Classic Review: Deliverance

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars:  ★★★☆

Summary:  Not for the faint of heart, this movie about an ill-fated wilderness trek takes you to philosophical peaks and dark depths before you’re through.

Choose golf.

Choose golf.

Review:  Nowadays when I think of this movie, I’m reminded of that Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”.  You know, the one where a man, choosing between two paths, ends up taking the one less traveled.  “And that has made all the difference.”  What struck me at the end of this poem was that even though this choice was monumental to the man’s life, he never said whether it was good or bad, and I always imagined him, perhaps, being sad at the end at having made the wrong choice.

Well, that’s pretty much how ‘Deliverance’ is.  An outdoor enthusiast and his three suburban friends drive up to the rustic backcountry of the south for a weekend of canoeing on a soon-to-be-dammed river.  Their trip soon turns sour, though, after running into unexpected confrontations, both from the river itself and from some very disturbing natives, sending them down a spiral of violence, confrontation, and bloodshed.  As the film progresses, all four of these men get pushed to their breaking points as their once recreational trip turns into a fight for survival.  They too took a less traveled way, and by the end of the film we see what a difference that has made.

I could discuss in detail why I think the casting is brilliant, including the standout performances of Burt Reynold’s and Jon Voight; or why the musical score, with its twanging banjoes and famous guitar/banjo duel at the beginning, is so appropriate for this movie.  But really, what I think really drives this film into landmark territory is the philosophy and ideology that it implements.  There’s a kind of nihilism, I feel, backing this movie.  The nature of law, order, and even morality itself are questioned throughout this movie, as are the common conceptions of nature and civilization.  When these sort of issues aren’t implied in the movie, they’re directly addressed to us in the form of speeches and conversations had by the four men, usually by Reynolds.

Its not that I particularly agree with the sort ideology this film hangs itself on, but all the same, I find it interesting food for thought as well as a great influence on many other films.  When watching the 1999 cult-classic ‘Fight Club’, I couldn’t help but feel the same sort of philosophical challenge of our common beliefs on the world we live in, or choose to live in rather.

In short, I find this film to be a highly thought provoking and entertaining film.  The acting was solid, the canoe sequences provided a legitimate source of action, and the story was thought provoking.  Some of the scenes are famously disturbing but feel altogether necessary just the same.  The only thing about this movie that I did not like was the ending, which gave me a sad, empty feeling.  It’s not your typical outdoors movie, but then again, what did you expect from the road less traveled?