Monday, 20 March 2017

Duel (1971)

Fig 1: Poster

Steven Spielberg's Duel (1971) is an action, thriller and road movie. The film tells a story about David Mann, who is on a business trip, driving through a 2 lane road in the California high desert, in his 1970 red Plymouth Valiant. his journey is going fine until he is tuck behind a huge, grimy and oil-stained truck. He passes the truck and is about to continue his peaceful travel, up until the truck rushes by and slows down to continue its slow pace, with David stuck behind it again. He passes the truck again and later pulls into gas station, just as the truck does too. He makes a phone call to his wife and they argue, as the woman claims that David did not defend her at a party, and he feels weak and emasculated. Back on the road, he is approached by the same truck, and he waves him, letting it pass, only for the truck to slow down again. He tries to pass it numerous times, but the truck does not let it do so. He realises that the truck driver purposely annoys him and as the truck driver mimics Davids previous hand movements, he lets Mann pass, but only because another car was approaching from the front, almost crashing with David. This is when he realises that the truck driver tried to intentionally kill him. This game of trying to pass the truck continues for a while, until he is able to leave at a turnout, only for the truck to approach him from behind with very high speed, so he crashes into a diner's fence and stops (as well as the truck does). He than tries to figure out who is the truck driver, and after a fight with one of the men inside he leaves, only to realise that the truck driver never entered the diner, he is sitting in the truck. He continues his journey, and finds a stalled school bus, but is unable to push it with his car, but the truck arrives and as David rushes away, the truck helps the bus back on the road. Now Mann is stuck with the truck behind him again, as the truck driver continues to chase and try to injure or kill him. They continue this intense 'game' and David almost gets killed numerous times, all while the truck driver remains unseen and unidentified. Just as Davids car is about to give up and the truck still approaches fast, Mann stops at a tall cliff and jumps out of the car at the last moment, however the truck is unable to step on the break in time and tumbles of the edge with both vehicles, crushing and falling to his death. David jumps around in happiness and celebrates his victory, then he sits at the edge of the cliff, throwing rock as the sun sets.
Fig 2: The truck and David's car falling of the cliff
"Steven Spielberg's first feature production, in which a seemingly driverless Peterbilt truck terrorizes Dennis Weaver's salesman on a California highway, is an object lesson in narrative efficiency and resourceful filmmaking, having been shot in only 16 days with a miniscule budget and edited in only three weeks for TV broadcast. The result was so wildly successful that the film was released theatrically in Europe with an additional 20 minutes of footage." (Alsolikelife, 2008) Spielberg's Duel had fairly positive feedback from audiences, however while some people think it is a great movie, with a lot more to it than what meets the eye,the other half do not see much in the film and do not understand why it is considered to be a masterpiece. So the opinions are very opposite to each other; some love it and some hate it, there is hardly any who are in-between. This move was the directors big debut and it was a successful start of his career to be one of the most recognised directors nowadays. The film was shoot at the location and in a very short time considering that it is a full-lengths movie, but as it is known, originally it was only meant to be on TV.
Fig 3: Shot of David standing on the California highway
"Built on a skillful ebb and flow axis of surprise and suspense, it has few rivals when it comes to sustaining an action agenda throughout the full running time." (Freer, 2000) While there are numerous scenes throughout the movie where the action takes place in buildings or outside the vehicles, but the majority of the film is focused on the chase as the truck tries to kill David. So altogether what is on screen the most is the two cars racing in  deserted place. This could be highly boring, sine there is not much dialog or any other action while the characters are driving, but Spielberg, succeeded to keep the viewers at the edge of their seats with showing that the truck driver is not going to give up and constantly bringing the huge truck close to the smaller car, which intensifies the tension of the movie.
Fig 4: A mirror showing the approaching truck
"The subtext of this highway duel is masculinity, as suggested by Mann's phone conversation with his wife when he calls her from the gas station, before the action begins in earnest...This brief conversation colors the entire film, as does the radio program that Mann listens to during the introductory scenes, a conversation in which a man worries that he's not the "head of his household," that his wife really runs things." (Only The Cinema, 2011) It is easy to overlook the real intentions of meaning in the movie and only think it is a film about a truck chasing a smaller car on a empty highway. But if the viewer pays attention there are clear hints that it is about masculinity, or more specifically about the lack of it. When the movie begins and Mann drives, there is a conversation on the radio, themed how a husband is not the head of the house, which is the first sign about David's position in his family. The voice over of the radio was a great way to communicate the idea of how David feels without breaking the action that took place at that moment. When David calls his wife on the phone, the argument and conversation between the two confirms that Mann is pretty coward and could be said weak, strengthening the idea of him feeling like he is loosing masculinity. There are other numerous scenes where the director suggest that Mann is supposedly less manly than other male characters in the film. When he is sitting in the diner, nervous, confuse, scared and distracted, the camera stays on his face and the dialog of his inner thoughts perfectly communicate how he feels, which makes him look awkward and more vulnerable; following a scene when he 'man -up' and start a fight with another man, but quickly looses and is unable to fight back. Following that there are lots other scenes where the audience is clearly shown that David is struggling with manliness, and is always over powered by the truck and its driver.
Fig 5: One of the man beating David in the diner
"...Spielberg's low angles and uncomfortable closeups of the truck's rusty grille and thick, rotted fenders already suggest something sinister." (Only The Cinema, 2011) The difference between the two vehicles is huge and it also highlights Mann's masculinity. The truck is huge rusty, blows dark smoke, has loud an deep honk and looks threatening, which overall give it a manly and strong appearance. On the other hand, David's red car is small (compared to the truck), clean and could be called feminine (considering the shape of the car). The contrast between the two cars is very clear, which makes the chase look like the truck is a predator and the little car is prey. The camera angles highlight how muck stronger and bigger the truck is, which makes the machine look terrifying. When the truck got closer the camera showed the truck from a lower angle, almost as if the audience would look at it from under the wheels, which made it appear like a monster towering above the other car.
Fig 6: The two vehicles
"...the truck driver in Duel remains inscrutable, his face always obscured — the most Mann ever sees of the driver is his boot and his forearm. This sudden violence makes no sense, it's a nightmare of helplessness, as inexplicable as it is terrifying." (Only The Cinema, 2011) One of the most successful and intensifying fact about the film is that we never see the face of the truck driver or know why he went such length to try killing Mann. The lack of knowledge about the driver and the missing information of why helps the story to stay interesting and it makes the whole chase muck scarier. However as some parts of the person is shown, such as his arm and boots, we are clarified that there is no supernatural beings involved and there is a real person sitting at the wheel, which leaves the audience feel tense, as it appears like it could happen to anyone. The fact that most of the chase takes place on a highway at a deserted place, where help is far away and no one knows they are there, creates a vulnerable and helpless state.
Fig 7: The truck driver's boots


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1 comment:

  1. Hi Greta,

    See my earlier comment on 'Rope', regarding introducing your quotes...
    Try not to spend quite so much time on the introductory synopsis...just keep it really brief, just a short summary will do the trick!
    Make sure you proofread and don't rely to heavily on the spellchecker - you have 'muck' instead of 'much' on a couple of occasions here :)