Monday, September 24, 2012

Duel - 1971

The premise behind Director Steven Spielberg’s 1971 gem “Duel” is simple; milquetoast electronics salesman David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is traveling across the California back-country on business. During his journey, he encounters a very dangerous and persistent truck driver (in a big rig that is culled straight from the bowels of Hell) who does his best to run the harried David Mann off the road.

Although “Duel” was made for television, its streamlined story, tight editing, and beautiful locations come together seamlessly and provide a solid hour and a half of nail-biting tension. The film deftly taps into our fears of sharing the road with trucks and feeling out of control behind the wheel. We empathize with David Mann as he does his best to stay one mile ahead of the sinister steel behemoth.

At first glance, “Duel” appears as a straightforward thriller in the vein of man versus machine (or in this case, man versus giant-evil-scary-diesel-exhaust-spewing-murderous-truck). Repeated viewings of the film provide deeper insight into some of the symbolic representations in the film. While it’s impossible to say if Matheson intentionally included any subtext in his screenplay, it’s clear that a few different common literary (and cinematic themes) made their way into the film.

John Kenneth Muir’s fantastic semiotic analysis casts the film as a mediation on early-1970′s male emasculation in the wake of the Feminist Movement. Other analyses see the truck as a surrogate for “Big Oil” and all the ills it has brought upon man.

Whether a deftly crafted thriller, a deeply symbolic look at changes in society, or simply a entertaining television movie,”Duel” compels us to keep one eye in the mirror and one foot on the gas as we navigate through life’s little (and deadly) obstacles.

View the Theatrical Trailer 

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