Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Deliverance”

Dear Frank,

This movie is one that has been on my to-do list for you for over a year now — I suspect, in fact, that Deliverance is the perfect example of the type of film for which this blog was created: Classic, yet not necessarily a classic that would be considered essential viewing.

And it’s a classic for one very specific reason — I admit up front that my foreknowledge of this movie is limited to the fact that a dude gets raped in it. I mean, technically, that’s not the whole truth — I totally listened to that APM interview with the daughter of the writer once. But really all I have in my mind right now is “squeal piggy squeal!” And that isn’t helped by the fact that during the opening credits, we’re watching nature being demolished by bulldozers while this bit of voice-over plays: “We’re gonna rape this whole goddamn landscape. We’re gonna rape it.” My irony detector just went DING DING DING.

This movie moves pretty fast when it wants to — we’re quickly introduced to four bros heading out to a river in the Appalachians for a good ol’ fashioned bro trip. (Technically, these men pre-date the actual “bro” movement, but the concept remains the same.) The river they’re about to canoe down is about to disappear due to the construction of a dam (“YOU CAN’T FIGHT PROGRESS!”) and I’m beginning to suspect that maybe, JUST MAYBE, this movie is about the corruption of innocence.

In case there was any doubt we were in hill country, we have our first run-in with a kid that in my notes I referred to as Inbred Kid, but that seems too mean, so he’s now just Weird Kid. He looks like this. And he has a banjo.

This is like the second image that pops up when you do a Google Image Search for "Deliverance," FYI. Kid makes an impression.

One of the guys has a guitar (which is I guess what proto-bros would bring with them on bro trips prior to the iPod) and Guitar Guy and Weird Kid end up jamming together! in hardcore yankee doodle jam session! and this one guy dances a little jig! Good ol’ times with good ol’ boys in old country.

The guys are looking for a guy with a truck, I guess to pick them up at the end of their river trip, but the guy in a hat is nervous. “Why don’t we just go golfing in the city,” he tells–

Wait, I just had to call my roommate into the room to ask him who the hot guy in a v-neck tank top was.

“That’s Burt Reynolds.”

“The fuck it is.”

“That’s what he looks like when he doesn’t have a mustache.”

“THE FUCK IT IS.”

I’m still skeptical, but IMDB backs him up on this. Moving on! They set out down the river, and it seems like a nice trip! The woods are pretty, the river is flowing smoothly — except for being casually stalked by hillbilly people, it’s pretty much perfect.

And what else are you gonna do on a relaxing canoe trip but talk about deeply philosophical issues about the structure of society! Burt talks about anarchy while arming his bow () — Jon Voight, meanwhile, is being totally chill about how the system totally works for him. Burt is very good at shooting a bow, by the way! (JUST LIKE KATNISS OMG ONLY FOUR MORE DAYS UNTIL HUNGER GAMES!)

Okay, back to work. Once again, Frank, we’re talking about “the system” and its merits and drawbacks, now beside the campfire. Then, Ned Beatty’s about to go fuck his air mattress (I am not joking that is what he basically says) when Burt runs off into the woods, in search of something — I don’t really know what. I guess he heard a noise? The woods are spooky that way.

Huh. I might prefer Burt without the mustache. He really has a beautiful face.

The boys sleep tight that night, and in the morning Jon wakes up early and borrows Burt’s bow, but he can’t bring himself to shoot a gorgeous defenseless deer. GOOD I WOULD BE MAD AT YOU IF YOU HAD JON VOIGHT.

They continue heading downstream, but when Jon and Ned pull over briefly, they then encounter a couple of new country folk, who tell them that they’re lost. They agree that they’re lost, and then the shotgun comes out, and Jon and Ned get lead further into the woods…

Oh, shit! Oh shit! This is actually really awful! They wrap Jon’s belt around his neck to tie him to a tree and make Ned take off his clothes and jesus christ, they’ve got a knife held up to Jon and the whole thing is so awfully casual. Ned tries to run, but one of the hillbillies catches him and starts to ride him like a pony and the squeal piggy squeal isn’t a one-off line, it’s an extended moment, where Ned is brutally humiliated and penetrated in the dirt and Jon is trying not to watch and so am I and I’m going to stop describing this scene in detail.

