Story thoughts: A history of violence

This article most definitely contains spoilers

The scene

Carl Fogarty(Ed Harris) has just shot Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) whom he deems to be a mobster named Joey Cusack from Philadelphia. He tells him that he should have killed him back in Philadelphia and asks if he has any last words. Tom looks up at him and as Joey he answers, “Yeah, I should have.”

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Graphic novels and movies have a thing in common in that they can add to the story by using visuals. And if the visual element is the face of an actor like Ed Harris or Viggo Mortensen who are able to use their facial expressions to express an emotion in a refined way this makes a scene all the stronger.
It is something I often wonder how to exploit in written stories. Would it be possible to write down what happens without the support from  the imagery?

Carl Fogarty frowns when he looks down at Tom Stall.
“You should have killed me in Philly when you had the chance… Any last words before I shoot you?”
Tom looks up. His face almost expressionless as if resigned to fate.
“I should have,” Joey answers and his lips twists into an almost imperceptible thin smile and his eyes gleam.
And Carl smiles back.

For a brief moment they seem to connect. As if they shared a secret between them. As if Tom comes clean with Carl. Like in a confession. Which is interesting as Carl is dressed in black, almost like a priest(see the next scene).

But is what is the reason for Tom’s smile really? Perhaps it is something different .. the next shot in the movie is Carl being blown away by Tom’s son. Is that the reason he smiles? His smile is ambiguous to say the least.

I present another scene. This is the diner where Carl first appears to confront Tom. Carl is questing. Even Carl is not 100% convinced that Tom is Joey although he pretends to be.

The movie up till then is one of uncertainty. Is Tom just Tom, or is he the killer Joey  which Carl thinks him to be.  Tom seems genuine innocent. Look at him. You can see Carl trying to gauge this man. Is he for real? Or is he faking it?
But the question is why? Why does it matter if  Tom is Joey to Carl? Why not just shoot him anyway?

The next scene: social killing

Tom is Joey and he meets his brother Richie Cusack, who is the head of a crime mob . We play the facial expressions in the scene next. We have William Hurt as Richie and of course Viggo Mortensen. Hurt possesses a wide range of facial expressions. Look while he chats with Tom/Joey and look what happens in the background. Richie knows what is going to happen, he orders it.

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The last scene: which is the first.

At closing time, near dusk, two men enter a diner in a rural town, sit down and order coffee and cake. When the waiter tells them that they are about to close up, the older man shouts at him to serve them. When the waitress attempts to leave, the younger man stops her , forces her to sit down and locks the door of the diner. Then the older man pulls out a gun. “Do her, ” he orders the younger one.
The second man leers over the waitress.
Then the waiter moves  with sudden speed. He smashes the can of coffee he is holding in the face of the first man. His gun spins away to stop under a table. The water jumps over the counter, grabs the gun, aims and blows the second man through the glass of the door. Then he shoots the first man in the head after that one jabs a stiletto in his feet. A moment of brief violence.

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A history of violence is a movie as based on a graphic novel. In a graphic novel the graphics dominate the story line. I would even say, more so than in a movie as graphics can be distorted, twisted, changed. The same applies to movies, given the many ways that a movie can be supplied with an effect, but up to now one sees that most movies are not made as graphic novels, but as movies. There are of course exceptions, such as Sin city because the director is actually the same person as novelist, but even sin city the novel is way different from sin city the movie.

To get you an idea of how the comic looks here are a few pictures.  As you can see, below the dynamics of a novel can add or leave out thing depending on their importance and give it an extra feel through the imagery as presented from picture through picture. In the movie this needs to be done by the actors guided by the script and in history of violence it is the facial expressions that convey the tale.
The interesting thing is this. Graphic novels and movie influence eachother while having their own conventions at the same time. It would be interesting to see how the in turn influence purely written books.

Carl Fogarty
Carl Fogarty


Tom Stall/Joey Cusak
Tom Stall/Joey Cusack
Tom Stall/Joey Cusack



Diner scene
Diner scene
History Of Violence pg251
A feel for the novel.

Bauhaus museum


A small and nice exhibition  about Bauhaus on Lea 2 (
Had some fun with Gray Child(the neko(cat human hybrid) in the picture) and a few lyrics of Massive Attack to which I was listening. Some of which had relevance to the exhibition.

Bauhaus(1919-1933) didn’t last long as an independent art movement in Germany once the Nazis came to power(1932) as it quickly became  un-German and ‘degenerate art’, not strange if you look at how some of the women dressed up and behaved(go and watch the exhibition).

Being unconventional is something no repressive society can cope with. And since women had to fit a specific mold, (blond, blue-eyed, docile and focused on motherhood) being manly(smoking, unmarried and having unruly hair, look below) was a no no.
Bauhaus did live on because it influenced and interacted with other art mostly because the artist fled from Germany to other countries of the world. In a way this was their luck as apparently the rest of the world was prepared to be influenced by them.

