What Did Americans Want in the Wake of 911?
Like the American people who were stunned by 911, none of us in the audience were at all prepared for Ned Beatty’s “big scene.” At the moment that that searing episode of unexpected homosexual rape occurred, I cringed in my seat, barely aware that the person sitting directly behind me had blown a whole mouthful of popcorn into the back of my head. Nevertheless, this film was so intense, I never looked away from the screen.
James Dickey wrote the novel by the same name as well as the screenplay. His son, Christopher Dickey Jr. has an article in last week's Newsweek. He writes that he recently had an occasion to start,
In the movie, four Atlanta suburbanites take a break from their weekends of golfing and go canoeing up in the mountains. In this river trip they find a life-changing and life-ending adventure. I’m not going to ruin the movie in the off-chance I have a reader who has not seen it. But I might let Chris Dickey ruin it instead:
. . . our man Lewis He's a rich boy from Atlanta whose main income is from inherited real estate. But he loves to flirt with extinction. To come near death, then survive—
That intensity, well, that's something special. I believe in survival, all kinds. Every time I come up here I believe in it more.Once Lewis is in his element (the country) the three other golfers (played by Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox) begin to think Lewis is a little crazy. The Voight character
Dickey’s reinterpretation of the movie:
"What the hell you want to go fuck around with that river for?" one of the unfriendly locals asks Lewis early in the movie.
"Because it's there," says Lewis.
"It's there alright. You get in and you can't get out, you gonna wish it wasn't."
To reinforce this point, Dickey quotes Newt Gingrich who had back channels to Don Rumsfeld in November 2001:
There's a feeling we've got to do something that counts — and bombing caves is not something that counts.In Afghanistan,
. . . the core coterie around Bush and Cheney, who never were soldiers, pushed for war with Iraq at all costs and as an end to almost all constraints.
Anxious to assert their vision of American strength, and themselves as its personifications, they were looking for a fight with Saddam Hussein long before September 11. Casting themselves as implacable opponents of tyranny, the ideologues of the administration had, since the days of the Soviet Union, envied the tyrants' ruthlessness. Quick to denounce bias when they faced opposition, they were the first to use mass deception to assure their own grip on power. And what made all this possible? They could not do any of it—they could not begin to do it—without war and its attendant mystique of survival.
At a key juncture in the movie, Lewis has shot one of the mountain men in the back with a broadhead arrow and he's trying to convince his three companions that they should hide the body. He faces down strong opposition that they should go to the police, trust in the law and just tell their side of the story. Lewis sneers:
The law? The law? What law. Where's the law, Drew?With that, Lewis bulldozes his terrified companions into burying the evidence. Dickey’s clinching paragraphs:
You believe in democracy don't you? Well, then, we'll take a vote.
. . . . What I wonder is whether in the real-world crisis of Iraq there is enough sanity and bravery in Washington to deliver us from the evil that's been created in Iraq. Unfortunately it doesn't look that way. Whether we listen to the Republicans or the Democrats, the woman candidate for president or the men, all the major contenders remain reluctant to challenge the ersatz standards of strength set by the Bush administration. Sure, they snipe at each other, but none want to appear weak on national security. So we're left with "Law, what law? Plan, what plan?" And we continue to float down the river as if without a paddle, unable and unwilling to climb out, with much more violence and in all probability worse humiliations yet to come.
So here we Americans are, lingering in the twilight of Bush’s white water trip - with 446 days to go - still looking for Deliverance.