The Spin-Off blogathon Sati is hosting on her perfect site, Cinematic Corner, is an ingenious idea: choose a minor film character you love, and make them the lead of a movie you create. The moment I read Sati’s prompt, my mind settled on one character that I’ve always longed to understand. The repugnant, confounding, and utterly terrifying Mountain Man from John Boorman’s Deliverance.
I’m fascinated by the cycle of violence. Are people constructed into violent beings based on their circumstances (how they were raised, the area of the world they grew up in), or are certain people just born plain fuckin’ crazy? There are so many factors and variables that go into someone’s psyche – chemical imbalance, circumstantial exposure, past experiences, and so on. Sati’s exercise is about picking a character and framing your ideal film around them, but I’m often more curious about where characters have been, as opposed to where they’re going. In this regard, I suppose I’d love to see a prequel shaped around the Mountain Man. I want to know who this guy is and observe the world he came from. I want to try and understand the psychology of someone who sets off to go hunting, comes across some innocent tourists, and immediately decides to sexually assault them.
The way the Mountain Man and the Toothless Man silently choose to commit the rape makes it appear as if they’ve done it before. But how many opportunities could they really have had? How many tourists have gotten lost canoeing on this river, near where these guys hunt? If it has happened before, under somewhat similar circumstances, what did the criminals do with their victims? Were the Mountain Man and his toothless partner going to kill Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Ed (Jon Voight), or were they going to have their way with them and simply leave?
The basis of my desire to know more about the Mountain Man is credited to a brief moment late in Deliverance. Shortly after Ed, Bobby, and Lewis (Burt Reynolds) arrive in Aintry, they are stopped by the town sheriff, played by James Dickey, who wrote the book on which Deliverance is based. The sheriff, skeptical about the men’s story, tells Ed that the brother-in-law of one of his deputies has gone missing. He went off hunting a few days ago, and hasn’t returned. That’s the moment. That’s the moment when the Mountain Man (and the Toothless Man, for the matter) becomes human. He’s a real man with a family who worries about him. This doesn’t justify what he did (nothing justifies what he did), but it does humanize him in a way I find immensely disturbing. (Note: this is all predicated on the assumption that the missing person the sheriff is talking about is either the Mountain Man or the Toothless Man. There are many things left purposefully ambiguous in the film.)
If I made a prequel about the Mountain Man, it would start at the exact same time as Deliverance. I’d shape the narrative so that the stories run concurrently. That gives us a day to discover who this guy is. A day of him shuffling around his home, monitoring the way he behaves around his wife and kids (if he has any), and listening to him shoot the shit with his toothless friend about crimes past.
In that time, we could learn when and how the cycle of violence began with the Mountain Man. If he does have children, we could see if he is continuing the cycle with them. Make no mistake, death does not always break the cycle of violence. Maybe the Mountain Man’s children will grow into adults that remain enraged over the disappearance of their father. Dennis Vinyard, the patriarch of American History X, was a dinner table racist, quietly infecting his children with bigotry and hate. When he was killed, his oldest son, Derek, didn’t grieve in silence. He turned himself into a beacon of hate. A leader for the lost. A killer for cause. If the Mountain Man’s reign of terror is forever buried under a massive lake, then so be it, world’s a better place. But if his children grow up behaving like daddy, then, well, I suppose that’d be cause for another spin-off movie entirely.