to protect a man staying in his home from the local roughnecks, who he, admittedly has very little reason to believe. The locals abuse their privileges as guests, stealing his possessions, killing his cat and forcing themselves on his wife.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Scutt after David trapped him by tying his hands to the window frame. Considering what Scutt did to Amy, this is karmic.
  • Serial Escalation: The interaction between David and the Siegers at the end. Neither side was violent at the start but slowly both of them go crazy and tense as the waiting intensifies and David keeps stonewalling and refusing to budge.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: David and Amy start out this way, with Amy being unable to keep her hands off him.
  • The Siege: The book upon which the film was based is called The Siege of Trencher's Farm. David is ultimately moved to action when he decides to protect his home from invasion.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Why Amy gravitated to David originally and why she grows appalled and horrified when he becomes a killer in the finale.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: David Warner?!
  • The So-Called Coward: David spends most of the film allowing the local workers to walk all over him, and he quarrels constantly with his wife. When the locals try to murder a guest in his house, however, he finally stands up to them and to his wife, who had openly called him a coward for not standing up to them earlier.
  • Took a Level in Badass: During the finale, David takes levels in badass, essentially asserting his alpha male status of the household. Although this is not presented as being in any way a positive or a good thing.
  • Tranquil Fury: Throughout the climax, David stays level-headed and icy cold.
  • Word Salad Title: The film was originally to be called The Siege of Trencher's Farm, a bland and overly descriptive title, so director Peckinpah created an informal contest for a new name. A friend suggested Straw Dogs, referring to the Chinese tradition of creating animal figures out of straw as religious offerings. Straw dogs were given special treatment during religious ceremonies, then discarded with the rest of the trash, mirroring the impartiality of the universe. However, even the producer of the film admitted that the term means nothing in the context of the plot.