Deliverance turns 40 

Will the South ever live down 'Squeal like a pig'?

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To venture into spoiler territory, Deliverance proves much more ambiguous. Christopher said his father justified the rape scene's brutality by saying, "'I had to put the moral weight of murder on the suburbanites.' He had to portray the mountain men as such monsters that the suburbanites would decide not only to kill, but to try to cover up their crime." After Lewis kills the rapist with a bow and arrow, the foursome debates over what to do next: hide the body and pretend like it never happened? Or tell the local authorities, who might sympathize with the mountain folk?

They vote to cover it up against the objections of guitar-player Drew and things get increasingly out of control. When they dig a makeshift grave by hand, they seem reduced to the level of animals. Back on the river, a stunned-looking Drew pitches into the water, but his friends don't know if he was shot, fell in accidentally, or dove in on purpose. With Lewis injured and delirious, Ed takes up the bow and Alpha Male role, climbs a crevasse, and kills an armed mountain man. Afterward, he's not sure if his victim was the squealing rapist's accomplice or a complete stranger. (Boorman's commentary confirms that Coward plays the character, so Ed probably didn't kill an innocent man.) Ed discovers that violence literally has a double edge: He shoots his adversary with one arrow and almost simultaneously falls on another, as if his action bounced back on him.

The three survivors conceal a total of three bodies and stress over the possibility that they'll be found out. In one of the great author cameos, James appears as an intimidating sheriff, but he dislikes the Atlantans because he thinks they're liars, not because they're city folk. Few films attend so closely to the consequences of bloodshed.

Most action movies carry the implication that "Violence is awesome!", particularly the post-Dirty Harry strain of shoot 'em-ups starring Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the like in the 1970s and '80s. Deliverance suggests that rather than bring clarity to a pampered, civilized man, violence makes events increasingly murky for him. Both the novel and the film have been read as a Vietnam War metaphor, and the fog of war notion supports this interpretation.

July 20 will feature a 40th-anniversary screening of Deliverance at the Fox Theatre, which seems at once the most and least appropriate place to see it. An Oscar nominee for Best Picture, Director, and Film Editing, as well as a Grammy winner for "Dueling Banjos," Deliverance was chosen for the Library of Congress's National Film Registry in 2008 for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." It's the kind of provocative film that attempts to push cinema as an art form.

Deliverance deserves to be enshrined in a luxurious vintage movie palace like the Fox, even though it's far too subversive and disturbing to be at home there. The film doesn't subject its audience to a fraction of the ordeal faced by the Atlantans, but it still aims to leave us equally haunted. Deliverance's survivors cross their fingers that their deeds stay submerged, and can only hope that what happened on the Cahulawassee, stays on the Cahulawassee.

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