Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 ode to masculine savagery, is by any measure a film worthy of it’s notoriety. The film – and Peckinpah, one would presume – begs the viewer to question where the line between depiction and endorsement lie. It’s a certainty that Peckinpah loathed the main character, the feckless and fatally passive David (played with nauseating precision by Dustin Hoffman). Despite a veritable smorgasbord of bad behavior by everyone in the film, Peckinpah posited that David himself is the film’s villain as his passive-aggressive mentality is the crucible in which all the terrible crimes in the film are forged.
Despite outward appearances, Straw Dogs is not a film about a well-meaning suburbanite running afoul of crazed English rednecks (as was the case with the source material, Gordon Williams’ The Seige of Trencher’s Farm). Rather – under Peckinpah’s authorship – the work becomes an indictment of suburban values, which lack the virility needed to cope with a savage world.
And then there’s the rape scene.
There’s no doubt that Peckinpah was a world-class misogynist. The best thing you can say about him is that he was deeply suspicious of the female character – and Straw Dogs is perhaps Peckinpah’s best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) example of this suspicion. Susan George’s Amy is childlike, petulant, wanton, and impulsive…and Peckinpah does his level best to make a case for Amy’s yearning for ex-lover Charlie Venner’s sexual potency – even in the midst of a horrific sexual assault. And consider this – the rape scene does not exist in Williams’ novel…it’s entirely a fabrication of Peckinpah’s.
Straw Dogs says terrible, disparaging things about the human psyche…but in many ways it’s even more revealing of the director himself.
BONUS: Passion & Poetry – Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs