A History of Violence (film)

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German title A History of Violence
Original title A History of Violence
Country of production United States , Germany , Canada
original language English
Publishing year 2005
length 95 minutes
Age rating FSK 18
Director David Cronenberg
script Josh Olson
production Chris Bender ,
JC Spink
music Howard Shore
camera Peter Suschitzky
cut Ronald Sanders

A History of Violence (literally: A career of violence ) is a feature film of Canadian director David Cronenberg in 2005. The film drama based on the eponymous graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke and was the film studio New Line Cinema co-produced. The film opened in selected cinemas in the USA on September 23, 2005; the official release date was September 30, 2005. In Germany , A History of Violence opened on October 13, 2005.


Tom Stall lives an inconspicuous but contented life in Millbrook, in the US state of Indiana . He has a small snack bar in the small town, is happily married to the lawyer Edie and has two children. The idyll in Millbrook, which has 3246 residents, gets cracks when one evening two strangers enter the snack bar and ask for coffee. When Tom points out that the diner has already closed and will not take her order for the time being, the two men, who had previously committed serious crimes, aggressively insist on coffee and cake. Tom tries to defuse the situation and advises his waitress to go home early. The criminals then threaten the waitress, draw a gun and are about to shoot the woman when Tom acts. In self-defense, he knocks one of the men down with a full coffee pot, takes his pistol and shoots them both, but is still injured in the foot by a knife in the fight.

Tom's actions made him a local celebrity overnight and the media also reported extensively on the attack, which earned the family man respect. The incident gives his son courage, so that he gets into a fight for the first time at school with the student Bobby, who has been bullying him for months. Tom feels uncomfortable with the media hype about himself. He tries to forget the incident and get back to normal everyday life. His plan is thwarted by the arrival of a threatening-looking man who one day enters the diner and Tom introduces himself as Carl Fogarty. Fogarty takes off his dark sunglasses, under which there is a disfigured left eye. Fogarty blames Tom for this injury, speaks to him in the presence of his wife Edie by the name "Joey Cusack" and chats about the "old days" in Philadelphia. Tom then says that it was probably a misunderstanding. His name is "Tom" and he has never been to Philadelphia in his life. He asks Fogarty to leave, who, after research by the local sheriff, turns out to be a high-ranking member of a gang of criminals from the US east coast. Fogarty begins to terrorize the family from now on. He chases after Edie and her little daughter in a mall and promises her that their lives will change drastically in the near future.

The situation escalates when Fogarty drives two men to the stables house. He has taken control of Tom's son and insists that Tom come with him. Tom manages to overpower and kill Fogarty's two companions. During the fight he is shot by Fogarty and falls to the ground. In a short exchange it becomes clear that Tom is actually the supposed Joey. Shortly before Fogarty can kill the wounded Tom, he is shot from behind by Tom's son with a double-barreled shotgun.

It turns out that "Tom Stall" has hidden a dark secret from his family over the years. His real name is Joey Cusack, he comes from Philadelphia and belonged to the criminal milieu. Joey escaped to Millbrook twenty years ago after he was mistakenly pronounced dead in a massacre between two rival gangs. In the small town of Millbrook, Joey had successfully started a new life.

Although his wife Edie is deeply shocked by the facts that have now come to light, she covers him up against the sheriff, who has now become somewhat skeptical. Tom wants to thank her, but she pushes him back in disgust. The rejection calls "Joey" awake in him, he attacks Edie and wants to rape her. At the last moment he notices what he is doing and wants to turn away - but Edie holds him back. In a haunting scene, the two make love on the stairs, but immediately afterwards Edie pushes Tom away again in disgust when she realizes that she also had sex with "Joey". Tom spends the night on the sofa. When he receives a surprising call from his brother Richie in Philadelphia, he has to make his way there because the two of them still have an account open. He meets his brother in a splendid villa. After some noncommittal small talk , towards the end of which Richie's envy of Tom / Joey's family life shines through, Richie briefly explains that Tom's massacre, in which Fogarty was also disfigured, robbed him of the opportunity to become the boss of the criminal organization. Richie wants revenge. The prepared trap now snaps shut, Richie wants to have Joey liquidated in a flash, but Joey first kills Richie's bodyguards and finally Richie himself.

Before Tom washes himself in a nearby pond, he throws away his gun and then returns home to his family. Edie is having dinner with the two children. Tom stands in the doorway with a pleading expression on his face. Finally his little daughter gets up and puts a plate on the table for him, her brother puts the plate with the meat in front of him. Edie doesn't seem to know how to act yet. The film does not make it absolutely clear whether he can reintegrate into the family. The script says on the last page: There is hope.

History of origin

Viggo Mortensen arriving at the Toronto International Film Festival on the promotional tour for A History of Violence , 2006.

A History of Violence is based on the popular graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner and Vince Locke. The comic was published in 1997 by Paradox Press (a division of DC Comics ) which u. a. also published the graphic novel Road to Perdition , which was filmed by Sam Mendes in 2002 . The producer JC Spinke became aware of A History of Violence , read the story and recognized its cinematic potential. Together with his partner Chris Bender , he presented the project to the film studio New Line Cinema, which immediately secured the film rights to the graphic novel. With the film adaptation of A History of Violence was screenwriter Josh Olson entrusted. Olson replaced the original Italian -sounding names of the characters in his script through Irish to be so conventional Mafia - cliches to distance. In the winter of 2003, the Canadian director David Cronenberg joined the project.

After New Line Cinema gave the film the green light, production of A History of Violence began in Toronto , Canada , Cronenberg's hometown. Here the director had the opportunity to realize the film with longtime companions, including cameraman Peter Suschitzky , who had already worked on Cronenberg's films Spider and eXistenZ . A History of Violence was Suschitzky's seventh collaboration with the Canadian director.

With Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello , David Cronenberg managed to hire his first choice for the married couple Tom and Edie Stall. Cronenberg met Mortensen in 2001 at a Lord of the Rings party at the Cannes Film Festival , where they both agreed that Mortensen should play the leading male role in A History of Violence . When Cronenberg first met leading actress Maria Bello in Toronto, she was unaware of the project. Both had agreed to meet for a different reason. However, Cronenberg thought throughout the meeting that she would fit into the story very well. "You and Viggo play a very believable married couple - the age and tone of voice were perfect," says Cronenberg.

For male supporting roles, the director was able to engage the Americans Ed Harris and William Hurt . Both are among Cronenberg's favorite actors, with whom he has wanted to work for years.


A History of Violence , the production cost of which is estimated at US $ 32 million, grossed US $ 8.1 million on the opening weekend, making it fourth on the US box office. Cronenberg's film was generally well received by critics and rated as his most commercial work.

“'A History of Violence' is a clever, wicked film about murder and manslaughter and a sudden onset of violence in an American provincial idyll. A restaurant owner (Viggo Mortensen) becomes a hero in a robbery, transforms himself from a good philistine to a brutal fighter - and in no time his beautiful wife (Maria Bello) finds him more sexy than ever before. The Canadian director David Cronenberg stages the story as a grotesquely comic shocker, with a physical force and a joke that are reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino. However, Cronenberg has a lot of intellect and education ahead of that - and so his thriller is not just a bloody pop fairy tale, but above all a lesson in Sigmund Freud's soul. "

A History of Violence wants to tell of the two faces of American society, and yet Cronenberg's theses thriller succumbs to its own aestheticism: When the large-caliber ammunition hits cleanly through the forehead and chest, when arms and twigs are broken and enemies are killed with rhythmic precision, neutralized Cronenberg one stereotype for the other. Here the comic cinema violence, there the near-natural Americana idyll. On the one hand the model family waiting at dinner and on the other the exhausted returnee who hides his wounds and who has caused one or the other massacre in the living rooms of the wide world. "

“The American small town with an American small family, a small life in which, however, since it is the whole of life, it becomes a drama when the son in high school shows off the school bully in baseball. The structure of violence, as Cronenberg demonstrates in his seemingly exaggerated staging of this scene, lies in the everyday life of the small town, in which the world is not right because it is never and nowhere. [...] If 'A History of Violence' can be summed up in one sentence - and it is a weakness of the film that it can do that - then it has to be: The violence has always been there, no domestication is permanent. [...] Does 'A History of Violence', as is often assumed, actually have the analytical power of a second-order observation of violence - or does it not succumb to the pleasure of the genre, the truth of which is mediated, analyzable, but not: analyzed?

A History of Violence remains, despite or because of all metaphorical allusions, in an ambivalence. Violence exists, violence has a history. But how does the individual harmonize with it, how does it work within the community and at its core, the family? Ultimately, the question of the identity of the individual also dominates in this latest experimental arrangement by the artist Cronenberg. [...] Nothing is clarified, but the family and the audience have to face the fragility of their own identity construct and the lurking violence. "

- critic.de

“Existential ' film noir ' about the return of the repressed. Staged as a black comedy with comic elements, the film carries out a clever deconstruction of the action film full of irony and ambiguity. "

In 2016, A History of Violence was ranked 59th in a BBC poll of the 100 most important films of the 21st century .

