David Cronenberg's «A History of Violence».


144 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9932-7
DDC 791.4302'33092





Reviewed by Anna Migliarisi

Anna Migliarisi is an assistant professor in the English Department at
Acadia University, Nova Scotia.


Bart Beaty’s David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is the first volume in the long-awaited Canadian Cinema Series from the University of Toronto Press. Ambitious in scope, the series is intended to make a record of contemporary Canadian films and filmmakers while shining a light on the range and richness of Canadian cinema and on the distinct ways in which it is conceptualized and understood. Beaty’s close reading and analysis of the critically acclaimed A History of Violence (2005), by arguably the most well known and admired living Canadian filmmakers, is a praiseworthy contribution. The slim 139-page volume traces the general progress of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, from low-budget horror films (The Brood, 1979) to Hollywood successes (The Fly, 1986) to financially disastrous big-budget flops (M. Butterfly) to the enormously successful A History of Violence. This overview is followed by an in-depth commentary on the thematic, stylistic, and structural peculiarities of A History of Violence and on the various critical responses to it. The general tendency among scholars is to read the film as a critique of contemporary American “vigilantism” masquerading as heroism. Beaty’s contention is that while A History of Violence is Cronenberg’s most “doggedly American” film in the context of its aesthetic influences, subject matter, means of production, and casting of well-known American actors in the lead roles, the film has much to say about “Canadian filmmaking and film-viewing practices.” The issues of “masculine masquerade,” personal transformation, and the virulent consequences of violence at the thematic core of the film highlight a preoccupation with American cinematic violence from a “distinctly Canadian perspective.” Thus the deeper, more disquieting story in Cronenberg’s unique vision—indeed the film’s most important contribution to Canadian cinema, Beaty asserts—has to do with Canada’s “visceral” compulsion to simultaneously consume and be consumed by American culture. In this way A History of Violence can be seen as “a story about the violence that we [Canadians] seek to displace onto our American neighbours.” Beaty’s forceful conclusions are sure to provoke a variety of thought. In addition to detailed annotations, this highly readable volume features a select bibliography, full production credits, and numerous movie stills. It is ideal for students as well as enthusiasts of Canadian film.


Beaty, Bart., “David Cronenberg's «A History of Violence».,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28224.