There is a certain irony in the statement at the top of the picture below. The picture is called Marcel Breuer mit seinem Harem= Marcel Breuer with his harem.
Mag ich flapper sein? pfft! Nein danke means something like: Can I be a flapper(but in German it actually also can be: Am I allowed to be a Flapper)? Pfft!. No thanks.
Flapper was a nickname for young women in the 1920’s who broke with conventions by wearing short skirts, bobbing their hair and listening to jazz(another degenerate art form).
There is an irony in the statement in that these women are Breuer’s group of women who were associated with him and they actually do not look like flappers to me(usually they were more elegantly looking) but neither do they look like the conventional women of the day. They were a third kind 😛  At least that is my take on it.





Movie Thoughts: Saving Private Ryan

The scene

Captain Miller slumps against the wreck of an  abandoned motorcycle with a German bullet stuck in his chest. A dust cloud hides something big. Suddenly it is torn apart by the huge shape. A Tiger tank rumbles over the bridge towards Miller..  Miller draws his pistol and aims at the tank. He squeezes of one shot.. Then a second.. A third..Another… bang.. BANG. The tank explodes in a huge ball of fire.


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History it ain’t.

To understand Saving Private Ryan is to watch the official trailer. The story is given to us in a 136 seconds nutshell . A mother –  the father isn’t mentioned – loses three of her sons to war, two alone during the invasion of Normandy alone, that last great invasion during that last great war(so the movie has it), the fourth son is lost somewhere in Normandy at a place called Neuville. His exact location and fate are unknown. Nevertheless a band of brothers is send out to save this one man as to spare the mother the loss of her last son.


The trailer keys us in on a few more things. For one there is not one shot with a German in it. It isn’t about them at all and their presence is more a matter of  necessity that an actual attempt to portray Germans at that time. During the whole movie we will not be meeting any Germans but one, who is portrayed as an ugly, cowardly  murdering man spouting foreign lines(his German is atrocious). French civilians also feature, for convenience sake they happen to speak English. The movie is not about them either.

The movie isn’t even about the question whether one man should be saved at the cost of another. Or  others.

The movie is about memory.  The clue is given at the beginning. We start with an unknown old man at a  war memorial cemetery. He isn’t named. We don’t know where he is. At the end of the scene the old man stares into the screen and the movie fades into June 1944. Normandy. This particular part of the beach is called Dog Green. Is this his memory? Or is this Captain Miller’s memory? 


What we see is what that old man thinks occurred. It is the distorted memory of one man. It is a story he gobbled together in his mind, from survivors, from movies, from documentaries, from books and from people he met. After fifty odd years this is what he has in his mind. And therefore things happen that did not happen.

The movie reports that no tanks  reached the beach but as a matter of fact, Dog Green, the part of Omaha beach where Miller lands, had ample tank support. 40 out of 48 tanks actually made it to that beach.
The water  is colored red by blood. Alas it takes a lot of blood to do that. It is unlikely.
It takes them about thirty minutes to clear the beach and pierce the enemy positions. In reality it took them much longer.
Miller and men are send from Omaha to Neuville to find Ryan. Trace the route and one sees it an odd route to take, especially considering Omaha being heavily opposed, while Utah, much closer to the airborne troops, would have been a far better jump off position.
Did Tiger tanks and SS men assault a group of Americans defending a bridge near a place called Ramelle? There is no place called Ramelle in Bretagne and there were no SS and Tiger tanks until weeks later, and those were mostly deployed against the English sector and the connection between the English and American part. To drive a stake into what was believed to be the weakest part.
During that fight we even get an interesting image of Ryan. He isn’t fighting the Germans, he is screaming in terror doing nothing at all. He isn’t even in the battle. 


Saving Private Ryan is what Ryan thinks about when he walks over the cemetery towards Miller’s grave. He stands before the grave and asks himself the question.

Am I good man?

At the end we do not get an answer. James asks his wife, but she hesitates and then sort of admits it in an ambivalent way. But we will actually never know, because how could we? We simply do not know anything about Ryan, but that he has family and that he says he tried to live a good life. But what does that tell us?

The question extends further into: was I worth the deaths of this man and all the others?  It is another question that never gets answered.


The movie doesn’t actually turn around this, but around the idea that a group of men go out and do something because that is what they have to do. Not for any lofty reason. Miller says it in the trailer: if getting Ryan out is going to get me home, then that is what I will do.

He has to do a job, so doing the job is what he does.

The funny thing is: he had no choice in the matter.

There is a deeper message behind the movie. That warfare is something you do because you do it, not for something like patriotism, or honor, or god, or liberty, but because it is a job that you do. And here lies a great danger. For once a soldier is just a guy paid like any other guy, you can point the finger at anyone as long as you pay him. The soldier is no longer a citizen,  he has become a soldier of fortune: a paid killer.

As Vito Scaletta in the Game Maffia II says: in the war I killed who the president pointed at, now -back in the US- I kill whomever pays me points at.

It might be a dark future that gets revealed here.