Writer/Director Rod Lurie Reveals True Motivation Behind 'Straw Dogs' Remake
Lurie, a liberal, rejected with the bleak ideological worldview espoused by Sam Peckinpah, a conservative, in the 1971 original.
Congratulations are in order for Rod Lurie, the film critic-turned-writer/director of The Contender (2000), Nothing But the Truth (2008), and the new Straw Dogs (2011) -- a reimagining of Sam Peckinpah's 1971 film of the same title that starred Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, and Del Henney, now with James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, and Alexander Skarsgaard in the central roles -- which has earned a very positive review from Roger Ebert ("I found it visceral, disturbing and well-made.. a first-rate film of psychological warfare, and yes, I thought it was better than Peckinpah's") and is debuting in theaters this weekend.
I saw the film at an early screening in New York last month, and while the first thing that reaction from most others after seeing it was that Lurie's version was just as shockingly violent as Peckinpah's -- which is really saying something, since Peckinpah was, of course, the king of movie violence, dating back to The Wild Bunch (1969) -- I was most impressed by the subtle but significant differences in the ideological worldviews epoused by the two.
I asked Rod to comment on this, and he emailed me the following, fascinating response...
"Peckinpah's film was famously referred to as 'fascist' by Pauline Kael. That was a heavy-duty attack -- she even apologizes for the cruelty in the body of the text of her review -- but I am not sure she was wrong. At the point when she wrote it, Peckinpah had been praising in interviews Robert Ardrey, the sociobiologist who had written African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative, two books that Peckinpah claimed were the principle foundation for the thesis of Straw Dogs. Ardrey's principal claim is that all human beings are genetically coded for violence. 'We come not from fallen angels but from risen apes,' he wrote.
Of course, this idea has now been debunked and is antithetical to any kind of scientific study. But, at the time, these books became regular staples in the libraries of neo-Nazis. It was required reading for the followers of George Lincoln Rockwell. Peckinpah called Ardrey a 'prophet' and he used Straw Dogs to elucidate his ideas. This is why Hoffman's turn at the end of the film is such a wonderment of blood lust, joy, and pride. In a Peckinpah world, every man is violent (that in and of itself is the definition of manhood), and this is why Amy cuddles with her rapist (because in the animal kingdom, the female is attracted to the Alpha leader).
Well, I don't believe a fucking word of it. It's the thinking of the hard right-wing, the fringes. Fascist totalitarianism was established to control this inherent bad in all of us. I don't want any part of that thinking.
So now comes the purpose behind my remake: I wanted to tell the same story, but from the point of view of a man who is an optimist about human beings -- a man from the left side of the political spectrum. Could that be pulled off? My rape scene does not have Amy enjoying being raped because, frankly, I don't believe that Amy would act in the way that Susan George's version of her did. Peckinpah does, I get that -- but it goes against my grain. That's not a politically correct-approach, just a humanist one.
From my point of view, violence comes from conditioning, not biology. In Blackwater, violence is a part of life's conditioning, fed mostly by football, hunting, bar fights, and a violent God. As Charlie says, 'there's tradition, and then there's a way of life.'"