A History of Violence

dir. David Cronenberg

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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One of Cronenberg's greatest and most complex works, this combination of searing psychological thriller and ingeniously subtle social allegory focuses on a small-town Everyman (Viggo Mortensen) who finds his hidden past catching up with him after he brutally foils an attempted stick-up.

Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is the very epitome of the small-town Everyman: upstanding, friendly, with a beautiful wife (Maria Bello) and two kids. But after he brutally and efficiently kills two stick-up men who attempt to rob his diner, dark secrets from his past begin to come to light — particularly when a hideously scarred gangster (Ed Harris) arrives in town, searching for the long-vanished mob hitman known as "Crazy Joey Cusack" who put his face through the wringer. Both searing psychological thriller and ingeniously subtle social allegory (many critics declared it to be a key cinematic text of the Bush II era), Cronenberg's most universally acclaimed film is also unquestionably one of the director's greatest and most complex works. Taking a premise familiar from the western — the former gunslinger trying to live down his violent past — History not only continues the vintage Cronenbergian theme of the divided self, but vividly depicts how that private split ripples out into the public realm — most notably in the profound upsetting of the Stall family dynamics, as Tom's wife and children try to come to grips with a husband and father who is a very different person from the one they have always known.