Short version, Frank — Ned gets raped. It is decidedly unpleasant. And weirdly, THERE’S STILL AN HOUR LEFT IN THIS MOVIE. I had no idea that the rape was essentially the inciting incident, thus inspiring the thought: “Holy crap if this is just half way through the movie HOW MUCH WORSE WILL THINGS GET?!?”

Just as the hillbillies turn their attention to Jon, Burt and Guitar Guy show up! And Burt totally skewers the rapin’ hillbilly (such a fun word to type) with a well-aimed arrow to the back.

The guy dies, and now we’re debating the legality of shooting your buddy’s rapist with a bow and arrow. Burt doesn’t want to face trial, but Guitar Guy thinks that hiding the body and pretending this never happeend is a bad idea and that Burt’ll be setting himself up for a murder charge if he does so.

Burt remains super-hot, Frank, if you were curious. His counter-argument is that because this area, thanks to the dam, is about to become a massive lake, they can just bury the body there and it won’t be a problem.

I think this scene debating what to do about the rapist lasted longer than the actual rape, and I am borrrrrrrrrred. They use democracy to decide to bury the body. It takes a while. They use their hands. It’s super manly.

They then contine to trek down the river but holy shit they hit some for-real rapids and lose their canoes. Oh, but Jon holds onto the bow and arrows! I am sure that will be important later.

And Guitar Guy fell in the river! They lost Guitar Guy! That’s sad. Rest in peace, least famous bro in this movie whose name I never got around to learning. Burt also breaks his leg, and they hide him in a rock crevass.

Because they think Guitar Guy was shot by the rapin’ hillbilly who escaped earlier, Jon decides to hunt him down with the bow and arrow — but the hillbilly shoots at the same time, and Jon’s so startled that he falls on his own goddamn arrow. But he did manage to fire his own arrow, killing the hillbilly — but is it the same rapin’ hillbilly from before? We’re not sure. We will never be sure. We will also not be sure what happened to Guitar Guy, when they find his mangled corpse further down river. The only thing we know is this — WORST. BRO TRIP. EVER.

Yes, even worse than this.

So they weigh down the bodies — saying of Guitar Guy, “he was the best of us” (I guess because he didn’t murder anybody?) — and dump them in the river and go back to civilization.

But the local police question their story! Oh noes! There’s like five minutes of panic over that before the sheriff lets them off with a kindly “Don’t ever come back up here… I’d like to see this town die peaceful.”

And so Jon returns to his loving wife and son, but is HAUNTED by the experience, and has a nightmare about a body floating to the surface of the lake, but wakes up and his wife comforts him (uttering the third and last line of dialogue spoken by a woman in this movie). And THE END.

Maybe it was just the mood I was in, Frank, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would. It’s in many ways an interesting movie, but the theme of civilization versus savagery is one I’ve seen executed better elsewhere, and man it draaaaaaaaaaaaaaags in places. Still, like I said, interesting. And now you don’t ever have to see it!

Frank, you might be better off.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on March 20, 2012, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thank you. I’ve been mildly curious about this scene for years, but knew it was the type of movie I would never, ever willingly watch. In fact, i don’t think I would even UNwillingly watch this. You have done me, and all hyper-empathetic, emotional marshmallows like me, a great service.

  2. Hah! Liz, we just read Deliverance for book club (it was a huge hit, and it’s written by a Very Manly Poet, James Dickey), and it looks like the movie was very true to the novel. I found it well-written, but Oh, so heavy-handed on the issues of Manliness and Civilization/Savagery. Not a book that, I think, would be as well-received if it were written today. I hope.

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