Interpretative approaches

If you want to see references to the Old Testament , Viggo Mortensen / William Hurt Kain and Abel ( Gen 4.1  EU ) are with the motif of fratricide (in the literature, the two were only childhood friends). The American Roger Ebert secularly sees the cruelty of evolution at work and the "survival of the fittest ".

Tom Stall leaves himself, his family and the audience in the dark about the story so consistently that it psychologically points to the dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities). Ebert mentions the well-known story “ The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ”( Robert Louis Stevenson , 1886).

Cronenberg calls the film an Americana several times in the audio commentary . The meaning of the title may oscillate between " a violent story" and " the (universal) history of violence." 

Andreas Busche sees the film thematically in a tradition of newer cinema, starting with Who Sows Violence , to Natural Born Killers and most recently Funny Games .


  • The location next to Toronto was the town of Millbrook in Ontario . For the plot of the film, the Canadian town was relocated to the US state of Indiana.
  • The first and last names of the two characters, Leland and Orser, who threaten Tom Stall in his café at the beginning of the film, are a tribute to the American character actor Leland Orser , who is known, among other things, for assigning mentally confused or morally degenerate characters embody. Among other things, Orser was seen in the 1995 thriller Seven as a disturbed survivor of the " lust murder".
  • In the audio commentary on the DVD, David Cronenberg mentions that this is the first time he is "showing" mutual oral sex ( sixty-nine ) in a love scene in a major Hollywood production .
  • In 2006, "A History of Violence" was the last Hollywood film to be released on VHS tape .


A History of Violence premiered, like Cronenberg's previous film Spider (2002), on May 16, 2005 at the Cannes International Film Festival . The film ran in competition, but was subject to the drama The child of the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne . At the Golden Globe Awards ceremony on January 16, 2006 , the work was represented as best film drama, and Maria Bello was nominated for best leading actress in a drama, but Felicity Huffman ( Transamerica ) had to admit defeat. At the Academy Awards on March 5, 2006, William Hurt was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and the Screenplay.

Oscar 2006

British Academy Film Awards 2006

  • nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category

Golden Globe Awards 2006

  • nominated in the categories
    • Best film - drama
    • Best Actress - Drama (Maria Bello)


Cannes International Film Festival 2005

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 2006

  • Best director
  • Best Supporting Actress (Maria Bello)

Gotham Awards 2005

  • nominated for best film

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 2005

  • Best Supporting Actor (William Hurt)

National Society of Film Critics Awards 2006

  • Best director
  • Best Supporting Actor (Ed Harris)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards 2005

  • Best Supporting Actor (William Hurt)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Maria Bello)

Online Film Critics Society Awards 2006

  • Best movie
  • Best director
  • Best Supporting Actress (Maria Bello)

Nominated in the categories

  • Best Supporting Actor (William Hurt)
  • Best adapted script
  • Best cut

Satellite Awards 2005

Nominated in the categories

  • Best film - drama
  • Best Actor - Drama (Viggo Mortensen)
  • Best Supporting Actress - Drama (Maria Bello)

Syndicat Français de la Critique de Cinéma et des Films de Télévision 2006

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards 2005

  • Best movie
  • Best Canadian Film
  • Best director

USC Scripter Award 2006

  • nominated in the Best Screenplay category

Writers Guild of America 2006

  • nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category

The German Film and Media Assessment FBW in Wiesbaden awarded the film the rating “particularly valuable”.


  • John Wagner, Vince Locke: A History of Violence . 2005 Titan Books, ISBN 1-84576-212-6 (English edition)

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Certificate of Release for A History of Violence . Voluntary self-regulation of the film industry , October 2005 (PDF; test number: 103 800 K).
  2. imdb.com
  3. A History of Violence on spiegel.de
  4. A History of Violence on zeit.de
  5. A History of Violence on jump-cut.de
  6. A History of Violence on critic.de
  7. ^ A History of Violence in the Lexicon of International FilmsTemplate: LdiF / Maintenance / Access used
  8. ↑ Audio commentary by D. Cronenberg on the German DVD ( EAN 7-321924-769037), 1:17:49.
  9. ^ A b Roger Ebert (online resource, accessed December 19, 2006).
  10. D. Cronenberg says very clearly in the audio commentary that the (fictional) Tom is just cheating on the viewer a little (playing time 39:18): "... because he knows that he is Joey." This should become apparent on the second inspection (39:12). However, it would be a mistake to reduce the film to just this question.
  11. ^ Andreas Busche: A History of Violence - The Right of the Stronger at filmzentrale.com (from the taz ), document .
  12. imdb.com
  13. a b Trivia
  14. Awards
  15. A History of Violence on fbw-filmb Bewertung.com