Isolation, Survival, and Deliverance

Isolation and survival are two themes that crop up in my writing time and time again. I am drawn to the idea of leaving my characters in difficult and remote locations, then watching how they cope. This couldn’t be more true of my latest novels,  The Darkest Heart and Big Game (for younger readers).

So, over the next few blog posts, I thought I’d have a quick look at some of the survival stories that have influenced me.

I’m going to start with a true classic. To my shame, I haven’t yet read the novel, but I saw the film at an inappropriately young age and it has stuck with me ever since.

In Deliverance, four city friends go canoeing on a remote river which is soon to be flooded by a dam, but fall foul of some particularly unsavoury locals. It’s a deeply frightening film full of contrasts – beautifully filmed, but with a brutal plot – and I didn’t fully understand it when I saw it as a twelve year old. I understood the boat trip, the draw of the wilderness, the macho Lewis (Burt Reynolds) contrasting with other more sensitive characters. I sensed the strangeness of the locals, the almost alien atmosphere of the location, and I felt the danger of the mountain men. What I didn’t understand was THAT scene, and the deeper themes of the story. I have revisited Deliverance once or twice more recently, and find it to be a fascinating, haunting, nightmarish, and almost mythical film.

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There are moments that have worked their way into popular culture. The opening riff of Duelling Banjos is another way of saying ‘hillbilly’, and who can’t forget the infamous ‘I wanna hear you squeal like a pig’? For me, though, there are two stand-out, contrasting scenes. The first is when Ed (Jon Voight) wakes early in the morning and takes Lewis’s bow. In the peaceful quiet of the wilderness, he spots a deer, raises the bow and takes aim only to find that he is unable to loose the arrow. Later, towards the end of that harrowing rape scene, Ed catches sight of Lewis standing in the trees, bow drawn, arrow aimed at Ed’s attacker. But Lewis doesn’t have the shakes. His intent is rock-solid, and he is prepared to kill.

In those two scenes we see the real difference between Ed and Lewis and, for me, that’s what lies at the heart of Deliverance. It’s about how different people deal with adversity. It’s about how far we are prepared to go, and it makes you ask yourself, ‘What would I do?’

‘What could I do to survive?’

That’s all.



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