Violence As Redemption In “Straw Dogs”

With the upcoming movie release “Straw Dogs”, which hits theaters September 16th, one recurring question I’ve been asked is what in the world does the title mean.

Straw dogs are ceremonial objects used in ancient China and a part of the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. They represent forms without substance, creations made for the purpose of being destroyed.

D.C. Lau’s translation of the text explains straw dogs as “being treated with the greatest deference before they were used as an offering, only to be discarded and trampled upon as soon as they had served their purpose”.

It’s a trick utilised in business a lot – presenting people with a mediocre idea first to make another and better idea sound more appealing, the first idea a rather hollow thing designed to be thrown away.

In the context of the film though it likely represents how human civility is forgotten when faced with mortal danger, the breaking point at which the illusion of middle-class values and morals is discarded like such straw dogs when it comes down to a fight for survival against the barbarians at the gate.

Films like “Lady in a Cage”, “The Last House on the Left”, “Deliverance”, “The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Eden Lake,” and “Wrong Turn” to some degree explore these ideas. With ‘Dogs’, which hits theaters on September 16th, the exploration is of a moral relativisim that’s not as clear cut.

The story follows Los Angeles screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden), who moves with his wife (Kate Bosworth) to her hometown in the deep South. Once there, tensions build in their marriage and old conflicts re-emerge with the locals, leading to a violent confrontation.

The film posits the idea that extreme vigilante violence can be a source of character redemption. Neither Sumner or his wife are complete innocents in this story, both could be said to be subconsciously provoking the violence they both wish to avoid.

This begs the question of what films, shows or characters out there – of which you are a fan – explore such concepts. It could be a straightforward man vs. primal nature theme, to more complicated and flawed antiheroes who were almost predestined to become unstable sociopaths despite an initial facade of civility. Have your say in the comments below: