Sunday, 21 February 2016

Cutting Edge- Film Review: Duel

Fig 1: Film Poster for Duel (1971)
Car versus Truck, Man versus the Unknown or is it reference to the dwindling dependance of men due to the rising independence of women in the 70s? The answer is left ambiguous in Steven Spielberg's 1971 TV to cinema movie Duel. The film is essentially a hour and twenty minute car chase through the Californian desert, however it is the way Spielberg is able to incorporate that suspense of a lonely motorist being chased down by a huge truck along a long and lonely road in an area of America that only a few drive passed. "The relentless pursuit takes on its own logic where societal rules quickly become superflous" (William Thomas, Empire Online)The tension of the clash between the two vehicles on the long winding desert road, driving away from changes in society at that time, the focus is mainly on wether the car can overtake or be stuck behind the dismal black smoke of the truck ahead.
Fig 2: The Truck Bashes into the Car, Determined to Overtake

The way that Spielberg was also able to make a truck into a important and imposing character itself is astounding,  the fact that the driver of the vehicle is barely seen, the only part of him that are seen being his feet and if arm as he beckons the driver, David Mann, to pass him on the highway. These factors about the tanker truck makes it seems predatory,  like a beast on the road after its new prey, it's large domineering size dwarfing Mann's car. The dark colour of the truck compared to the bright environment and Mann's car gives that comparison

Spielburg's Filmography is great in this film, starting off with a first person point of view from Mann's car as he leaves the hectic roads of the city to the more subdued desert highway. He is able to achieve a standard of filming similar to Hitchcock, by showing the characters reactions then panning to what they see. This is evidential in Mann trying to find out who the killing is, he sits in the cafe diner staring off of frame, the camera goes to the four men at the bar, who may or may not be the driver of the truck who has been bullying Mann constantly throughout the film. Spielburg, being a big fan of Hitchcock that he is, made nods to his filming style in this scene, relying up the suspense that makes the diner scene feel long and full of drama just from a few cleverly placed shots and angles. "As far as psychological thrillers go, Duel is close to Hitchcockian"- (Andrew L. Urban, Urbancinefile) 
However the diner scene isn't the only suspenseful part of this film, the western like stand off at the climax of the film were you can see how fed up David is over this continuous onslaught of imposing terror from the camera's constant close ups of his face and the truck in the distance as it approaches. The action in the last few minutes of the film give a wonderful crescendo in the form of a truck and the car bursting into flames and exploding as they roll down the cliff, while the worn out David Mann lets out a cheer and sits on the cliffside in relive as the credits roll. While some might of wanted the ending to be something more, like the driver of the truck finally revealing himself, the ending shows a similar thought process to Hitchcock's film, The Birds,  both ending in a heartwarming way that still has that sense of doom for the characters involved, that they are still trapped in a world that is against them.
Fig 3: David Mann Sitting in the Overly Pink Diner
The state of men in society in the 70s is also evident in Duel, as while the main character's surname is Mann, he shows signs of resentment of the fact that he isn't the head of the household in his family, as he states to the mechanic at the petrol garage in which when told that "he's the boss" David replies with "Not in my house I'm not". Women in the film are shown in a place of power both work wise and family wise, this can be seen with the lady who owns the petrol garage with her pet snakes and the radio conversations about how the man on there stays at home while his wife is the one working to support the family. "-Mann himself is shown to be a henpecked husband who regains his masculinity only through the contest on the road" (Janet Maslin, The New York Times) His journey on the road and to overcome the ongoing pursuit of the truck is Mann's way of recovering his broken masculinity.

David is also shown through the cinematography to be vulnerable and weak, such as the mid shot of him in the bar surrounded by pink furniture, a colour associated with femininity. He is shown to be a victim of the change of society in the 70's where women had more independence then ever before, being able to vote and get jobs that enable them to support their families, the need for a male figure in the household was beginning to waver to the point that it was insignificant. This is obviously one of David's fears due to the fact that his wife could do better then him, and not being able to stand up for his wife when she was being hit on by another man at a party adds to his fear of being useless.
Fig 4: David spots the Truck as it Turns Around to face him

Overall "Duel" is a film that you can take away and think about it. With its stunning visuals and great acting from the actor of Mann, Dennis Weaver, Duel is the landmark that set Spielburg to speed down the hollywood highway and proceed to make classic films, like Jaws and E.T. It dwells into the psyche of man in the 60's and to what the unknown is to bring us in the form of a dark, mechanical, oil truck that's only purpose is to chase down the driver for the sole reason of trying to over take it. 


William Thomas:

Janet Maslin:

Andrew L. Urban:

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